Portland is moving quickly to replace the hundreds of lampposts recently taken out of 12 city parks. City Commissioner Dan Ryan runs Portland Parks and Recreation.
On April 5, he will bring an emergency ordinance to the city council to let parks staff buy and replace 243 broken lampposts within six months.
This news comes a month after Ryan approved a plan to replace the old lampposts in at least 16 months. The city says these posts have structural problems that make them dangerous for the public.
In a press release, Ryan said that he sped up the process because people were worried about safety in the parks after darkening.
“I understand the importance of lighting in our parks and am committed to finding a solution to address the public’s valid concerns,” Ryan said.
Two million dollars from Metro’s regional parks and nature bond passed in 2019 and two million dollars from the federal government will help speed up the replacement process.
The money lets the city buy the lampposts it needs immediately, so it doesn’t have to find more money later to finish the project. Completing the whole project will cost $15 million.
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The staff of Irving Park, Colonel Summers Park, Sellwood Park, and Sellwood Riverfront Park have already taken down the lampposts. So, out of the original 134 posts, only 18 are left in these parks.
Once the new posts have been bought, they will go to these four parks first. Staff from the parks department said the city “will look into” putting up temporary lights in the parks.
The eight other affected parks won’t have their lampposts taken down and replaced until the first four parks have their lights back on. It isn’t clear if this will happen simultaneously or in small steps. If the Council passes Ryan’s law, all lamp posts will be replaced by October 5.
Some city lampposts are over 100 years old, and park officials say that all 243 that are set to be taken down are very dangerous for the public. During recent city budget talks, parks staff said this is just one way the public is affected by the $600 million maintenance backlog at Portland Parks and Recreation.
Claudio Campuzano, the finance manager for Portland Parks and Recreation, spoke at a recent City Council budget hearing. He said that insufficient money for maintenance “leads to excessive risk, assets being unexpectedly closed for life safety, and conditions getting worse and worse.”
Because of these risks, 50 park facilities, such as pools, playgrounds, and public bathrooms, have been closed. Parks says that only 18% of the facilities in the parks are in good shape.
The maintenance backlog at Portland Parks and Recreation has worsened for a long time. In 2020, voters passed a five-year parks levy, expected to bring in $48 million annually for the bureau.
This was done to help pay for these unmet costs, but bureau staff says it hasn’t gone far enough to change the situation. Part of this is because the tax can only cover operating costs and not maintenance needs.
The city is currently trying to get a law passed that would set up a permanent source of funding to deal with the maintenance backlog directly.
Rep. Travis Nelson, D-North Portland, has proposed a bill that would let cities in Oregon create park districts, special taxing districts approved by voters and provide permanent funding for parks, and let city commissioners serve as the district board.