So, About That “Renaissance” in Bayside…

photo/Christine Arsenault

So, About That “Renaissance” in Bayside…
An op-ed by Christine Arsenault

Earlier this year I got a postcard from the City of Portland notifying me of a meeting about the sale (or “disposition,” in City-speak) of numerous properties in Bayside. The seven parcels being disposed of have long been sites used by the Public Works department, but one of the addresses listed on the card caused me to panic. It was my home address — the address on my mortgage, my tax bills, and all the mail I’ve received for the past 12 years, including that postcard.

Had I been paying a non-legit mortgage? Could the city sell my home out from under my feet? Was this postcard my notice that they planned to take my house by eminent domain?

It turns out that the city changed the address of the two-family home where my family resides without informing me. The address listed on the postcard is now officially the city-owned parking lot next to my building.

The sale of the Public Works properties in Bayside has been a topic of discussion in City Hall since the turn of the century. It’s now part of what the newspapers are calling the “renaissance” of this long-neglected industrial area of town. Some buildings in the neighborhood have been transformed lately, like the old Schlotterbeck & Foss factory on Preble Street, which now contains over 50 loft-style apartments. But the Dark Ages are far from over.

When I bought my two-family home a dozen years ago, the real-estate agent talked about the “up-and-coming” Bayside neighborhood. He said Public Works would soon be moving out, and I daydreamed about the neighborhood’s potential, replacing the eyesores with beautiful buildings in my imagination.

Since moving to Bayside, the police (with guns drawn) have stormed my home, my car was stolen, someone dumped gallons of paint on my car, and gifts mailed to my kids have been stolen. Nasty old men mistake me for some kind of prostitute when I wait on the corner for the school bus. Addicts continue to pass out in my driveway and drug deals happen multiple times a day while the dealers’ mummified clientele aimlessly wander into traffic.

Some “renaissance,” eh?

I remember one night soon after my kids’ dad died. We got stuck in our car a block from my house, in front of the soup kitchen. I normally try to avoid this street — the groups of hungry people seem to get off by blocking vehicles’ right of way. On this particular night I was extra emotional and feeling a bit down on my luck. We’d just left the school and I was upset. Seeing other kids hang with their dads when my kids no longer had one really hurt. Although I was sick of weeping about it, I just wanted to go home, get my kids to bed, and have a good cry. So when my drive home turned into another “neighborhood issue,” I just about lost it.

A man with an electric guitar held high over his head threatened to bash in my car windows while we were stuck in the middle of the street. He ran from window to window, possessed by his little drug, and screamed at two little kids who had just tragically lost their father. I wanted to drive right through the “groupies” gathered in front of my car laughing at their guitar hero’s antics. My poor kids.

City officials can be remarkably patient and accommodating when wealthy out-of-state developers come to town. Half a decade has passed since a proposal was announced to build hundreds of desperately needed apartments on the 3.5-acre site on Somerset Street near Whole Foods. The Florida-based development company keeps changing its plans for the project, dubbed “midtown” — it’s apartments, it’s a hotel, it’s office space — and even threatened to sue the city at one point during the negotiations. Meanwhile, Portland taxpayers have shelled out upwards of $150,000 in interest on a federal loan that was supposed to help pay to build a parking garage on the vacant, weedy, trash-strewn site.

Small-time wage-earners and property-taxpayers like me are treated differently. Last year, after an issue with leaky underground pipes, I got hit with a huge water bill, so I filed a sewer abatement form with the city. I got no relief or respect during my efforts to recoup that $300 overcharge.

I also work in Bayside, and about two years ago I helped my employer lease a parking lot to Portland Public Schools for the use of its administrators. Within a few days, an incident was brought to my attention that involved a “sketchy” person near a car. The school employee was frightened. I knew how she felt. I apologized and explained the importance of letting us know when things like that happen. I told her to be aware of her surroundings at all times in this neighborhood. Though I felt bad for her, I couldn’t help thinking that this situation might ultimately benefit Bayside. If city employees are forced to walk the shady streets and encounter “sketchy” people in person, maybe something will be done about the problem.

Moving forward, as the city proceeds to sell the seven Public Works parcels, I hope officials heed the hard lessons they should have learned during the “midtown” debacle and keep the neighborhood’s needs in mind. I’d like to see local developers buy this land, people who care about Bayside and the families that live here. I want homes and mom-and-pop businesses, not condos for seasonal residents or cookie-cutter corporate chains. I’d like to see strollers with babies inside, not the beat-up strollers that contain drugs where the diapers and baby bottles should be stored. I want to walk the sidewalks without worrying about a drug deal gone bad or getting gouged by a dirty needle when I check to see if the addict passed out on the ground is dead or alive and in need of an ambulance. I want my kids to feel safe and to have the choice someday to walk to school without my supervision.

But I won’t be holding my breath. I’ll continue to walk around my neighborhood with my guard up, ready to shield my kids from the lewd remarks and bad behavior we encounter daily. I will not put stock in “Operation Bayside Boost,” the initiative the city announced last year to improve street lighting, install benches, sweep up litter and make more drug busts. The ill people on the streets deserve careful consideration and I know there are no quick or easy answers. I will help advocate for my neighborhood in the small ways I can, and I will keep hoping Bayside can become the livable and thriving community we’ve long been promised.

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