PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland city and county leaders held an emergency meeting with downtown business owners Tuesday to discuss safety during the holiday season.
The meeting came in the wake of multiple complaints about livability, theft and aggressive panhandlers in the downtown business core, an environment that’s led some people to stop shopping downtown.
“I want to get out of here as soon as I'm done with my work,” said Traci Twitchell, who has worked downtown for 18 years. She remembers a time when she'd linger downtown, especially around the holidays. For her, those days are over.
“I actually just went and bought myself some pepper spray this weekend,” Twitchell said. “I don't like feeling like I have to have pepper spray just to walk five blocks to my car.”
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Ted Wheeler addressed business owners who packed council chambers.
“I am hearing what you're all saying today and I'm appreciative of it,” Wheeler said.
The mayor also shared a plan to make downtown safer over the holidays. He shared a map of downtown outlining where shoppers could expect to see more police on foot and warning signs around high-pedestrian zones.
“It alerts people in the area to the rights of way, in terms of not camping, things like no drug use, violence and theft,” said the mayor’s spokesperson, Michael Cox. “We're going to measure our results and our progress and if we have continued success, then the program itself will continue [after the holidays],” Cox said.
Portland Business Alliance president Sandra McDonough was at the meeting and said the plan outlined what she was hoping to hear.
“They presented today some real solutions that are going to help deal with the livability issues that people see,” McDonough said. “The livability crimes, the garbage, needles. We love Portland and we want people to feel safe.”
For Twitchell, the plan was of little comfort.
“I see all the lights going up and the Christmas tree and it doesn't feel as festive as it should,” Twitchell said. “I'm just worried.”