I was further encouraged that complaining about it would no longer be necessary after last Wednesday’s Planning Commission, when someone affiliated with the parking lot showed up to speak at Open Forum to apologize for the state of the lot and assure everyone that the problems would be taken care of.
So, I guess this was naive, but I assumed that since they went out of their way to come and promise they were dealing with the issue, that the lot would be cleaner in the future. Ha!
In reality, there has been no change in the state of the lot. It is just as full of trash and graffiti as ever.
I don’t want to belabor the point too much, but this is so not what was promised when the application to operate a parking lot at this space came before the Planning Commission in June.
At that meeting, the applicant’s representative promised specifically:
The proposal will provide an aesthetically pleasing street frontage on a site that is currently a vacant lot. The applicant is proposing landscaping elements and community art installations that will preserve the value of investment in this area. In addition, the applicant will agree to additional conditions of approval that will address any concerns about blight, such as removal of graffiti within 72 hours of application, agreeing to remove litter at least once daily, and all new landscaping elements will be maintained in good growing condition.
This is not aesthetically pleasing. Graffiti is not being removed within 72 hours. It is not even being removed within weeks. Some of the graffiti in these photos has been there for a week and a half, some has been there much longer. It looks terrible.
Litter is not being removed every day or even every other day. I went by on Saturday morning and took a bunch of new photos of all the nasty trash on the lot. On Sunday morning, the exact same trash was there. Same thing on Monday. And on Tuesday. And this morning. Every day, the handicapped parking spot has been covered in the same pile of broken glass.
The shirt hanging off the post disappeared sometime during the day on Monday, but a friend pointed out that someone probably just took it for themselves.
The thing that got me the most in that first video is the guy saying that the City’s Public Works and Police Departments need to come help them with the graffiti and blight problems. I’m sorry, but no. That’s crazy.
The City does not even have the resources to maintain its own parks. When you go and ask for special permission to do something, and you promise that if you get it, you will take care of the blight, then it is your job to do so. It is not the job of the Public Works department to go around cleaning private property.
The speaker last Wednesday also noted that they have recently signed an agreement for maintenance of the lot. Given that they promised in June, when the applied, that they would be removing litter daily and graffiti within 72 hours, I find it baffling that this wasn’t done when the lot opened in August.
I’d like to take their words in good faith and assume that they’re making an honest effort to deal with the problems. But it’s hard to do so when something like this appears on the property mere days after these assurances are made and remains there five days later.
I want to be sympathetic to the difficulties of keeping the property clean. But I also feel like when people make commitments to the City about their property, we have to expect that they’ll honor them, no matter how difficult it may be to do so. That’s what you signed up for.
My senior year in college, I was awarded the coveted position of Student Union manager. Our Student Union was basically a supergiant room with large upstairs lofts on either side, a big porch and a few offices for student body organizations in the back. A couple of times a week, there would be a band playing at night or a party or something. But mostly it was just a space for students to lounge around and smoke.
The SU manager job was highly competitive because it came with excellent pay, free drinks for life at the campus cafe, and like ten bazillion cool points. Despite being so widely desired, the job itself wasn’t particularly glamorous. The SU Manager’s duties involved scheduling the twice daily cleanings, booking events, arranging post-event cleanings, and handling payroll. Once a month or so, I got to rent a U-Haul and drive around to all the thrift stores around Portland buying cheap furniture. That part was fun. But the main part of the job was just keeping the space relatively clean.
This was a surprisingly difficult thing to do. College students, as it turns out, are really gross. Even though I made sure each seating area was always equipped with a trash can, people would just throw their trash on the floor or leave it on the furniture. Even though the cafeteria was like 40 feet away, nobody would ever bus their trays of food back there. Instead they would just leave it to rot in the SU and often put their cigarettes out in half eaten bowls of cereal instead of the many ashtrays I made a point of providing.
I don’t think any of these kids would have treated their dorm room this way, but they really just had absolutely no respect for public space. Once, I watched a student stand up, walk to the middle of the room, open a 40 of Olde English, and proceed to just pour it all out on the floor, then walk back to his seat. Why? Who knows? For fun, I guess. A couple times during the year, people took our fire extinguishers and just sprayed them all over the place, covering every surface in the building. If you’ve never had the opportunity to clean up a large barn-sized room full of fire extinguisher dust, well, I hope you never have to. It’s not fun.
But dealing with the general nastiness of spoiled college students was just a normal part of the job. I had worked as a cleaner in the SU before becoming manager, so I knew to expect all this going in.
But there was one part of the job that I had not anticipated. We had bathroom problems. The SU had two single use bathrooms. If you’ve ever worked in any kind of establishment with restrooms for customers, you know what a pain they are to keep clean, even just with regular use.
A couple months into my tenure as manager, we started having some non-regular problems with our bathrooms. Well, one recurring problem, really. Someone decided to start using the SU bathrooms to…well, the best description I can think of would be that they were projectile vomiting diarrhea. And as gross as that may sound when you imagine it, let me assure you that it was like 10 times grosser in reality. The floor would be covered, it would be smeared all over the wall, the toilet bowl would be completely full of excrement and overflowing — it was the most disgusting thing I have ever seen.
And whenever it would happen, I would beg and plead and do everything I could think of to cajole one of my cleaners into taking care of it. It was way beyond what you could reasonably expect someone to do of in the course of a normal cleaning shift — they signed up for mopping and washing ashtrays, not this.
So I would offer to pay them an event cleaning rate to go deal with the bathrooms. I would send these desperate emails like “I’ve got $50 for anyone willing to clean the bathroom!” “Hey folks, the bathroom really, really needs to be cleaned. $75 for whoever can get here fastest!” “I will give you one hundred dollars to clean the bathrooms. Please! Anyone! If that’s not enough, send me your offer! We’ll work something out!”
Once I went up to $200. Nobody would do it. And since it was my responsibility to keep this space presentable, it fell to me to do it. And so I would put on some rain boots and big plastic gloves and get myself a mask and clean the bathrooms myself. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t like doing it. I cried the whole time I was in there. But I took care of the problem.
Because that’s what you do when you’re in charge of public space.
You don’t leave human waste smeared all over the wall for three months. You find someone to clean it up, no matter how nasty it is. And if you can’t? You go do it yourself.