In my first six months living in Portland, Oregon in 2000, someone smashed my passenger window. They stole a jacket I left on the front passenger seat, and some irreplaceable audio recordings I was transporting between work and home. I was pissed. I quickly learned a hard Portland truth: you can never, ever, leave anything visible on your car seats around here. It doesn’t matter if it’s a paper bag full of old burger wrappers or an empty box; if thieves see potential, they’ll break in to get it. The problem has persisted. Shards of broken glass still sparkle on our sidewalks, and people drive with plastic bags taped to their cars to keep out the rain until they can get their windows replaced.
Things have gotten worse. Now thieves just steal your car. Despite its small size, Portland has the third highest car theft rate in America, right after Baltimore and Detroit. By October 2017, more cars had been stolen here than in all of 2016. At Willamette Week, staff writer Katie Shepherd figures out why. It turns out, it’s because of a culture of crime and intravenous drug use, and because lax laws make car theft difficult to prosecute. Cops arrest the same people over and over. That’s how easy stealing cars here is. Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Ryan Lufkin is working to change that by closing a loophole. Until then, hide your stuff. Don’t let your car idle to heat up on winter mornings. Use The Club. Not that it matters; parking here is a roll of the dice. So how did this start?
The case involved Jerrol Edwin Shipe, a 49-year-old former retirement home worker who was arrested in 2012 while sitting in a stolen truck in Washington County. He was convicted but appealed the verdict, claiming he didn’t know it was stolen and that he had gotten the truck from “a friend named Richey.”
Evidence at the scene suggested Shipe knew he was driving a stolen truck. He had bolt cutters, multiple sets of keys, and a locked case labeled—amazingly—”Crime Committing Kit.” The truck had other stolen property inside. The key Shipe had been using to start the engine did not belong to the truck.
Shipe’s appeal claimed that prosecutors could not prove he had “knowingly” taken possession of a stolen vehicle. Prosecutors argued that the evidence should have made it obvious to any reasonable person that the truck had been stolen.
The Oregon Court of Appeals judges ruled in Shipe’s favor. Chief Appellate Judge Erika Hadlock wrote in the July 23, 2014, decision that the state was asking the court “to accept too great an inferential leap” in determining that Shipe knew the truck was stolen when he took possession of it. (Hadlock declined comment to WW on her ruling.)
It set a precedent: Carrying tools associated with car break-ins or even operating a car with the wrong key was not enough evidence to prove that someone sitting in a stolen car knew that it was hot.
Fishing isn’t sport for everyone. Many urban residents rely on rivers and lakes to supplement their diets. In Oregon Humanitiesmagazine, journalist Julia Rosen looks at the people of color who once relied on the Willamette River for food, pleasure, and work. The Willamette runs right through downtown Portland, Oregon. After industry and urbanization polluted it, the Environmental Protection Agency declared Portland Harbor a superfund site, and many locals quit fishing it. A new 13-year, billion-dollar plan has the potential to clean this beautiful river, which could reconnect certain communities with what Rosen calls the city’s lifeblood. But gentrification has already displaced many black families, physically separating them from the river. The question now is whether the cleanup can create jobs for impacted communities and right the city’s many racial injustices.
Historian Ellen Stroud has written that the pollution of the slough reveals a story of environmental racism. North Portland has been associated with African Americans since Henry Kaiser built Vanport, a housing development for his shipyard workers, along the Columbia’s southern bank. From 1942 until 1948, when it was destroyed in a catastrophic flood, Vanport housed the majority of Portland’s Black population.
That association, Stroud writes, seems to have contributed to the decision to sacrifice North Portland—and the slough—to industry. North Portland also housed the city’s primary garbage dump from 1940 to 1991, and has long suffered from poor air quality.
“Whenever you look at where those toxic substances and hazardous substances lodge,” says Robin Collin, “it inevitably follows color.” Collin is an environmental justice expert and law professor at Willamette University in Salem. She says this pattern has been documented repeatedly, and often emerges from the perception that fear and disenfranchisement will keep communities of color from protesting the pollution.
This “safer bet” is where the second generation of Portland’s food industry intersects with the region’s commitment to density in the face of growth. Micro restaurants and food halls celebrate small spaces. Their inherent informality appeals to diners who treat dining out as an everyday form of entertainment. The small, turnkey spaces make it easier for established local food businesses to expand. “It took only three months to get all nine Letters of Intent at Pine Street signed,” says project developer Jean Pierre Veillet, principal of Siteworks design-build firm. “There’s a hankering for small space in the city’s core.”
Projects like Pine Street and Bethany are the logical evolution of food carts — a codifying and commodifying of the once gritty first-generation food entrepreneurship. Done right, they will ensure that Portland’s food cred will continue to grow, one meal at a time. The statewide food system that fuels these restaurants, and other food-based industries, is also evolving. That is: The first generation of food business would never have taken off without the quality and diversity from Oregon’s small, family-owned farms. Will those conditions persist for the second?
—In Oregon Business, Amy Milshtein writes about the way a few new food hall projects signal the future of restaurateuring in Portland, Oregon, and how the city’s rising rents, increasing density and success as a food destination have pushed it into a new phase of greater polish, greater competition, higher financial stakes, and greater responsibility to create sustainable food systems.