OPB asked all the candidates seeking a seat on Portland City Council to answer some questions about the issues. Below are answers from Kimbra Kasch, a candidate for the position 3 seat currently held by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. These answers have not been edited.
I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, in a family with nine kids. I grew up in the Mt. Tabor neighborhood and bought the house I was raised in from my parents.
I met my husband, Lars, at UofO, where we got engaged and quickly moved home to raise money for our wedding. That wedding was in 1983 – almost forty years ago – and we’re still together and, more importantly, happily married with three adult children.
Eventually, I graduated with a BS in psychology from Portland State University. I spent the next 30 years working in the legal field and have volunteered in the city my entire life. Beginning as a candy striper (a volunteer at a local hospital) and moving up to the Big Sister Program (a mentoring program) during high school. And that was just the beginning. I coached soccer and basketball and was a Scout leader for my daughter when she was young. I still volunteer today. I am a co-regional advisor for the State of Oregon for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
I am an author with five books published by three small publishing houses and numerous magazine and newspaper articles.
Why are you running for City Council? What relevant experience do you have?
I love Portland and all the city has to offer. Unfortunately, the pandemic has devastated small businesses and left many people in a state of extreme poverty, disillusioned and / or on the verge of losing their homes or completely houseless. I have fresh ideas to offer the city and am willing to work hard to achieve my goals.
With over 30 years in the legal field, as well as my BS in psychology and my team-oriented background, including having worked with the Morrison Center’s Hand-in-Hand multi-faceted program, as a Behavioral Foster Parent for several years, and having participated in and coached many team sports, I want to offer a holistic approach to revitalizing Portland businesses and the downtown core, including increasing safety, offering transitional mental health and peer services to our most vulnerable population as well as partnering with nonprofit organizations and corporations with a team-facilitated approach to resolve the challenges facing us today. This will include outreach to local neighbors through our neighborhood associations, where I am on the board of my own neighborhood’s association (NTNA). I want to bring people together with positive goals and increase individual investment in the policies and programs we can create together.
What bureaus do you want to run? Why do you think you’re the person to oversee them?
Portland Fire & Rescue, Portland Bureau of Transportation, and the Office of Community & Civic Life. With my background working with vulnerable youth, I would love to help bridge the gap by connecting people with city government to build inclusive, safe, and livable communities. I would also utilize my BS in psychology to help build mental health partnerships with the Office of Community & Civic Life.
My background working in law and human health services, gives me the proper experience with people in crisis and trauma as well as having worked under difficult time constraints to work well with the Portland Fire & Rescue.
I would love working with the Portland Bureau of Transportation, as I have a variety of ideas to help reduce our traffic-related fatalities and increase the use of mass transit through restoring previously used safety measures, like safety teams and by revitalizing the once popular Fareless Square. Plus, I have additional ideas to make bicycle travel safer so more people will use the greenways to access work and recreational activities.
Are there any bureaus you do not want?
I would be happy to serve with any of the bureaus.
What is one concrete action you would take immediately upon entering office to reduce the number of people living on the street?
I’ve already been reaching out to nonprofit organizations in an attempt to find ways to improve outcomes for the houseless. With the city behind me, I will immediately work to increase opportunities for transitional mental health (including substance use) services, which will include peer mentoring that increases the success rates for individuals.
By partnering with local healthcare facilities, we can help move people off the streets of Portland but more importantly we can help them get the services they need to ultimately be successful.
It is my stance that getting people off the streets is not the entire objective.
I have a holistic approach. My agenda includes a larger focus than merely removing people from the streets. We need to help people obtain the services they need to achieve success, so they do not simply end up back on the streets.
But I have many more ideas. Such as streamlining the permitting process and reducing the cost of fees so that more facilities can be built.
If the city were to increase shelter supply, would you support requiring people living outside to move into shelters?
I would utilize a team-approach to help get people off the streets and into shelters. If individuals are hesitant to move off the street, we should utilize social workers and therapists who can use their talents / skills and abilities to ascertain the reasons for their reluctance so that the city can work to find solutions to individual concerns. Such as:
1) Many homeless shelters don’t allow couples to be housed together (perhaps we could work to resolve this issue by locating couples’ housing).
2) Some people do not want to leave their pets behind on the streets (this is another issue we could work to resolve).
3) I’m sure there are a wealth of reasons why people would be uncomfortable moving into a shelter but, with a compassionate and patient approach, I’m sure we could come up with solutions to help house those living outside.
The charter commission is currently in the process of reviewing and making recommendations to Portland’s charter. Do you support changing the form of government? Why or why not? What specific changes would you support or recommend?
I support some of the ideas that have been presented to change the charter. However, I would propose enhancing the partnership with the city and the neighborhood associations, which already exist to give a voice to all Portlanders. I would like to see more funding and support go to the neighborhood associations, which would help build a broader community and enhance involvement from all Portlanders.
Name a policy the council adopted in the last four years that you disagreed with. Why did you feel that way? What would you have done differently?
Defunding the police by $ 15 million dollars.
By looking at the crime statistics, you can see according to KOIN news:
“PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – For Portland, 2021 was the most violent year on record, reaching the highest number of homicides in one year the city has ever documented. ”
I would have increased funding for better training and to increase resources to the police so that they could reach out to social workers and / or therapists, who could ride along on police visits that involved people in crisis.
Racial justice protesters and advocates have called for years to dramatically reform the Portland police bureau. Do you believe changes need to be made to the police? If so, what are they?
I believe improvements can be made. My goal would be to provide better training and multiple resources so that police have someone they can reach out to with mental health and substance use expertise. These experts could be available to answer questions, provide input and to give additional support services. I would like to have advocates available to ride along with police when they are dealing with individuals in volatile situations.
I believe law enforcement personnel are currently expected to enforce laws while dealing with highly emotional issues and people in trauma. I think this could be better done by having a skilled and talented therapist available to de-escalate situations, while with the police.
Poll after polls shows the electorate is furious with city leaders for a wide variety of issues – trash, homelessness, rising crime. Which of the many problems Portland faces do you see as a priority for your first term in office?
1) AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Affordable housing can be achieved with transitional rent assistance and by partnering with organizations / nonprofits to help bridge economic barriers and employment gaps so every Portlander can be proud of where they live.
2) MENTAL HEALTH / SAFETY
Expand pre-arrest intervention and diversion programs and partnering with local businesses to empower people affected by the lack of transitional healthcare. I’ll continue supporting those affected by addiction, especially due to houselessness and poverty. Increasing safety funding and mental health partnerships.
3) CLIMATE SOLUTIONS / POVERTY
Using a radical approach to achieve real progress by offering tax incentives to lower emissions and increasing affordable / safe public transit.
Involving local communities by coordinating with key partners, schools, and corporations to build green scapes and community gardens. The gardens will absorb carbon while reducing food insecurity for the houseless while working toward long-term climate challenge solutions.
4) SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESSES / TOURISM / TRAVEL
Supporting local businesses by working with community leaders to rebuild Portland’s small businesses through local support. Community starts with city-wide investment, including neighborhood associations for a collaborative process via public-private partnerships that work to increase safety and sanitation for our beautiful city, parks, and rivers.
What do you think the city could do to speed up the construction of affordable housing?
Streamline the permitting and inspection process, cut wait-times, eliminate or reduce fees and reduce comment timelines.
What can be done to make Portland’s roads safer?
Restore transit police / safety teams to buses and MAX. More people will ride mass transit if it’s safe.
Prioritize bicycles and automobiles at the same time. Not everyone can ride bicycles.
My husband immigrated from Denmark. I’ve visited Denmark several times and seen their safe bicycling system.
Traffic-related fatalities have increased dramatically since Portland began the “20 is Plenty” philosophy on April 1, 2018.
2018–34 traffic related fatalities
Those numbers more than doubled in the last three years, even though the pandemic cut traffic on the roads.
2019-51 traffic-related fatalities
2020–59 traffic-related fatalities
2021–73 traffic-related fatalities
Factors contributing to this astronomical increase in traffic fatalities include:
1) The city eliminated auto lanes on the streets. Two lanes headed west and east, were each cut to one, increasing the volume on a single lane exponentially, based on multiple streets being affected. But the PBOT didn’t stop there.
2) In 2015 PBOT studied phase I of “Traffic Calming” with its “PRIMARY PURPOSE” to “Reduce auto traffic” and “prioritize bicycling.”
I would move bicycles up on one side of the sidewalk and restore the lanes that have been eliminated for automobiles, thereby reducing congestion, road rage and fatalities on the streets, while increasing bike safety, which would encourage more people to ride bikes.