February 9, 2014

Oregonian Fails to Fully Expose Backward-Looking Group Which Chased Away Trader Joe’s in Poor Section of Portland

This past Monday, Andrew Theen at the Oregonian reported that “Trader Joe’s is backing away from a development in Northeast Portland,” citing, in the company’s words, “negative reactions from the community.”

Actually, the vast majority of “the community” wanted the grocery chain to build in the once bustling but now troubled area. Theen quoted Portland’s “city leaders” as calling the decision “a loss for the city and particularly for Northeast Portland.” Neighbors and business owners in the area, described here as “once the heart of Portland’s African-American community,” had been “thrilled” about the project. It’s people who largely aren’t part of that community who opposed the deal. On Friday, as will be seen after the jump, Theen had a chance to fully expose the radical, backward-looking grievance mongers who stopped progress, and to a significant extent blew it.

Theen did a good job of recounting the basic history of the Portland African American Leadership Forum (PAALF), the group whose shrill opposition and impossible demands chased Trader Joe’s away (bolds are mine throughout this post):

… Initially backed by The Urban League of Portland, in 2011 PAALF found a new home and supporter in Self Enhancement Inc., the North Portland charter school and social center.

OregonianAndrewTheen

That same year, Meyer Memorial Trust, one of the state’s premier philanthropic foundations, agreed to contribute $100,000 a year to the group.

The leadership forum’s opposition to the PDC’s deal with a California developer to bring Trader Joe’s had its roots in a project PAALF launched in January 2013.

That month, (Forum staffter Rachel) Gilmer and (Director Cyreena Boston) Ashby began running monthly meetings of PAALF’s African American Leadership Academy, a free, year-long training program which drew more than 60 applicants.

The class included a lawyer, financial investor, City Hall staffer and small business owner and participants aged 22 to 40.

Academy members settled on researching how city policies and urban renewal money contributed to the departure of more than 10,000 people of color from North and Northeast Portland between 2000 and 2010. The group studied the displacement of black shipyard workers by the 1948 Vanport flood and the subsequent history of redlining by area realtors and banks. They pulled up the 1990s-era Albina Community Plan to analyze what city leaders had promised minorities in the past.

In other words, the academy “trained” its attendees to focus on past grievances.

This “training” conditioned academy “graduates” to feel “jilted” (Theen’s word) when the city chose to sell the land involved to a realty company at an alleged “discount” to begin the Trader Joe’s project. The fact that they had previously been given a tour of the area somehow made them believe they should have been consulted first. On what basis?

As a result, the group wrote what Theen described as a “scathing letter” better described as a “bitter manifesto” opposing the deal, and convinced “a national NAACP leader,” Dedrick Asante Muhammad, the group’s senior director of economic programs, to write an editorial in the Huffington Post (“Must End Gentrification to Advance Economic Equity”) condemning it. Muhammad claims that “the city committed to including … PAALF in any major development decisions that would impact the Black community.” Even if the city supposedly made this anti-democratic promise, the land involved is vacant, and will now stay vacant for some time. The city probably thought that any fool could see that some development is better than none.

They underestimated the economic denseness and childishness at PAALF. A few excerpts from their demand letter — excerpts which Theen and to my knowledge others at the Oregonian never highlighted, will illustrate:

It mandates no affordable housing and no job guarantees from Trader Joes. A new Trader Joes will increase the desirability of the neighborhood to nonoppressed populations

… The choice to not provide family appropriate affordable housing above the proposed Trader Joes retail space is consistent with a long standing series of actions that between the 2000 and 2010 census displaced over 10,000 people out of Inner NE Portland.

… Wealthy and politically powerful interests (financiers, developers, and speculators) want “blighted” innercity land because it is profitable. In Portland’s history, primarily Black neighborhoods have been located on some of this land. Interests have used their power and influence over our government to take the land that Black people once held for their personal profit.

As a community, we demand that the City of Portland and Portland Development Commission commit to … Publicly endorse the position that Legacy Emmanuel Hospital must relinquish the still vacant property on the corner of North Russell and Williams, and bequeath it to the African American Community in the form of a community land trust. Formerly the location of a Black business district, the Emanuel Hospital expansion razed and displaced hundreds of African American homeowners and businesses on this site almost 40 years ago.

So what PAALF really wants is for the city to carry out a land grab (safely assuming that “the African American Community” = PAALF or certain of its individuals) on their behalf to settle a concocted four-decade grudge.

Though Theen completely and unnecessarily avoided the inflammatory language as he described what PAALF wanted, he did get to its troubling essence:

At the site the grocer had since abandoned, (president and CEO of SEI Tony) Hopson and (former state Sen. Avel) Gordly led the news conference. Ashby and Gilmer chimed in, as did leadership academy graduate Steven Gilliam.

“This was not about Trader Joe’s,” Gilliam said in response to questions from reporters. He said the group’s opposition was rooted in development commission’s “broken promises of the past.”

Great. We’ve got another young, up-and-coming “African-American leader” apparently dedicated to the ideas of revenge and reparations instead of forward progress.

With attitudes such as those seen from PAALF’s leaders and “graduates” — and they are present in so-called “African American community” groups around the country — it shouldn’t surprise anyone that inner-city economic progress is so elusive.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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