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Welcome to the soggiest week that Portland has seen for quite some time, plus the end of the short legislative session is in sight in Salem, and how to help a Ukraine under siege, even from thousands of miles away. Let’s get to it.
The weather is our lowest common denominator (after traffic), low-enough hanging fruit that we don’t usually bother to spotlight it in these weekly round-ups. But the so-called “atmospheric river” that will soak the Portland metro area over the next few days is a little different. While we’re used to heavy rain around these parts, this is different. We’re talking about enough rain to close down major ski areas and bring enough water to the region to flood river and trigger avalanches. And lest you think this is in fact a good thing after a too-dry February, consider that rains this heavy will actually erode our badly needed snowpack, given warmer air settling in. Cooler temperatures aren’t predicted to return to the mountains until Thursday at the earliest; we probably won’t see much of the sun again in the Willamette Valley until early next week.
Events in Ukraine are unfolding at a dizzying clip, and the Russian invasion continues, even as Ukraine’s president presses for immediate admission of his country to the European Union and/or NATO, and other countries impose economic sanctions on Russia. Portland is home to a sizable portion of both Russian and Ukrainian immigration, and rallies in support of Ukraine have been popping up around the city. But the best way to help may be to contribute what you can for those affected—the Ukrainian Bible Church in Fairview is accepting donations for those displaced from their home to help with food, water and medical supplies as is the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Sellwood. (The Sellwood church sells handmade pierogis every Saturday from 11 am to 2 pm, for those who might want to offer their support and fill their stomachs at the same time.) If you’d rather give to a non-religious organization, Portland-based Mercy Corps has announced it will be sending a team to the country for on-the-ground humanitarian aid.
The cast of SNL aren’t the only ones trying to cope with the whiplash effect from changing COVID regulations. We’re right there with them (and suspect that public health officials in Oregon aren’t far behind.) Last week, the state announced on Thursday that it planned to lift indoor masking rules 11 days earlier than planned, thanks to plummeting COVID-related hospitalizations. On Friday, the federal Centers for Disease Control went a step further, announcing new criteria for when masking was recommended that would theoretically allow for the immediate lifting of regulations in the entire metro area. So far, state public health officials say they’ll stick with the March 19 date, but that could change if history is any guide—meanwhile, expect a call early this week from Multnomah County’s public health officials on what they’ll recommend going forward, including for schools and businesses.
Eviction Safeguards End
As the current phase of the pandemic gives way to the endemic era, some of the earliest safeguards put in place to cushion against the impact of lockdown are coming to an end, including, today in Oregon, the expiration of eviction laws designed to prevent tenants from being booted out for lack of ability to pay their landlords. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a wave of people will immediately be out on the street—if you can show your landlord that you’ve applied for rent relief via the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, that buys some time. But that program was never intended to last forever, and has already had to take temporary breaks from accepting new applications after running out of funding. Meanwhile, state Democratic leaders last week unveiled a $400 million package intended to focus on affordable housing and homeless support.
Public School Plans
The state legislature is winding down the work of the short session in Salem (they are set to conclude on March 7), which means interested parties are running out of time to get attention for pet causes. We’re watching whether lawmakers will step in to alleviate the cuts to school employees—both teachers and support staff—in the face of declining enrollment projections in many districts, including Portland. Contractually, Portland Public Schools district needs to begin notifying about 120 teachers who are being “unassigned” as early as this week; at issue is whether to access emergency funds and COVID relief dollars now to stave off teacher cuts and keep class sizes down in hopes that as the pandemic passes, more families will return to the public school system, or to make cuts now mostly via attrition, in light of forecasts that show declining enrollment is due to high housing costs and low birth rates, not just pandemic choices. The Portland Association of Teachers president is addressing the school board on this topic this coming Tuesday; expect some passionate audience reaction.