Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

The legacy of Mayor Charlie Hales

2015 . 06 . 22 - Comments / Commentaires (16)

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For years now, I’ve been living in the middle of a bunch of bad decisions made by local authorities. My building has been surrounded by at least five active construction sites since 2013 and the activity is slated to continue at this same frenzied pitch for years to come. This is already difficult, but, when you factor in that the same people whose poor planning skills allowed this to happen in the first place are also failing to enforce construction laws, you have a very dangerous situation. So, like any artist would, I decided I’d better paint about it.

I’m still a little surprised that I made this painting instead of expressing my discontent another way.

Mayor Charlie Hales' dirty hands

Gwenn Seemel
Dirty hands (Mayor Charlie Hales’ legacy)
acrylic on reclaimed wood
19 x 14 inches

After all, when you’re surrounded by unlawful behavior day after day and people are getting away with it, it’s hard not to think of all the things you should get away with too.

Mayor Charlie Hales' friends

detail of Dirty hands (Mayor Charlie Hales’ legacy)

Mayor Hales is the center of the money sun over the north Pearl. Beginning with the bearded man directly above him and going clockwise, the power players in my neighborhood’s continuing struggles are identified below.

Noise Review Board Chair David Sweet Doug Shapiro Vice President of Construction for Hoyt Street Properties Kevin Parrett DEQ

details of Dirty hands (Mayor Charlie Hales’ legacy)

At left, David Sweet is the Chair of the Noise Review Board, which decides how much additional impact a construction project can have on a neighborhood. In the middle, Doug Shapiro is the Vice President of Construction for Hoyt Street Properties and he manages the day-to-day operations of construction, including remediation of contamination. At right, Kevin Parrett is the Manager of the Cleanup and Tanks Section of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and he can compel the construction companies to comply with laws.

Tiffany Sweitzer President of Hoyt Street Properties police Bob Ball CEO of Astor Pacific LLC

details of Dirty hands (Mayor Charlie Hales’ legacy)

At left, Tiffany Sweitzer is a developer and the President of Hoyt Street Properties as well as the poster child of sustainable development in Portland and now globally as well. In the middle, a nameless police officer represents his many colleagues in this image, and they all protect the City’s interests. At right, Bob Ball is a developer and the CEO of Astor Pacific LLC, and he is also the Commander of the Portland Police Reserve Unit.

construction worker Mark Bruun from Lorentz Bruun Construction Kathy Couch with the City of Portland

details of Dirty hands (Mayor Charlie Hales’ legacy)

At left, a nameless construction worker represents his many colleagues in this image, and specifically those who follow the rules dictated by their companies before following city ordinance. In the middle, Mark Bruun is the President of Lorentz Bruun Construction and he makes money off of projects which often make noise during hours when they should be quiet. At right, Kathy Couch is an Office of Neighborhood Involvement bureaucrat, and she writes the minutes for Noise Review Board meetings, creating a subjective document of the proceedings that is also the official document.

Homer Williams Paul Van Orden with the City of Portland Dike Dame

details of Dirty hands (Mayor Charlie Hales’ legacy)

At left, Homer Williams is a developer and the Chairman of Williams & Dame Development as well as the stepfather of Tiffany Sweitzer. In the middle, Paul Van Orden is the City of Portland’s one Noise Control Officer and, according to City Hall, the only person who can enforce noise laws despite the fact that city ordinance clearly includes police officers among those empowered to do so. At right, Dike Dame is the President of Williams & Dame Development, and he serves on the board of Portland State University’s First Stop Portland, a program which he founded, which is intended to promote Portland development to the world, and which is headed by Mayor Hales’ wife, Nancy Hales.

And, though he didn’t make the cut for this artwork for a variety of reasons, I’d like to add a shout-out to Joel Andersen of Andersen Construction for his participation in the NV building—a project with a name so tacky that every time it’s said out loud a unicorn gets heartburn. His company has been working seven days a week for the last three weeks, stealing our Sundays and even taking extra hours before 7 AM and after 6 PM on other days.

The City’s response to this situation comes in the form of Paul Van Orden and David Sweet falling all over themselves to make excuses for Andersen. Their logic (if you can call it that) is as follows: according to our description of Andersen’s outside-of-ordinance activities, the company is probably just producing “normal” noise levels. Yes, hammering and clanging and clattering as well as drilling and generator noise and back-up beepers for ten hours on a Sunday is now normal in the north Pearl, but that doesn’t make it lawful, right, or healthy for residents.

It really wouldn’t be that hard for the City to declare the north Pearl a “construction concentration zone” and give the neighborhood a weekly break from construction. And before Andersen and the other construction heirs can complain, I just have to say: don’t bid on a project in a residential area where there’s a bunch of other projects too if you can’t handle being civilized in how you do your work.

Mayor Charlie Hales' dirty Hands

detail of Dirty hands (Mayor Charlie Hales’ legacy)

This is not a portrait of a specific child. She represents all the kids in my building, including the ones who attend the preschool on the ground floor. These children all play in our building’s playground, a structure that is surrounded by active construction sites which are all on contaminated land.

And, speaking of contaminated land, the two enormous piles of dirt looming over the playground (which you can see in the full image) are a portrait of two very specific piles of contaminated dirt that loomed over the playground for more than six months without any coverings or other dust mitigation tactics being used. They were there until my partner and I started asking pointed questions about them. And then one of them was still there for an additional seven weeks while we asked more pointed questions that were studiously ignored. It was only after a whole lot of effort and emails from us that they were removed entirely.

That said, the land that those piles sat on, just like all the undeveloped blocks in the north Pearl, is still contaminated, and there isn’t a layer of clean dirt on top of the stuff laced with industrial waste. So when bulldozers, other heavy machinery, and construction worker vehicles go cruising through construction sites and special construction parking lots in this neighborhood, they are kicking up dust that is potentially full of contaminants. It seems like a simple fix to cap the remaining land with a few feet of clean dirt, and for all of us who are living in the middle of it, from newborns to ninety year olds, I sure hope that happens sooner rather than later.

- Open discussions and public shaming / Les discussions ouvertes et l’humiliation publique
- 7 lessons learned while doing public art through the RACC
- The real danger in not standing up for yourself

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(16) Comments / Commentaires: The legacy of Mayor Charlie Hales

-- Lynette -- 2015 . 06 . 22 --

“Dirty hands” is an awesome piece of political art, Gwenn.  I love its dichotomy.  You did a great job!

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-- Libby Fife -- 2015 . 06 . 22 --


I opened this up this morning and all I could say was “Good for you! Go Gwenn!”

I don’t know you of course but I sure wish I did! (Just not in that neighborhood though, OK? Somewhere quieter!)


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-- Kate Powell -- 2015 . 06 . 22 --

Excellent.  I have loved your art and I say, this is the best.  Using art as a political statement is what the TedX gal must do, from time to time! Send a copy of this to the local rag—I can’t remember the name of it—that we all get over here, the free rag!  I bet they pick it up.

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-- Debra Giannini -- 2015 . 06 . 22 --

Thank you, your work is awesome—- I agree it wuld make a great TEDx program

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-- Nina Jackson -- 2015 . 06 . 23 --

I suffered the wrath on Division for 3 years trying to run a small, neighborhood business in between multiple street closures, construction sites, sewer renovations and bike/bioswale installations. Parking was a critical issue, and I sold furniture that needed picking up.  I was motivated to move away from Portland after that experience. Charlie doesn’t care about who suffers.  The residential neighbors were so sad to see these abrupt and massive changes and I no longer recognize the old neighborhood.  A long time ago, he changed the zoning on Dragonfly Gardens, forcing a sale to a developer that must have been a friend of his.  Can we file a class action lawsuit?  Thank you for creating this important piece of art and voicing the concerns.

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-- Gwenn -- 2015 . 06 . 24 --

@Lynette: Thank you, friend!

@Libby: Yes! Let’s meet anywhere but here! smile

@Kate: We’ve been trying to get the press interested in this story for months now—long before I made this painting. The Health Authority is concerned about what’s happening here but it is also very sensitive about “causing a panic” and I’m thinking that’s part of why no one wants to touch the story. Who knows? Maybe everything’s really fine. Still, if it really is all on the up and up, why is the DEQ so bad at keeping records? And why did they tell us to pull records (and ask us to pay for the privilege) when they knew the records didn’t exist? :(

@Debra: Thank you!

@Nina: It makes me so sad to hear your story. It is the real Portland story right now—regardless of what Nancy Hales is trying to sell as the Portland story through the First Stop Portland propaganda machine. I very badly want to see Mayor Hales kicked out, but then I’m not sure anything would really change. He’s not the one who’s actually running things. The people who give huge contributions to his campaign are the real bosses. :(

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-- Debra Fant -- 2015 . 06 . 26 --

I so wish you could get this painting onto a building wall before you leave town!!!!!  That would teach ‘em to piss off a creative artist!!!!!

The images in your painting are delightfully draconian and powerful…...I’m so sorry Portland business has kicked you and your neighbors in the teeth, and I hear you about the safety concerns for those living in the noise and dust zones.  I hope there is some way of getting this OUT THERE to expand your say, to awaken others to what’s going on, to bring some sense to those who are involved in the projects and the business of it all. 

Best wishes to you and David in your new life journey - I’m guessing there are rich blessings and adventures awaiting you and trust that you can leave this nest and still return to visit.  Trust the process!  Much love, Debany76

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-- Gwenn -- 2015 . 06 . 29 --

@Deb: Thank you, friend! You make me smile! What’s most concerning to me is how few people in my own building understand that a lot of the tension in their homes comes from the horrible environment that City planners have created. That, and I can’t believe how few residents know about the contamination. They’ll put a warning on a pack of cigarettes, but not on a neighborhood…

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-- cjy -- 2015 . 06 . 30 --

Well done Gwenn. Very strong painting. I toast your hutzpah - both artistic and verbal. Portland is losing a very talented and solid citizen. I hope Virginia is good to you smile

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-- Trudy -- 2015 . 07 . 01 --

i think it would be awesome to present this video to the city council, as testimony. 

I can’t recall what it’s called, but one can request a time / topic, rather than just waiting to offer that stunted, 3 min. “input” on an agenda item scheduled by the City.

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-- Gwenn -- 2015 . 07 . 01 --

@CJY: You are kind!

@Trudy: Thank you for commenting with your support! We’re looking through emails between the City and developers right now—we did a (not inexpensive) records request. Behind the scenes, the City is very clearly on the developers’ side. Public officials featured in my painting apologize left and right to developers for the trouble my neighbors, my partner, I have caused. Also, in my experience, the public meetings at City Council are a show. It’s where the public officials check the box for “sat through citizen testimony to make it seem like a democracy.” The real decisions are made before or after and behind closed doors via council members’ assistants negotiating with each other.

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-- Guenevere -- 2016 . 08 . 11 --

Great video, and the message is there. Government depresses me, or actually it depresses me that more people aren’t upset at the way our government works.

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-- Gwenn -- 2016 . 08 . 12 --

@Guenevere: So many people are distracted by “dinner and diapers” as I like to call it. The stuff of everyday life can be really overwhelming. And I get why they allow themselves to be distracted. Waking up to the fact that the people who are supposed to represent you are doing a crappy job is not pleasant. :(

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-- Kate Powell -- 2016 . 08 . 12 --

I’m still here in NW and you cannot believe how bad it has become.  It is a bit like dodging grenades, as the city does not look at any permit to see if street closures are necessary, or how people CANNOT even move around.  I am sure someone at the planning department is being paid off—or several somebodies.  And we have no real newspaper here… pffft to the Oregonian.  I became the crazy old lady yelling at the last group as they cut down 40 trees (all moveable) for yet another stupid uglier-than-shit highrise.  And Portland has little in the way of good design to boot, so this city is starting to look like Soviet block housing.  Really awful.

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-- Gwenn -- 2016 . 08 . 14 --

@Kate: I’m so sorry, friend. I feel like I’m still recovering from what Portland’s poor planning did to me, and it’s been a year since I lived there! Take care of yourself. <3

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-- Kate Powell -- 2016 . 08 . 14 --

We take different routes so as not to see the destruction….

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