Blog / 2015 / The Legacy of Mayor Charlie Hales

June 22, 2015

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. 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.

Charlie Hales, former Mayor of Portland
Gwenn Seemel
Dirty Hands (Mayor Charlie Hales’ Legacy)
acrylic on wood
19 x 14 inches

The original painting is available for $2000 plus shipping—see all the artworks that are currently for sale. Prints are in my Redbubble shop.

Charlie Hales, former Mayor of Portland
detail image

Mayor Hales is the center of the money sun in the composition. Beginning with the bearded man directly above him and going clockwise, these are the power players who harmed my community:

  • David Sweet is the Chair of the Noise Review Board, which decides how much additional impact a construction project can have on a neighborhood.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • A nameless police officer represents his many colleagues in this image, and they all protect the City’s interests.
  • Bob Ball is a developer and the CEO of Astor Pacific LLC, and he is also the Commander of the Portland Police Reserve Unit.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 is a developer and the Chairman of Williams & Dame Development as well as the stepfather of Tiffany Sweitzer.
  • 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.
  • 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.

a child with dirty hands
detail image

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.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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