Portland City Council costs the city $4.5 million in pursuit of “simpler life”

Seeking to “make life simpler,” Portland’s City Council voted unanimously last week to cave in to the demands of divestment activists and “not invest in any corporations period.”

Apparently, the prospect of abdicating their civic duty and costing the city millions of dollars a year was more attractive than dealing with increasingly aggressive divestment activists. "I fully respect and appreciate what you're saying, but I think it's the wiser course to get out of the business altogether because I don't want to do this every year," said Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who earns more than $110,000 as a City Council Commissioner … every year.  

Portland had already divested from Wells Fargo last December for their funding of the Dakota Access pipeline. Unsurprisingly, this did not appease activists—who use gallons of gas to drive to rallies and print numerous banners (which are made from petrochemicals) to rail against the the very oil and natural gas products that make their protests possible.

The City of Portland currently invests more than $1.7 billion, with about a third of that—$539 million—invested in corporate securities. By divesting from all corporate securities and putting that money into less profitable investments such as U.S. Treasury bonds, the city will lose $4.5 million each year, according to City Treasurer Jennifer Cooperman. An analysis by Portland’s mayor shows that $4.5 million could pay for 285 new units of housing, 850 wheelchair accessible curb ramps or more than 667 new beds for the homeless.

But while this decision represents a significant loss for Portland’s homeless and disabled, it was greeted as a victory by the divestment activists. "This is a win," said Hyung Nam, a member of the Socially Responsible Investments Committee. "The city is actually willing to lose money to their budget because they want to get out of these big corporate nightmares."

More accurately it seems the commissioners were willing to cost the city millions in order to get out of dealing with activists who were making their jobs more difficult and time-consuming. “When you start adding up all the things we’re going to be taking stands on that some would argue are tangential to fixing potholes, then it becomes a real opportunity cost,” said Commissioner Saltzman.

But rather than address the very real problem of divestment activists themselves, who are targeting city councils across America to advance their extreme political agendas, the Portland Council decided to give in to all of their demands—and cost the city $4.5 million a year—just to make their jobs a little simpler.

The experience in Portland should serve as a cautionary tale for elected officials in city councils and local governments across America. The fact is there is no end to the extremist demands of the “Keep It In The Ground” activists. Giving into their demands only emboldens them to demand more. And it’s only going to get worse.

There is a “new effort to work with leaders and community organizations to engage in local elections that are critical for climate and environmental justice issues,” according to Whit Jones, a campaign director for Lead Locally, a new project of the Advocacy Fund (which also funds Bold Nebraska, NRDC Action Fund, and the Sierra Club).

 This national organization partnered with community organizations in California last year to “make sure that voters’ demands to stop oil train terminals, or to stop fracking, were heard at the ballot box.” And it has vowed to work in elections across the country in 2017 and 2018.

Their goal is to “create more Rebel Cities that will divest from pipelines, stop new polluting power plants, and blaze a path to 100% clean energy.”

Given the “under the radar” nature of small-town politics—and the centrality of oil and natural gas to modern life—it behooves everyone in communities targeted by these activists to get involved and speak out against politically driven policy decisions that will have a direct impact on their wallets and their quality of life.