ReCode Portland general meeting, January 17, 2008 (notes)

Note: prettier Word .doc appended.

Notes by Levin Nock (thanks Levin!).

Who's here tonight
Notes: spelling is unknown on some of these names, and some people who arrived after introductions are not included.
Russ, resident at TLC 3 years. Teacher, natural builder, wants to build a sustainable house.
Pat, wants to own garage/house someday, shared housing.
Will Newman, 20 acre organic farm near Canby, built first house age 14, 'fighting with building inspectors ever since', many building codes dont make sense.
Brush, TLC, Portland is in incredible position, learn how live densely packed, and part of ecosystem. Human and nonhuman habitat can look like a forest. Grassroots link together, find a voice, be part of change.
Bob, PSU LECL program (Portland State Univ) Leadership, Ecology, Culture & Learning. Excited about change.
Brenna Bell, TLC, wants to irrigate garden with bathwater. Use specific changes to address a bigger picture question how to live sust'ly. Wants systemic policy change grounded in specific examples.
Jeremy Leary, TLC, active in Portland Peak Oil group.
Ellie Hacala, teacher and wannabe urban farmer, wants to take her house off-grid
Judy Blommer, educator and herbalist with portland public schools. Here neighborhood has already had granny flats for 10 years, need composting toilets next. PSU LECL.
Julee, LECL student by night, pessimistic lawyer by day. retrofitting home, wants to try offgrid, humanure. Was naïve, can't do legally many of the projects she envisioned. Wants a (legal) demonstration project for others, to show how to remodel an old Portland home for sustainability. Also cohousing, want to share large home.
Sarah, landlord and property owner here and New Mexico. Cohousing. Difficulties with building inspectors-New Mexico codes much better for greywater.
Jeff Holoman, here to contribute to process, get codes that make sense, support biodiverse life.
Matt Needham, just moved to Portland, grew up Katmandu. Portland is incubator, and Pac NW in general. Wants to network.
Audria Matthews, architect, interested in how cities work, how support env'ly friendly ways of being. Saw article in Tribune.
Teresa (Tracey?) Talbot, has a quirky planning situation, and also works for the city, with PDOT right-of-ways.
Chris, from Montreal and LA, came here because Portland positioned well for sustainability.
Russ Stanton, Has been building gardens and squats. Starting streetcar press.
Joshua Klyber, contractor in Portland 6 years, pragmatist, interested in details exactly what needs to change.
Malora Golden, wants be permaculture designer. Wants rules of society to be efficient, and help us. Esp small farms, food.
Hope Medford, excited be here, volunteer TLC 5 years, educ with kids, permaculture, natural bldg. Lots of greywater in New Mexico, well accepted.
Levin Nock, greenbuilding consultant.
Chiffalee, with Willamette Week, followup visit after 'Rogue's Gallery infamy'.

Note: if anyone present was opposed to the ReCode mission, they kept their position secret.
Overview for new folks
Update and describe the project.
Set up working groups. Break out, take first steps, plan next meeting, report back.
Overview and Description
Why we need change: we are running out of time in which to use the rich resources that we have now, to develop cities that will thrive when we're farther down the peak oil curve. The more infrastructure that we can build or remodel now, that is water, energy, and resource independent, the better off our entire region will be, in the future.

The idea to revise codes has been germinating in many pockets, not just TLC Farm (Tryon Life Community Farm, What TLC farm wants to do, with greywater etc., many other people also want to do, but it is against code.
The Tribune article publicized the idea well. We are very early in the campaign. Lots of energy already-natural builders, developers, architects, homeowners.

Role of ReCode campaign: Network among different organizations, esp homeowner and Do It Yourselfers. Portland Government is listening to commercial greenbuilders, working at large scale with LEED etc., with professional time and money. Homeowners doing small projects need a better voice.
This week, talked with USGBC (US GreenBuilding Council). Also with Central City Concern, that wants to build 16-story downtown affordable housing, but is hitting code issues.
Forming Greywater Coalition.

We will advocate for code change, not just research it. Much of the research is already done, but not public. For instance, Brenna will post on the website tomorrow, a report by David Evans Assoc 3 years old, what code changes would be needed to allow a water-independent building in Portland. The city already has a 20 page list of recommended changes for city code.

ReCode can be a clearinghouse for information, and translate issues about code so that homeonwers can understand it.

After our meeting in December, ReCode was listed on the "Rogue of the Week" list by Willamette Week. Brenna talked with Hank Stearn afterwards and asked why. Hank said that he believed that we only want to benefit TLC Farm, not anybody else. She told him about the citywide and statewide benefits that we envision. Changes are needed at the state level, for water and building codes. This will benefit all Oregonians, to make the economy and environment better for all of us. TLC could pay $20k for a conditional use permit, or set up ecovillage zoning, and sidestep the issues. But we want a sustainable region, and want to empower everybody to succeed in remodeling their own residence easily.

Many former or would-be innovators have a deep fear and mistrust of building inspectors. After the 5th or 6th time of trying something new, and getting fined and forced to undo it, most contractors and do-it-yourselfers feel punchdrunk. Either they stop innovating, or they live in fear and distrust.

Many building inspectors are open to new ways of building. When code requires a specific functionality, and a UL test or other well-documented test proves this functionality, then many inspectors are happy to pass innovations. However, when code prescribes a specific METHOD to accomplish a function, then an inspector is not free to consider innovation.

Unlike many laws, building codes are relatively easy to change. Building codes do not keep powerful people in power, and they have a history of constant change. We have an excellent chance of success. Many engineers and inspectors want the codes to change. We need to get building inspectors involved. They can help us find the easy victories, what will make their lives easier?

City officials, various bureaus, designers, builders, all want to make this change. But there is a sense of inertia. There are many jurisdictions, each with many, many regulations. Most advocates for change have chosen to specialize on one issue, e.g. greywater, shared housing, co-op housing. We can weave these projects together, so that each change has strategic longterm impact. Changes could take 10 or 20 years, without focus. We would like to see these changes much faster. 10 years from now, we want to see significant new infrastructure already in place, grounded in new code.
4 working groups for this meeting
1)what we really want to see. Actual Desired Practices. (Levin Nock
2)What are regulatory obstacles, and what details do we want instead? Particular entities and statutes to change. (Julee)
3)Public Education. Media, outreach, schools, brochures. (Brenna Bell) The Lobbying Group from the last meeting will fold into this group, separate out later.
4)Networking. Collaboration, bring different perspectives together, built relationships and consensus. Statewide Portland and rural. (J. Brush)

Another group, of people who are not sure where they'll fit. To brainstorm ideas and ask questions.

Ollie program on KABU. He paid for a conditional use permit, and UV treatment for rainwater, to be legal.

Desired outcomes.
1)introduce the groups, who we are, how we will work.
2)Brainstorm list of potential action items
3)decide on next meeting time, within next month. Tentative times, first and second preferences. some people want to be in multiple groups. Networking group will help with logistics.
4)Identify particular roles, e.g. Point person, prtclr action items.

Each month, we will have a small group meeting, and a large group meeting.

Scope: State or more local. Many Portland issues are at the state level, such as greywater. We will envision what we want, then find which level of regulations need to change, to support that. We probably won't tackle any national issues, at least not this year.

Protocol for email:
In the message, the author should say, if it's ok to forward or post this message publicly. Unless the author says it's public, please don't forward it around.
Group Reports at end of the Meeting
Regulatory Group.
Point person is Julee,
Will meet Wed, every 2 weeks, inner SE, at 7pm. Probably at Red and Black.

Desired Practices group
Brainstormed a large list of topics. Next step is to organize it, then select a small subset of topics for initial work.
Russ Stanton is new point person, (was Levin for first meeting)
Russ welcomes emails about any alternative technologies new or old. Folks in other groups may have information about desired practices that they want to share.
Will meet first Monday of month, evening 7pm, probably at Laughing Horse.

Networking Group
Jeremy is new point person (was Brush for first meeting).
Focus on bridging potential divides, and benefits regardless of ideology. Discussed how to manage flow of info, for online vs offline people. General purpose announcements list, 1 or 2 emails per week. Also 2nd list with many posts, for hardcore online people.
Proposed and accepted: nobody speaks for ReCode unless it's a group decision. For now, is point person.
It's ok to say "I'm volunteering with ReCode, and I think" whatever. But not "I'm speaking 'for' ReCode in saying" whatever.
Next Meeting Wed Jan 30th at noon, at Red and Black.

Public education and outreach group.
Will produce fact sheets about greywater, then other topics.
Will work with the desired outcomes group, to make other fact sheets. Maybe slideshows or videos.
Gather facts, make materials, brainstorm distribution. e.g. Kids' environmental groups at schools.
If we have some facts, if really relevant, send a little to Brenna. She does not want much email.
Meeting, first thursday in evening, Feb 7. at Red and black. is website, for now.

next large meeting: third Thursday in Feb, Feb 21, 7 to 9 pm.
Portland Peak Oil: Jan 23 7pm, Charlie Stephens will give an update (St. Francis Dining Hall
1182 SE Pine). Jan 30 PPO policy meeting, candidates Amanda Fritz, maybe others.

Lecture series on Living building challenge. 6 petals, flowers.
7-part lecture. Start next week, thru greenbuilding council of Portland, good primer. Details on Portland GBC website.

Portland Tribune article on ReCode Portland sparks lively discussion

Today Jim Redden of the Portland Tribune did a solid story on the new ReCode Portland campaign, which is currently facilitated by TLC Farm. Once on the website, of course, frequent commenters with well-established anti-left perspectives jumped into the fray -- and so did some amazing allies with beautifully supportive things to say. Overall, it's a wonderful opportunity to deepen the conversation around what real sustainability, and democracy, can and should look like.

I enjoyed the chance to respond at length:

Dear Tribune readers,

Thanks so much for your energetic and often inspiring responses to ReCode Portland, this exciting new aspect of TLC Farm's programs! Portland's strength, and our best hope as an urban community, lies in so many folk with a passionate commitment to grassroots action for positive change. Reasonable people may disagree about the best approach, of course; that lends the resilience of diversity to our work. But I'm honored to be part of both the practice, and the discussion.

> Not all of [the laws] make any sence. Very few of them
> are really enforced.

> The only reason these people are even getting any
> attention is because they brought it upon them selves.

Indeed, that's true. As another commenter pointed out, a great many households in Portland make effective use of sustainability technologies that are formally illegal, by acting more or less underground. Why not us? Or, we could have relied on the fact that all our local officials and bureaus are looking to make changes anyway; a few wonks in a room could solve many of the problems. Why did we launch a public campaign to highlight these incongruities? Why did we invite criticism by talking at length about all of these "problems" with a reporter?

The reason is that we want to make this conversation as public, as open, and as democratic as we possible can. As a culture -- and as citizens of a city many consider a beacon of sustainability -- our best hope to unleash the innovation and creativity of the people in finding healthier and more responsible ways of living together. It's going to take all of us to not only eliminate ridiculous codes, but to transform practices and attitudes to better achieve our true values.

I'm going to engage the conversation in two sections: first, some brief clarification of the article itself; second, a more detailed answer to the few critical (but doubtless well-intended) commenters.

Thanks, everyone! See my next comment for further details.
J. Brush
TLC Farm legal coordinator


Now, going public involves some risks. Jim's a great reporter, but newspapers rarely get every single detail or aspect of a story completely right. So let me first clear up a few details.

Perhaps most importantly, the headline and first sentence are probably misleading. By no means were we shocked to discover that there would be zoning and code challenges involved in this project; indeed, we have always considered this a great chance for stakeholders to collaboratively solve long-standing issues. Some of the nuances were news (graywater is encouraged in WA, CA, and AZ -- but illegal in OR?), but positively transforming regulations has been part of the plan from the beginning.

Secondly, the approx. $20,000 master planning costs, and the approx. $6000 conditional use costs, are alternatives. With a master plan you have 10 years to initiate all the uses; with a conditional use review you have only 3.

Thirdly, while we support an experimental approach, the sustainability technologies we advocate are themselves well-proven. What we need to experiment with are social, economic, and political approaches to rapidly growing the use of such technologies.

Finally, BES (not OSD) combined with Metro and the Friends of Tryon Creek State Park to purchase a conservation easement over Park-adjacent land independently appraised at $400,000. As richard/s noted, that combined with a $600,000 mortgage from ShoreBank Pacific (at 8.5% interest, amortized over 25 years), as well as a $100,000 second mortgage from Equity Trust, Inc. (5% amortized over 10 years), and then donations ($350,000 from about 1500 people) and bridge loans. (To answer richard/s's question: yes, our mortgage payments have been promptly made. See our public financial statements here: . Second half of 2007 will be available shortly.)

Government partners were particularly pleased at the efficiency of this public/private partnership: not only do they have a permanent protective property interest in a proportion of the land, but they have the security of the terms of the 99-year lease with OSALT, which require that the entire parcel be used for sustainable research and education purposes. (No danger of selling out, L Gleason!) Government bodies got conservation of ecologically valuable land worth almost $1.5m, plus research, demonstration, and education programs, all for $300,000. That's a deal!

There are a few more inaccuracies in the article -- Brenna was on the Vision Council's engagement committee, not the steering committee; as a young campaign, ReCode Portland hasn't formalized partnerships with other groups yet; the only new structures built so far are outbuildings and temporary structures under the 200 sq ft building code threshhold; etc. -- but I'd like to turn now to specific issues brought up by commenters on-line.


> Human waste should not be used as fertilizer.

> Uh, Kumbaya Kids? The developing world is a disease ridden shi**ole...due in large part to the lack of modern santitation systems.
> Do the Tryon Creek folks intend to train their poop to stay
on their property? That must be some special poop. Smart too.
> Why has the environmental left been fighting against septic systems if they accomplish the same goal as your composting toilet?

This is a hot topic! "Wake up!" answered well, but I'll take the opportunity to go into more depth. "Modern" (ie. 19th century technology) sanitation involves dumping s$#% into drinking water, then piping it into the river when it's raining, or into a big cesspool next to the river when it's not. Even after the treatment plants, many municipal systems routinely violate the pollution standards set by DEQ and the EPA. Regardless, the nutrients fertilize something, usually unhelpful algal blooms.

That's what happens in the richest country in the world. "Developing world" urban areas suffer from far more heavily overtaxed systems (or none at all), without traditional practices or effective alternatives.

Extensive research into "waste treatment" shows what works: dense layers of biotic activity, in appropriate combination. This is a textbook opportunity for real sustainability: decentralized transformation of "waste", near the source, into valuable resources.

Maintained septic systems can work adequately, but they take far more space than is necessary and run the risk of leaching into groundwater. The reason is that they direct pathogen-filled liquid into the subsoil, in which there is much less biological activity. The best solutions maximize the opportunity for topsoil microorganisms, fungi, and plants to feed on and outcompete pathogens, and/or create so much heat that they can't survive. This can be done in two main ways:

1) Intensive wet bioremediation systems. Living Machines, rock and reed beds, mycofiltration systems, and other approaches increase the complexity and density of biotic activity interacting with water-borne wastes, while preventing leaching into the environment. They are very space-efficient, and work best at a neighborhood or institutional level where there is adequate consistency and attention to the system. We intend to create a demonstration model of such a system on the land, and streamline the permitting process.

2) Composting systems. A wide variety of technologies (as big or small as necessary) allow for a combination of nitrogen-rich "humanure" and carbon-rich mulch to be biologically processed safely, isolated from potential disease vectors, often involving temperatures high enough to rapidly kill pathogens. Once it has been completely processed (far more completely than "modern" municipal systems), it can be used on orchards or landscaping plants (to be super-safe, once again) in place of chemical fertilizers. Several states have operations that have been running successfully for years, even decades.

All approaches have been extensively tested, and our goal is to contiunue to verify the safety of all of these technologies exhaustively and finetune parameters for specific local situations.

By paying more attention to setting up an efficient system, and then small but regular doses of maintenance, we can create decentralized, safe, healthy closed-loop cycles rather than massive and obsolete billion-dollar industrial stopgap measures. Yes, in fact, we can "train" our poop to stay on our property by efficiently bioremediating it, and turning it into trees.

first things first:
> I think it is sad that the time, energy and dollars that could go to code fixes which would really benefit the community as a whole, or improve schools, or fix potholes will go to benefit this neo-hippy pot farm

Payin' my own way...:
> You see, cyn, those nasty folks sitting in their fancy homes after driving their big cars home....paid for all of it themselves.

> Note the difference from what your leftist, subsidized, grasping, lazy kumbaya-singin' bums at Tryon Creek want?

Old fart in Dayton, OR:
> More like a hippie commune, I thought we'd outgrown such childish ideological dreaming.

Well, the essential point of ReCode Portland is to benefit the community as a whole, by working with all interested stakeholders in creating regulations that accommodate and support the grassroots sustainability goals that the vast majority of Portlanders want. And TLC Farm provides low-cost and subsidized education to public school kids, and systematically supports alternative transportation modes (bikes, buses, carpools) that reduce traffic and potholes (which is also a key aspect of ReCode Portland).

It's a bit ridiculous to call a volunteer-run organization that has accomplished truly miraculous things by bringing together thousands upon thousands of active supporters and dozens upon dozens of organizations, "lazy". And for heaven's sake, we're open to the public 6 days a week and anyone can see we're not a "pot farm".

But are we "subsidized"? That's a more complicated question. As a non-profit, TLC Farm is in a sense subsidized because donations are tax-deductible. In addition, we receive grants from both government and non-government entities to perform work in the public interest. But compared to the enormous corporate welfare in this country, the tax loopholes for the wealthy, even the budgets of more establishment organizations, we are laughably un-subsidized by public funds.

Moreover, the residential community on the land (called Cedar Moon), is a completely separate legal entity that receives none of the funds directed to TLC Farm, and which pays 2/3 of the mortgage on the land. That's right: all of the residents of Cedar Moon pay market rates to live here, and then volunteer extensively for the non-profit.

And then we have to talk about the true "subsidies": the real, hard costs of pollution and wasted resources and climate change that are fueled by a disastrously short-sighted gluttony of fossil fuels, with the tab picked up by the government or (more often) future generations. We are much better weaned from those subsidies than most.

Hippy commune? Well, some of our volunteers have dreads, and others are factory-working bikers, and others are Lake Oswego grandmas, and others are soccer moms. This is a place where a wide cross-section of Portlanders feel comfortable and interact. And while Cedar Moon residents don't share incomes (the strict definition of commune), there is a lot of sharing of resources and consensus decision-making -- we like to call that "community".

> It is amazing how quickly the leftists who want to control everyone else....want to excuse themselves because their hopes and dreams are so much more lofty and poetic.

Ah yes, the political question.

Now, TLC Farm includes leftists, and liberals, and libertarians, and centrists, and folk who are sick and tired of politics and just want to do the work of creating a better world. I'm not going to speak for TLC Farm, but for myself.

I don't want the government to control everyone else, and I don't want exceptions. I want democracy: better and better social systems for freeing up human freedom and creativity, while protecting against abuse and oppression.

On that front, I think we're in trouble. Government is largely in the hands of big corporations and monied elites, we all know that. Spending is focused on militarism and repression, missiles and prisons. Foolish and irresponsible practices (enormous houses and cars that leave folk lonely, industrial farming, clearcuts) are heavily incentivized in an economic system that rewards short-term greed at the expense of long-term wisdom -- and then pays off the banks and investors with the people's money when the chickens come home to roost.

It's up to us, as regular people working together, to create alternatives to this poor pretense to "democracy". Real democracy doesn't mean that anyone can do whatever they want without consequences, but it also shouldn't mean that your only involvement in choosing our future is a ballotbox every few years. Planning should be brought as close as is effectively possible to the impacted people, to responsible grassroots community networks making collaborative decisions and taking direct actions. Government is best when it facilitates us, not dominates us.

For me, that's what ReCode Portland is all about.

Thanks everyone. I look forward to further discussion (though I rarely get much time to read and respond like this)!


ReCode Portland: organizing

Greetings, ReCoders!
Exciting things are on the move, though we've been a bit delayed getting the word out because of the holidays. Thanks for all the interest and input so far – it seems that this is ready to take on a life of its own!

This forum post is mostly the same as the email we just sent out to ReCode folks. To add to the discussion about how best to organize, new ideas, etc., just respond to this post! Once you're a participant or editor, you can create new topics too.

We had a great organizing meeting on December 13 at Laughing Horse Books. To read the detailed minutes, visit the ReCode blog at:

The next organizing meeting will be on Thursday, January 17 at 7 pm again at Laughing Horse Books (10 NE 12th). Hope to see you there!

Updates since the last meeting:
ReCode in the media: Our first media piece is happening sooner that anticipated. This past Sunday, TLC Farm got a call from Jim Redden asking “what's new?” and we couldn't resist telling him all about ReCode. Look for an article in Friday's Portland Tribune. Also, there is an article about ReCode in the most recent Communities magazine. Both articles focus on TLC Farm's involvement in ReCode, but we're very excited to be broadening the campaign beyond the work and vision of the farm.

Code Research: Amy Tyson wrote a comprehensive 35-page paper about ReCode, which discusses the history of building codes and zoning and details the specific regulatory issues TLC Farm is approaching in ReCode Portland. A great resource! (link to the website:

On that front, we're hoping to use TLC Farm's collaborative web site as a tool to coordinate the great research that folk are doing. See for further details on how to add to the site, and what our anticipated structure is. Please log in, and email us to be given editorial permissions!

Establishment of working groups:
To move the campaign forward, the folks at the meeting came up with the following five working groups. Each working group is autonomous and focused on its piece of the project, and all groups will come together once a month general meeting, to share resources and ideas and discuss strategy. Point people for the working groups act as catalysts to set meeting times and keep the group focused. If you're interested in getting involved with one (or more) of the working groups, please contact the point people. Some groups still need point people to help them move forward. Might that be you?

1.Code research and development. Point people: Cameron & Julee
Research what code and zoning is existing, and what we want to see. Figure out the process for creating new codes/ easier permitting for sustainable practices.
Folk (already) interested: Cameron, Julee, Matt, Amy, Tim, Jeff

2.Networking group. Point person: Brush
Keep in broader context, bring people in, cross-pollinate, contact allies. Get stakeholders on opposite sides, facilitate roundtables, understand the heart of issue. Networkers talk to people with concerns, not just ready-made allies. Also nationally, to bolster effort.
Folk interested: Brush, Magy, Jenny, Tim

3.Practices and goals. Point people (maybe?): Levin & Magy
What would these code changes look like on the ground? What is the world we want to see built? Work with code folks.
Folk interested: Levin, Magy, Julee, Amanda

4.Public education. Point person: ?
Public education through film, web, print media, etc. Create public awareness of the issues and garner support for regulatory change. Also, make easily accessible info about what the current codes are and how to navigate new ones.
Folk interested: Brenna, Amanda, Matt, Jeff

5.Government Relationships Point Person: Brenna
For both city and state.
Government is not keeping up with the desires/demands of the people. What concerns do they have, what are the hold-ups? Why were codes made in first place, and how can we address those concerns in a more sustainable fashion now?
Folk interested: Brenna, Jeremy

Fundraising: Not yet an established working group; could become so if people are interested. We don't want to wait for funding to get moving on the campaign, but will keep our eyes open for potential sources of funding for a paid organizer. We can write grants through TLC Farm. . .

Take care, and see you soon!

Feedback and participation welcome! Please send bug reports to

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