This Week's Curator: Jon Isaacs, of Montavilla and Uber
Jon Isaacs grew up in Milwaukie, just south of Portland, with the exception of his early teenage years, which were spent in Tampa, FL. He graduated from Rex Putnam High School and attended Oregon State University, graduating in 1996. While at OSU, Jon got involved with the student government and the Oregon Student Lobby (now OSA), which led to a career in politics, organizing, and now public affairs. Jon worked in student and community organizing at the local and national level until 2001, when he began working for progressive Democratic campaigns in Oregon. Jon says, “People forget, but this state was mostly a Republican led state until the middle of last decade. I’m very proud of my work on the team that led the turning of the tide from Red to Blue in Oregon from 2004-2008 serving as the Campaign Manager and Senior Political Advisor to then House Democratic Leader Jeff Merkley, and now US Senate Jeff Merkley. Jeff, as you know is from East Portland.” Jon’s first son, Jay, was born during the 2008 Senate campaign as well. In 2009, resigned as Merkley’s State Director. He has since worked in a variety roles trying to find a balance between work that impacts the community and having time for his family. Jon got divorced in 2015, and has his kids half-time. He and his sons (Jay 10, Sam, 6) moved to Montavilla in 2016. He was recruited and accepted a job at Uber, leading their public affairs work in Oregon and several other Western States that year. Jon and his family absolutely LOVE living in. Montavilla. Jon says, “It’s such a unique Portland neighborhood, and it feels like our own city away from the city. But it has definitely opened my eyes to the inequities I always knew existed, but now I see on a daily basis. I see the problems, but I also see the progress and opportunities. I am excited to write about both.” Jon’s priorities in life are his kids, his partner, Diana Bailey, who owns and runs her own Immigration Law Firm, Bailey Immigration, and his work for Uber. In his personal time, he is a big Portland (Blazers, Timbers) and Oregon State University sports junkie. He also helps run a variety of gaming groups - tabletop, dungeons and dragons, starfinder.
Tell us about your neighborhood.
I live in Montavilla. The strength is the diversity. It is truly a multi-racial, multi-ethnic area of the city, which I love. It also is a crazy mix of the old and the new. And one thing I think daily is that it feels like any other neighborhood in Portland, yet the rest of the city talks about East Portland like its some far away mystery place. If you didn’t know you were on SE 88th and Yamhill, you might guess you were on SE 45th and Yamhill. I have a clearer understanding of how much of a dividing line SE 82nd is, especially living so close to it. I see it just when I tell people where I live. The perception that things are different or bad somehow compared to the rest of the city is real. The ups and the downs are completely driven by SE 82nd avenue, which I’m going to tweet about a lot this week. SE 82nd ave is clearly at an inflection point and I’m very worried the city isn’t paying enough attention to it. As property after property gets sold and ready to be re-developed it is becoming very obvious to me that there’s not a strong plan (or none at all) and what is best for the neighborhood around it is being lost. I have come to LOVE living a block off of SE 82nd Ave., and I can just see the opportunity for it to become truly great, but I’m afraid it’s being missed right before our eyes.
What are your favorite East Portland things to do and places to go?
As a family we love going to Stark Street Pizza, Monkey King Kids Indoor Gym, and Batting 1000 batting cages (both my kids play baseball). I love the easy access to the best Vietnamese food in the city, and the easy access to Mall 205 (Home Depot, Target, Red Robin for my kids). We love living really close to Creative Science and Harrison Park schools too. I honestly think Monkey King is a hidden gem of a kids winter play place. We also love the Country Cat and good old fashioned Elmer’s pancakes for Breakfast. We also love living close to the SE 82nd movie theater just south of SE Powell.
What do you think would be most helpful for people in East Portland?
More walkable grocery stores. (new on going in on SE Stark and 82nd is exciting).
Just come out and pave some streets and add some sidewalks. Nearly every neighborhood has badly damaged and/or unpaved streets. It’s amazing how little has been done and it is a real thing.
More new apartment buildings. The apartment boom isn’t hitting much of East Portland, and certainly not my neighborhood.
SE 82nd needs a max line or a street car line. The lack of easily accessible transportation options basically forces people into cars.
More large employers. We are forcing people to travel long distances to get to work.
What keeps you up at night? What gives you hope?
SE 82nd has long been a street that needs a plan. I have both hope and worry that we are missing the opportunity to transform it into Portland’s next great city RIGHT NOW. Rising property values have clearly tipped several owners to selling as it seems like a new one gets fenced off for development every month now. With only a few exceptions, the replacement businesses or structures really don’t do anything for the neighborhood. Do we need three new storage unit businesses on SE 82nd? We need new, affordable apartments, new grocery stores, and the potential for neighborhood small business storefront shops like you see in other parts of Portland. What gives me hope is the thriving kids, families, and diversity I see in the neighborhood every day. I also worry about the lack of safety. So many of the main roads in East Portland are just flat out dangerous for pedestrians and bikes.
Why did you agree to be a curator?
I volunteered to participate because I have lived in East Portland now for 2 and half years, and with my background in Oregon politics I have a unique perspective to offer on how policy and investment decisions are or are not reaching our part of the city. I believe I can add that perspective with a family orientation being a Dad of two young kids.
You can find Jon on Facebook or on twitter @jonisaacsor. Lots of pictures of his kids, political retweets, sports, and some nerdy jokes.