Internal Logistics and Form of Government are Key to Resilient Cities Grant Jumpstart

Portland, Ore., is among the locations hoping for a Resilient Cities grant as Alameda, Calif., goes its own way.

by Jim McKay / October 17, 2014
Officials in Portland, Ore., are waiting to hear if the city has been selected to receive a grant as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Challenge. Shutterstock

Alameda in California’s Bay Area was originally chosen as one of the inaugural cities in the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Challenge. But an inability to see eye-to-eye with the foundation eventually led to the $1 million grant being pulled.

The program will provide 100 cities worldwide the resources for a chief resilience officer and technical support for two years. The foundation received 400 applications from cities and initially chose 33 for the first go-round.

Alameda was one of those 33 until the falling out. The keys to the break in relations were a difference of what Alameda and the Rockefeller Foundation thought would be the role of the chief resilience officer, Alameda Assistant City Manager Alex Nguyen said in an interview with The Alamedan. He declined to talk with Emergency Management.

There were discussions and concerns within the city about how to sustain the position after the grant ran out, who would be chosen as the chief resilience officer and where the position would be housed. But the key was the difference between the foundation and the city on what the officer would do.

The city had a public safety official in mind for the positon but struggled with the logistics and funding of filling that person’s previous position and classifying the new position. Nguyen said the city and the foundation mutually parted ways.

Alameda says it may work with the Rockefeller Foundation in the future and in the meantime is continuing to pursue a resilience strategy that “makes sense.” Alameda was to be a part of a regional group of cities that included Berkeley and San Francisco as part of the program.

San Francisco hired Patrick Otellini, the former director of earthquake safety, as its chief resilience officer. He reports to the mayor, an advantage that will allow him to interface directly with department heads and avoid the silos present in government.

In Portland, Ore., city officials are preparing for an offer from the Rockefeller Foundation to be among the next group of local governments in the program. They received an application and are hoping to hear if it’s been accepted by the end of the year.

They too will have some internal discussions as to what the resilience officer will do and where the position will be housed.

“We have a pretty unique form of government in Portland and our elected officials, in addition to being legislators, also administer city bureaus,” said Dan Douthit, public information officer for the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management. “We have to work closely with all the City Council offices to make sure everyone is on board.”

There were concerns among council members, according to a report on Oregonlive, about expanding the scope of preparedness when there wasn’t enough money to address needs like replacing emergency fuel tanks. There were also concerns about duplicating what the current director of Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Management (Carmen Merlo) already does.

Douthit said the City Council ultimately supported the application and now awaits the decision of the Rockefeller Foundation.

“If we’re fortunate enough to receive the money, we would then engage in a discussion to determine the right location for this position and the direction of the position,” Douthit said. “We just haven’t had a detailed conversation about how we would use this position. We don’t want to duplicate efforts; we want to enhance what we’re doing. A lot of it is internal logistics that need to be figured out.”
 

This story was originally published by Emergency Management