“I’ve talked to some of the real old-timers, and you get the sense that St. Johns was annexed without much buy-in from the community,” says Babs Adamski, chair of the St. Johns Neighborhood Association and a feisty advocate for the area. “They recognized that the city could be delivering services, sure, but they really acted as their own community for many years.”
Ninety-five years after being folded into the city proper, the neighborhood still acts like a neglected stepchild ready to recount every grievance. Like how in 1940, Portland began turning 238 acres next to Smith and Bybee Lakes into the city’s largest landfill, where up to 14 million tons of domestic waste and industrial detritus from a pesticide-manufacturing facility would find a home for the next 50 years. Adamski points to a story from the 1950s, when a local young girl died from lack of quick transportation to the hospital in Portland. Instead of waiting for the city to do something, St. Johns residents raised the money themselves for an ambulance. They dubbed it the Shirlee Ann, in honor of the little girl.
As if those ancient grievances weren’t still fresh enough, last year the Police Bureau pulled its precinct in the face of a budget crunch. After a brief spike, the neighborhood’s crime stats have actually dipped over previous years. But even Officer Joseph Sharpe, a former North Precinct cop who still regularly patrols the neighborhood, feels vulnerable. “It’s feasible that my cover could be 15 to 20 minutes away on one of those really fucked-up days when Inner Northeast turns into a complete zoo,” says Sharpe, whose been patrolling St. Johns for five years. “What happens if I pull over somebody who wants to fight?”