September 16th, 2010 | Published in News
With former Metro President David Bragdon’s criticism still hanging in the air, it’s going to be a bumpy ride for the new man in charge of Metro’s day-to-day operations, Chief Operating Officer Michael Jordan.
As Metro, the region’s central planning authority, looks ahead to the next 30 years, it sees huge obstacles in the way of the region’s livability and prosperity. How will Metro expand the Urban Growth Boundary in a way that avoids the 12,000-acre planning and development train wreck that occurred in Damascus? Can Metro help head off a projected $15 billion to $20 billion road construction and maintenance shortfall? How will Metro address the concerns of businesses and residents about job growth, economic development and even schools and areas where Metro has no legal jurisdiction?
Jordan, for one, doesn’t think the region has the public consensus to deal with the challenge. Not yet.
“I realize I’ve dumped quite a load on you,” Jordan said at a recent briefing. Representatives from 14 special service districts, such as rural fire, water districts and suburban parks and recreation districts from around the region had gathered to hear Jordan pitch his broad vision of the solutions to problems that might face the region.
“I’m not convinced the model is right,” commented one man. “There’s a disconnect between recognizing that there isn’t a good environment here for small business.”
“Our average incomes are developing below the national average,” said another man. “Are we going to be able to attract people here?”
“I’m not convinced the agenda you’ve put here will make the triple bottom line,” said yet another.
It’s nothing that Jordan hasn’t heard before. Before he came on board in 2003 as Metro’s first COO, not unlike a city manager, Jordan was a Clackamas County commissioner and city administrator for the town of Canby. He knows the ins and outs of anti-government rhetoric and the concerns of rural constituents.
But these comments are part of a rising tide of concerns voiced by residents but also by leaders and the city of Portland that for more than a decade the region has been more focused on livability than job growth.
Paul Savas, the owner of an auto repair shop and candidate for Clackamas County commissioner, describes what he sees as a “disconnect” between planning for livability and keeping the growth of the region alive. He sees Metro’s current push to expand the UGB as a grim reminder of its last expansion in 2002.
“Metro brought 12,000 acres into the Urban Growth Boundary but never brought in any money for roads,” Savas said of the Damascus expansion in Clackamas County. “There’s no development out there. I wonder if we are dysfunctional.”
In 2002, Metro brought in the vast 12,020-acre swath of land in the Damascus/Happy Valley expansion. In the following years, Metro began a planning process that envisioned a bucolic region of dense, village-like developments separated by open space and farmland. But nothing was ever built, and the planning process sparked deep divisions in the community.
“Out here in Damascus, there’s nothing,” said Damascus City Manager Jim Bennett. “The planning was extremely controversial. Some folks didn’t know if they wanted to be in the UGB,” he said. “Some folks still don’t know.”
In 2004, voters incorporated the Damascus area into a city in order to assert more local control over planning. In 2008, voters passed four small-government initiatives that limited the city’s taxing powers and required it to compensate owners for lost property values resulting from new regulations and zoning changes.
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