Metro slow to take on growth management planning
(The Oregonian, February 5, 1993)
By Richard Carson
The Portland metropolitan area is caught between increasing population growth and decreasing government revenues and our quality of life is held in the balance.
Metro is the agency charged with planning for the future of the region, but there are those who say that the planning being done is not adequate.
The Regional Alternatives Planning Process report, just released by the Architectural Foundation of Oregon, says "a growth management plan for the Portland region does not exist. Regional plans are ineffective, are often compromised for political reasons, are not developed using reliable information, do not meaningfully involve the public... and remain unimplemented."
Robert Liberty, a land-use attorney, argues that Metro has deferred regional planning to other entities. He believes that Metro is deliberately abrogating its responsibility in order to avoid political conflicts.
Portland Future Focus's Growth Management Committee, in a recent letter to Metro, raised similar concerns and asked Metro to "reevaluate the current regional-planning process immediately. Business as usual will not get the job done."
Metro's own regional survey found that 60 percent of the people in the metropolitan area believe that in 20 years the quality of life will be worse. Growth was the leading concern.
This is the reason the voters overwhelmingly approved the new Metro Charter that took effect Jan. 1. The charter's preamble clearly states that Metro's "most important service" is doing regional planning to enhance the quality of life for its citizens.
It establishes three basic planning requirements to achieve this goal:
- Adopt a 50-year Future Vision for the region, which includes planning for the "carrying capacity of the land, water, air educational and economic resources." Carrying capacity recognizes that there are some physical limits to growth such as the recent water shortage.
- Develop a Regional Framework Plan to implement the vision. This plan can bring Metro's planning goals, implementing plans (i.e., transportation, metropolitan greenspaces, solid waste and wastewater treatment), and the region's urban growth boundary together into a single planning context.
- Adequately finance such activities because "the regional planning functions are the primary functions of Metro."
Today, planning accounts for less than 4 percent of Metro's total budget. However, the charter now says the other 96 percent the operation of the zoo, convention center, exhibition and recreation facilities, and garbage-disposal facilities are secondary to regional planning.
Metro's regional planning program and its political leadership are clearly at a crossroads.
There will never be a better time to listen to those who are asking Metro to give its highest priority to regional planning and to have meaningful public involvement.
Metro's original 50-year planning program Region 2040 was to have been completed by December 1993. Metro was then to consider changes to existing regional plans and the urban growth boundary by the end of 1994. However, the new charter mandates that the Future Vision be finished between January and July 1995 and the Regional Framework Plan by December 1997.
Unfortunately, Metro's response has been to rename its entire 50-year planning program from Region 2040 to Region 2045 to account for this delay.
How many more people have to be here before Metro decides to do something? In five years, there will be 100,000 more people in the region. That works out to a need for 40,000 housing units, 220 more police, 100 restaurants, 18 elementary schools and three to four high schools, and 12 new shopping centers.
There is a time and a place for consensus building, especially when developing complex regional plans that address multijurisdictional issues. However, plans also need to be implemented. The fact is that before the charter was approved, Metro had tremendous growth-management authority but rarely used it for any purpose except scheduling regional transportation improvements.
Unfortunately, transportation-driven planning programs do not increase our water supply, protect natural areas or help create affordable housing. The only thing it does is continue the postwar development patterns that contribute to traffic congestion and make the pedestrian a second-class citizen.
It is time to make some changes. Metro should accelerate its schedule and start addressing the important growth issues now.
First, the regional planning program needs to be adequately funded. Metro is in its budget cycle for fiscal year 1993-94 and the results will be the first test of how committed it is to the voters' mandate.
Second, the Regional Framework Plan can be adopted earlier than 1997. In fact, it could be adopted simultaneously with the Future Vision in January 1995. A vastly improved Region 2040 plan could result in solutions that can be implemented through existing plans, before completion of the Future Vision, or Framework Plan, in 1994.
Third, we must measure the social, economic and environmental consequences between alternative growth scenarios. The Regional Alternatives Planning Process has identified 17 planning impact areas to consider for each scenario.
Finally, we must decide what is our vision? Vision, according to Webster's, is "intelligent foresight." The current effort to utilize a Visual Preference Survey where you are asked to rate 240 images is worthwhile, but extremely limited. A vision of the future metropolitan area needs to do more than sort out aesthetic preferences it must have substance.
Metro's outgoing presiding officer, Jim Gardner, agrees that these are substantive issues that need to be discussed and that interim steps might be possible. Metro has a new charter, a new presiding officer and a third of the council members are new. Let's hope this new Metro agrees and will take those steps.
Richard H. Carson is a member of the Growth Management Committee of Portland Future Focus.