Managing Growth an Issue
(The Oregonian, July 14, 1989)
By Richard Carson
The national preoccupation with economic development has given way to a new wave of public concerns about the impacts of growth, quality of life and the need to protect the environment.
1988 was a banner year for growth issues. Last June an initiative to limit growth was defeated in Orange County, Calif. The developers there spent $2 million to stop a proposal that would have allowed development only when all services (i.e., water, sewer, fire, police, schools) could be maintained.
In November a similar initiative was defeated in San Diego County. This time it cost developers $2.5 million. The defeated initiative followed a successful vote in San Diego to restrict new housing development to 8,000 units a year. Even Los Angeles is developing a growth-control ordinance.
The states of Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island also adopted growth management legislation. Closer to home, the Citizens' Alternative Plan was approved by Seattle voters in May to limit development in the city's downtown core.
These experiments in limiting growth were initiated to preserve a community's quality of life in the face of a perception of rapid uncontrolled development. A variety of tools were used: moratorium, quotas on housing types and caps on the number of housing.
In Oregon, the question is how will growth manifest itself? The warning signs are now in the Portland metropolitan area. Citizen activists have litigated against Washington County's West Side Bypass and the Tualatin River water-quality plan, fought to save old houses in Northwest Portland and defeated a Sauvie Island golf course expansion.
Others have seen the warning signs and moved to meet the challenges. In May, Gov. Neil Goldschmidt and the Economic Development Department released "Oregon Shines: An Economic Strategy for the Pacific Century," which gave the state's land-use system a new challenge: growth management.
Metro, the Portland metropolitan area's regional government, initiated an Urban Growth Management Plan in January. In April, Metro's growth management policy committee held its first meeting. In the next few months the committee will establish the program's work plan and start developing a set of policies to guide the region's future urban development.
Oregon's land-use planning program has provided a context for implementing a regional program that is not reactive in terms of prohibiting or limiting growth. In fact, the planning program is set up to accommodate rather than to discourage projected growth. The issues are:
- Urban sprawl The percentage of the region's population outside the urban growth boundary and in the rural areas is increasing. At what point will this growth conflict with what the statewide planning goals were designed to achieve?
- Urban infill What incentives are needed to encourage redevelopment opportunities in our region? There is a trend of growth in suburban areas, but we should also be working to maintain livability in established urban areas.
- Economic development Is it a public agency's responsibility to provide land for industry by product type? What type of lands are needed to serve the offices and factories of the future?
- Transportation The specter of traffic gridlock is being fueled by the fact that vehicle ownership nationally is increasing faster than both the numbers of households and employment. What should be the relationship between transportation and land use?
- Urban services The issue of consolidating water and sewer service districts has been raised in Clackamas and Washington counties. Improved water quality and the need to meet growth with a cost-efficient delivery system are becoming major issues. The solid-waste disposal system also needs to change in order to meet the needs of the region's growing population.
- Open space Should we enhance our quality of life through public access to natural areas both within and outside the urban areas of the region? How can we preserve and restore these natural areas for our children and the region's wildlife?
It is important from both the development and environmental perspectives to remain ahead of growth. Our quality of life is what makes this a desirable place for families to live and gives us a competitive advantage in attracting more and better-paying jobs for our citizens.
The growth management process in the Portland area will mean developers can save the expense of mounting a reactive pro-growth media campaign and the environmental activists can participate rather than undertake a divisive voter initiative.
Richard H. Carson is director of Metro's Planning and Development Department and is responsible for urban growth management.