Girding for Forest Grove's Growth
candidates -- This week, the News-Times continues its series of 'Questions and Answers' with the four
Forest Grove city council hopefuls weigh in on how
to handle the coming boom
Q. Forest Grove's population is currently at about 20,000. If you had your way, what would be the population in 2016 and in 2026?
CAMILLE MILLER: I'm not as concerned with the actual number as much as I am concerned with how we manage it. As long as we plan well for the additional housing, public safety and service needs of the new residents, a moderate growth rate is fine. I just want to see that we maintain the standard of living that we have historically enjoyed. As long as we maintain the small-town feel, the actual numbers don't matter.
RON THOMPSON: Moderate growth, two percent, would put it at 24,380 in 10 years. But the real world may be greater growth. In 2026 we would be 32,000 at two-percent growth.
ALDIE HOWARD: How fast Forest Grove will grow depends on what crystal ball one uses to forecast the future. Stopping growth is impossible. Our population could increase by 2,500 persons in the next two years if one counts available building lots. At a growth rate of 1,000 persons per year for 20 years it looks like the population doubles. Will that happen? Ask me in 2026.
JOHNSTON: It is not up to me. There are several factors to consider such as supply and demand. As long as there is water, sewage and space and a good economy the people will control the population.
Q. What role, if any, does the city council have in influencing the rate of growth?
MILLER: The city council has a great deal of influence in the rate of growth as Beaverton showed us some time back when they just stopped issuing building permits. We need to be sure that we are not growing for growth's sake and that business and industry develop as well to share the tax burden among us all.
THOMPSON: The city council has the role of making policy for future growth. The quality of life all its citizens both current and future depend on the decisions we make today on infrastructure. The transportation system is one we must improve even if we have moderate growth. The intersection of Quince Street and Pacific Avenue, for example, must be dealt with before Wal Mart is opened. Our management of our own 5,000-acre watershed at Clear Creek will provide a reserve or meet any emergency needs. The other strong point is our power and light system. And, the Parks and Recreation Department is very important to the future growth of Forest Grove and its quality of life.
HOWARD: The city council is able to guide growth but political force does not have much of an influence when one considers the long-adopted Comprehensive Plan, present zoning, Metro's influence and demand. Recently the council's effort to change high-density residential development along Gales Creek caused a disaster. However, the council's inability to extract performance from the public works director and his staff through the city manager has certainly delayed certain projects which I guess one could call a 'growth-limiting factor.'
JOHNSTON: One influence the city has with the growth are the annexations, however once the owners are in the Urban Growth Boundary they have the prerogative to annex and to develop their property under the current property rights and laws. Another influence may be that the city has no water or sewage capacity for any new building. Another influence may be that the area in the Urban Growth Boundary is used up (thereby?) halting any further growth.
Q. What, if any, are your top two immediate concerns about growth?
MILLER: Traffic and quality of life. Though the population of Washington County has grown at a tremendous rate, upgrading our streets, their quality and quantity, hasn't kept pace. Forest Grove has fared far better than most with the creation of the Highway 47 bypass. Pacific and 19th avenues have been upgraded, and B Street is scheduled for improvement and, of course, Sunset upgrading will start shortly. We need to keep up this momentum so we can maintain our quality of life.
THOMPSON: My two immediate concerns are the impact on schools and traffic. Both concerns can be planned for in order to provide for our public needs. Improvement in school facilities and roads must be supported. We must work together now for our future quality of life. The state transportation department, the county and the school district must work together on both of these concerns now.
HOWARD: My concern is that the council does not understand what is going on at city hall. If growth is the number-one issue here, then someone needs to seriously examine how we are dealing with it. As I have first-hand knowledge of the deficiencies, having made applications to the city, please believe me when I tell you that this thing is broke. Can it be repaired? Yes, and very rapidly if the council is willing to take a firm grip on the command structure and demand accountability.
JOHNSTON: My greatest concern is the demand on our public safety departments to keep ahead of the call load which is created by the increased number of persons in a closer area which is created by our regional building standards.
My second concern is that we have a road structure which will enable the citizens to safely come and go from their neighborhoods without creating traffic problems for another neighborhood.
Q. What, if any, do you see as the primary benefit of growth?
MILLER: The only real benefit I see is addition of services. For example, eventually someone is going to figure out we can support an Applebee's or something similar. Growth can bring more opportunities for culture, dining out or even medical services. The possibilities are limitless.
THOMPSON: The primary benefit of growth would be to provide a place for our children to live, work, and play in a quality environment, if we do it correctly. Planning is a requirement in order to have future quality of life for our kids. We as citizens need to provide our input and be willing to volunteer for service in our community. We have a lot of resources in our community to meet the challenge.
HOWARD: The primary benefit to growth, realizing it's inevitability and knowing first hand what it looks like, is a vibrant, healthy, alive, creative and responsive populace that supports local business, cultural events, university involvement, schools, police and fire and all of the things we need here to function as the City of Forest Grove. Is that unrealistic? No. It just takes a willingness to get with the program.
JOHNSTON: Growth by itself only adds to the demand for more service from our city, and the taxes added never seem to keep up with what our general funds need, especially after the passage of state Ballot Measures 5, 47 and 50. However, the special development costs and fees keep the city ahead until the inflation issue hits, like the cost of paving, fuel and building costs. So one would say we must expand to keep ahead.
Q. What role, in any, should the city council have in helping the public school district handle the anticipated increase in children?
MILLER: The city council should do its best to provide the necessary infrastructure and public safety for all children. The relationship that the city and school district have is excellent as shown by the district recently being awarded the 2006 Outstanding Community/School Partnership Award. Let's keep it up.
THOMPSON: The school district and city have worked together and won a first state award for cooperation this year. We have shared sport fields, facilities, staff, and training. We have been in each other's planning exercises and meet one or more times a year to keep each informed of the other's plans and actions. Both agencies have volunteered to serve on the other's committees and in everyday work.
HOWARD: For reasons that I have never understood, except in rare instances local school districts and city councils are at arms length - two sparring entities. I suspect that it revolves around the fact that both go to the same base for funding (competition for dollars). Another separating factor is the primary service that each offers. One deals with children and the other with adults. What could the council do to help the schools? Maybe the best answer is 'nothing.'
JOHNSTON: The city and schools must partnership. The schools must allow the city to know where the new schools are planned. The city needs to tell the schools where residential areas will be built. This partnership allows for future growth as well as planned transportation and roadway issues well in advance before anything is constructed.
Q. Forest Grove, like other cities in the Metro area, has been given population goals by Metro, the regional planning agency. Do you support this idea of regional planning?
MILLER: I believe some regional planning is necessary, but we can't let Metro rule our own planning initiatives. Coordination of streets and highways is essential but I get a little irritated when they tell us how many people ought to live in what size area. Much of their planning is pretty cast in stone so we must be sure we do not allow them ANY more power than they have already.
THOMPSON: I support regional planning in the areas of transportation (roads, public transportation, port and airports), the zoo, waste removal, and regional emergency disaster service. Land-use issues would be better served by sub-regional planning (Forest Grove, Cornelius, and west Hillsboro area).
HOWARD: Population projections by Metro didn't just fall out of space and land on Forest Grove. There was a lengthy and heated process to come up with those forecasts and one factor was land availability. We have it.
JOHNSTON: I continually question why we in Forest Grove should have to be like the City of Portland, which brings me to say that the west end of Washington County should form into a sub region of Metro thus allowing our own region to deal with our issues. It seems that dealing with skinny streets, smaller set backs and closer living should be a choice of individuals within our individual cities not someone in a high-rise telling others how to live. There are still some people who like to have trees, yard, gardens and flowers. Yes, we must pay more for that but that is our American right.
Q. City officials have said that to reach Metro's goals, they must approve high-density housing in areas where it is allowed by the comprehensive plan. Do you agree?
MILLER: Allowed or required? Is there a law that says we have to accept Metro's goals or is it a guideline? I don't know but I will find out. A lot of us chose to live here because we like our space; maybe some of the newcomers are more comfortable with a more urban neighborhood.
THOMPSON: No. High-density housing should be allowed by site-specific site only, and by zone. They must not be in floodplains, steep ground or unstable soils. Also, density bonuses should not be given for additional amenities.
HOWARD: We are on the fringe of the Metro boundary of influence and that has given us a little latitude in interpretation of their dictates, though the recent debacle over high-density development may have focused Metro's attention on us. I need to add something here. Metro took over regional planning, the zoo, garbage and other things because the cities in the tri-county area couldn't work together to address the big problems. It is a very unique structure that has worked very well. If people condemn Metro it is out of ignorance.
JOHNSTON: Sometimes what I personally agree to and what I feel is best for the community are two different things. I do not like to see a lot of high-density living with close living space, skinny streets which hamper traffic and public safety, less green space for playing. However, I look at all of the citizens who cannot afford to buy a home, new or old. It is one of my responsibilities to make sure that all citizens of this city have the opportunity for some type of housing which they can afford.
Q. There are currently several parcels of land that are within Metro's Urban Growth Boundary but outside the city limits? Should the city set a deadline for annexing those lands, or allow the owners to remain outside the city limits indefinitely?
MILLER: I don't like mandating citizens to do something against their will but have you noticed what our city limits look like? They look like a lawn that some goat chewed off. It is appropriate to note, however, there are citizens who receive city services but don't pay for them and that's not fair to the rest of us.
THOMPSON: The property should be annexed when the property is surrounded on three sides by the city or when the property is receiving city services (police, fire, water, electricity, and sewer available). I prefer a volunteer annexation. We just completed a volunteer annexation of almost 400 acres on Sept. 31. All properties will be annexed at one time, saving the city and property owners many dollars.
HOWARD: I have said for years that every parcel of land within the Urban Growth Boundary should be annexed immediately instead of parcel by parcel. Those who live inside the UGB have taken advantage of public services and should pay their share of the costs. Stop this fiddling about and just do it. It's a big fight, but well worth it.
JOHNSTON: There are so many small islands of land around the city which are benefiting from our services such as roads, electrical and police protection. As the city grows and those pieces of land are not hooked to our sewage system there creates a problem of health issues. How to bring them in? We have already started a program of annexation by the landowner's choice which is a huge success.
Q. The city has taken initial steps to condemn a parcel of private land in an effort to create a large recreation area inside the city limits. Do you support that move?
MILLER: Ordinarily I would take exception to taking of private lands however this is a different situation according to the information I have read in the papers. It is my under-standing that the City made a good faith, fair market value offer on the land. At some point a different party offered slightly more for the property and bought it. The City came back and offered a tidy profit to the new owner who is holding out for a substantial amount over the fair market value. The City is now acting in a responsible manner in taking the action it is taking.
THOMPSON: Yes - Parks and Recreation Master Plan calls for 130-plus acres for parks, trails, and recreation for this planning cycle. The city has an immediate need for sport fields, trails, and parks. The city made an offer on the property before the current owner purchased it and it was at or near appraised value. We have been open to negotiation. I do not condemn property if the government intends to transfer property to another private party.
HOWARD: Hopefully there is a reason behind the acquisition of this land … circular path, bikeway … something. I suspect there is a plan but honestly I have not been a part of it. The main concern is maintenance of the areas. The Parks Board has struggled for years to provide park services. Mr. Gamble should be given a Gold Star for his efforts. Do I use the parks? No. Do I sup-port parks? Yes.
JOHNSTON: I support the move because this is the last large piece of property avail-able in the urban growth boundaries, and for our citizens to have open space for years to come we must purchase it now. That area will create that destination point I talked about, we can place ball fields which are in need for this community, an RV park for travelers to stay while enjoying our community, while visiting the A.T. Smith house which will be right next door. If teams come to town to play and people use the RV park they will all spend money in our town as they shop and eat.