Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Metro vote rekindles 'Portland creep' fight

When you drive down 82nd Avenue or McLoughlin Boulevard, you can easily miss small signs that signal crossing between Portland and Clackamas County — the neighborhoods look very similar on each side of the nearly invisible dividing line.

Metro Councilor-elect Bob Stacey also didn’t notice much difference between the people who answered the doors he knocked on either side of Clatsop Street, which marks part of the counties’ borders.

But that line was drawn in bright red in the run-up to last month’s election. Two candidates who unseated incumbents on the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners warned voters of “Portland creep” of crime and transportation problems into the south.

Stacey, a Southeast Portlander, would like to reclaim the campaign slogan into a button for himself, and “I am a Portland creep,” has been his frequent quip in campaign interviews, open houses and panel discussions in all three metro-area counties. In his attempt to make the phrase coined by commissioners-elect John Ludlow and Tootie Smith an opportunity, he brings it up to highlight what he sees as his “responsibility to Clackamas County citizens” as part of the metro region.

“We need to engage and have a dialogue about people’s fears on an ongoing basis,” Stacey said. “I remain the eternal optimist about solving our problems together, and I feel as connected to Clackamas County as any other part of the Portland area.”

In another form of “Portland creep,” Portlanders and state Reps.-elect Shemia Fagan and Jeff Reardon unseated sitting representatives from Clackamas this year. Reardon, who has a lot of friends who are in Clackamas County, also thinks of “Portland creep” more as a campaign slogan than anything else.

“I really care a lot about both parts of my district, and in the thousands of doors that I knocked on there, I never heard the term once, and only very occasionally would anyone bring up light rail,” Reardon said, whose top priority in Salem will be supporting his district’s Sabin-Schellenberg Center and Clackamas Community College through more career and technical education funding.

“Schools that get kids excited and get them the careers they need are a win-win for everybody,” Reardon said.

Parks levy

Stacey spent much of his childhood weekends in Oregon City, where his mother grew up, visiting relatives and friends that still lived there. But debate about Metro’s role is not limited to the Clackamas County commission.

Eighteen mayors signed a Nov. 30 letter to Metro President Tom Hughes asking for time to study how the levy might affect the budgets of their cities. The levy will ask voters to help enhance and develop many of the natural areas Metro has acquired during the past 17 years.

The letter, signed by mayors from Gladstone, Happy Valley, Milwaukie and Oregon City, expressed concerned that passage of the proposed Metro natural areas levy could reduce city budgets because of “compression,” a side effect of Oregon’s complicated property tax limitation plan that reduces collections of existing levies when new ones pass in some circumstances.

Metro councilors unanimously voted on Dec. 18 to send the levy of 9.6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to voters in May. Speaking at the meeting last week, Metro Council President Tom Hughes, a former mayor, disputed the other mayors’ claims that the levy would affect school budgets and permanent tax rates, and said the impact of this measure on compression would be “miniscule.”

Metro sponsored an October telephone poll by DHM Research of 800 likely voters in the Portland region. About 48 percent of respondents said they’d support a local option levy to maintain natural areas and improve water quality. Twelve percent said they’d vote against it, and 41 percent were undecided.

“There is a surprisingly high level of support for good stewardship of the lands that we’ve already acquired,” Stacey said. “This ongoing need that needs to be addressed in an ongoing fashion.”

Ludlow argued that the regional agency should have thought about the effects of buying park land, including the parks’ blocking of development, roads or sewer lines.

“I would think that Metro would have more important things to do than suck more money from taxpayers,” Ludlow said. “When they got the public to buy these lands, they had to put ‘No Trespassing’ signs so people wouldn’t come and trample wildlife, but that impacted people’s perceptions of these so-called public resources negatively.”

Arguing that voters will support developing parkland in a piecemeal fashion, Stacey said that if Clackamas County helped spur a ballot initiative to dissolve Metro, or to kill specific Metro projects, it would probably succeed. If you flash forward 20 years to a Clackamas County that’s politically isolated, Stacey doesn’t see any benefit for local residents.

“There’s obviously something to be said for ballot titles that tap into people’s right to vote, but that’s not a way to govern,” Stacey said. “If you said, ‘Let’s get rid of seven paid elected leaders,’ then people would say, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ But you’d get a different outcome if you asked people whether they’d support things like recycling, parks and regional planning.”

Mayors appear to be saying they speak for their constituents, but those voters are Metro’s constituents as well, Stacey argues, and Metro has an obligation to them to maintain and restore the natural areas purchased with voter-approved property taxes over the past two decades.

“I’m very sympathetic to the mayors’ call for greater and earlier communication and coordination between all governments using the property tax mechanism, and I hope we can work together to achieve agreement on how to do that,” he said. “But to demand that Metro drop its efforts to ensure parks and natural area maintenance while that discussion is taken up and resolved is a remarkable overreach.”

Light-rail message

Rob Kramer, an Oregon Transformation Project leader and treasurer for the Republican Party, touted his organization’s success in the “Portland creep” campaign as he left his positions last week for a charter-schools foundation. The Oregon Transformation Project has been explicit about its goal to turn the voting trends of Clackamas County from blue to red.

“It’s for me too cynical in its manipulation of local policy issues in the pursuit of making Clackamas County appear to be more conservative,” Stacey said. “I don’t think the folks in Clackamas County are that different, apart from some demographic differences, such as being in general whiter — they’ve got a lot of the same concerns.”

However, Stacey said he has “enormous sympathy” for the residents of Molalla and Estacada who voted against paying a $5 fee for the Sellwood Bridge project. He understands their same eagerness in favor of urban-renewal oversight.

“You see the urban-renewal line on your property-tax bill and you say, ‘I’m not getting any benefit from that over there,’ so it’s certainly deferred gratification,” Stacey said. “You had a pretty organized effort starting with the urban-renewal vote, another populist idea, and there’s a lot of suspicion about urban renewal.”

Ludlow, who takes office on Jan. 7, said he didn’t see his fairly close results as a mandate to separate from Metro and TriMet. But, spurred by voter sentiment skeptical of urban renewal and light rail, he promises to put the actions of regional agencies in Clackamas County under the microscope of voters by referring questions to the ballot.

Ludlow said that Measure 3-401, which passed in September by a large margin, compels him to advocate for referring a ballot question about the light-rail line to Clackamas County voters. County attorneys would help determine specific ballot language and effects, but Ludlow expects a question at least related to the county’s property along the rail line. Acknowledging that the potential effect of a vote would probably be minimal on a line already funded and being built, he sees the vote as an important message to the transit agency struggling with employee contracts and budget cuts.

“Nobody’s going to bail TriMet out, and they’re going to continue to cut the most vital services unless we start doing something,” Ludlow said.