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Keep growth talk transparent

Public officials, who recently engaged in an unfortunate display of political maneuvering to gain an edge in planning the region's future, ought to remember one thing: The public is watching.

And while some officials may enjoy political gamesmanship, citizens rightfully grow disenchanted when the people they elect - and expect to work together with other leaders - in fact, don't.

Such was the case recently when Lake Oswego Mayor Jack Hoffman and Metro Councilor Robert Liberty hand-picked a few members of the region's Metro Policy Advisory Council - including Portland Mayor Sam Adams -for an invitation-only growth planning discussion. Included in the discussion, we suspect, was the region's consideration of creating a 50-year supply of farm, forest and natural habitat lands to be protected as rural reserves and other lands to be targeted as long-term urban reserves for future development. Given the politics of those who were invited, we think the meeting was largely focused on talk of not expanding the regional urban growth boundary.

Reaction to the invitation-only meeting was predictable. Washington County Commission Chairman Tom Brian said the gathering did harm to the regional process. 'Hoffman's meeting clearly will drive a wedge between MPAC members of differing points of view,' Brian said in a letter to Metro staff.

Brian was correct in his assessment, but we also think that his critical tone was overstated. Brian must already realize that numerous other private meetings are being held among the many parties engaged in all sides of the growth planning debate. We suspect that Brian himself has had private meetings on these matters.

The difference in this case is the politically obvious list of who was invited - and the longer list of who wasn't invited - to the Hoffman/Liberty meeting. We expect better from Hoffman, who says he plans to call Brian to assure that both officials are 'on the same page moving toward a regional solution.'

Yet, after-the-fact talk is cheap and such a call would not have been needed if Hoffman had first reached out to Brian and others of differing opinions.

Going forward, city, county and Metro leaders must do better to ensure that planning for the region's future is done with greater transparency. Too much is at stake for growth planning decisions to be prejudged by old and typically contrary philosophical beliefs: such as growth that modifies the urban growth boundary is bad or that boundless growth is OK.

The most important question to answer is not whether the region should expand the urban growth boundary. Rather, the important choice centers on what outcomes do we want to see occur in the Portland region over time?

Metro has shaped some of this discussion by agreeing on six characteristics to achieve in the future that will shape growth planning decisions going forward. We think these outcomes are yet too general and should be more defined by agreement on measurable specifics. These outcomes should relate to preserving farm, forest and natural areas - both inside and outside the urban growth boundary; sufficient land for abundant, high-paying jobs located throughout region; land for diverse and affordable housing choices close to work sites; access to parks and schools; transportation choices that move people and the economy throughout the region and within the communities they live; and sustainable practices.

We think that using more precise measurable outcomes will require all elected officials to not debate what they philosophically support or oppose, but instead openly discuss how and by when these important, specific outcomes will be achieved.

Now is the time for openness and partnerships. By the end of this year, many decisions will be made about planning for the future. We challenge elected officials and all special interest groups to replace old-style land-use politics with transparency, openness, cooperation and a focus on achieving essential measurable outcomes.