Here's the key question as the Portland region tries to decide how it should grow during the next 50 years: Do we want this important debate to be dominated by the usual special interest groups and limited by policy makers whose concerns are largely focused on what happens inside the Portland urban growth boundary?
Or are we better off having a broader discussion and deciding not only what's best for Portland - but also knowing how that choice affects the entire state?
At issue is Metro's process to select land that should be reserved for rural and urban purposes during the next 50 years. The process might seem bureaucratic and its outcomes far distant, but don't be deceived.
The decisions about how and where Portland should grow also will determine just how successful the entire state will be in the future. If the wrong choices are made, the region may not have the ability to attract new industries, create new jobs and provide for economic stability.
That's why we think the process of selecting land for future urban and rural reserves must be expanded into a larger discussion. And that's why the people making these Portland-based land-use decisions must be informed about the consequences that their choices will have on all of Oregon.
School funding and more at stake
It may be hard for residents of Portland, Beaverton or Gresham - much less Klamath Falls, Medford or Pendleton - to appreciate just what these urbanization decisions will mean for every aspect of Oregon life. But this isn't simply a matter of farm land vs. suburban sprawl - as the debate is too often characterized.
Rather, this process will influence how much money is available for publicly funded education, health and human services, parks and other programs throughout the state. That's because income taxes pay for Oregon's public services. And without the ability to accommodate the industries and jobs of the future (including urban-area agriculture), the Portland area - Oregon's economic powerhouse - may stagnate.
We cannot allow this to happen.
Metro, in attempting to make choices about the future, has conducted many studies and engaged hundreds of decision-makers and citizens. Numerous public meetings will be held Sept. 21 through Oct. 15 to contribute citizen input before a final decision is made in 2010.
Universities should assist process
The problem with Metro's approach to date is that it's too limited. And despite, assurances to the contrary, some people's choices may have been predetermined by strongly held opinions and values that were in place before any study, public hearing or debate was ever conducted.
That's why an additional approach is required.
An independent group needs to model, study, analyze and quantify the impacts of the urban-expansion scenarios. This study must provide an impartial evaluation of the economic effects that Portland-area land-use decisions will have on the state, including future funding consequences to public services.
Such an evaluation must be undertaken by a well-trusted, impartial group - so we are proposing that it be a joint endeavor by Oregon State University, which started as the state's farm and forest land-grant institution, and Portland State University, which is renowned for its urban studies. These universities - already partners in many endeavors - should use their expertise to jointly judge the economic consequences of land decisions made here.
This work must be completed quickly and evaluated not only by the Metro Council, which is empowered to make final land-use choices for the region, but also Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Oregon Legislature. The urban reserve process - and the best planning for the Portland region's future - is that essential.