Growth, the nasty word we need to say

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It really is the elephant in the room. Although now people have started to talk about it.

Growth. Growth. Growth.

There, I said it.

The projections have been made - a million more people will be living here in 2030. And for us native Oregonians, that's a scary thought. We all remember the relatively empty roads, hills without houses on them and a Portland skyline that didn't include a construction crane every two blocks.

And I'm a mere 30 years old, a youngster. Or so I keep telling myself. The Hillsboro I grew up around? I don't even recognize it anymore.

So a lot of us don't like it. But that's basically irrelevant. What matters now is what we do about it. No matter how you view the explosion of this region, it's certainly on the minds of a lot of folks.

Measure 49 was basically structured around that concern. Metro's sole purpose in its sometimes confusing existence is because of it. Urban Growth Boundary, Rural Reserve, growth concepts, sustainable planning; All buzz words that are really starting to strike a cord.

West Linn is one of several communities in the metro area that is on the forefront of the debate. It's all because of another elephant - the Stafford Triangle, the stretch of county land surrounded by three cities that is primed to be the next Happy Valley.

So when you start talking about annexations, such as West Linn has in recent weeks with five parcels of land set for annexation votes in the spring election, people get a little goofy. They start shouting about bulldozing trees and streams; about strip malls popping up on farmland; etc. Take a look at our comment section online on just about any growth-related story, and you'll see how hot a topic it is.

You can't deny, it's a serious topic.

If you don't think even regular people are concerned, just take a look at the data collected in a recent survey conducted by the city of West Linn. Almost 80 percent of the folks surveyed (a sample size of 350) said West Linn is an excellent place to live.

But do they think it will stay that way? No.

Forty-seven percent said the quality of life in town will decline, as opposed to 39 percent who said it will stay the same. Only eight percent said it would improve.

Why, you ask? Growth. There, I said it again.

Almost 96 percent in the survey pointed to growth-related topics as to why West Linn will go into the tank in the coming years. And 36 percent said growth was the city's most important issue.

Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette addressed the issue with the city council last week in a make-nice session between the two agencies.

'I don't think there's any plan to shut (growth) down. I don't see how we could,' she said. 'The best we can do is have policies that protect the things that we most value, shorten our commutes and make our communities more livable.'

I couldn't agree more.

So how do we do it with Californians lined up down I-5 like Oregon is the next hot Hollywood club?

Well, a lot of people who have a lot more degrees than I do and make a lot more money can probably write an answer to that question. But it wouldn't fit in the tidy little space of this column, that's for sure.

I'll say this. And it goes to the heart of this community newspaper.

Everybody needs to be involved in the discussion. Metro, West Linn, Lake Oswego, Portland, the Stafford Hamlet, Tigard, Tualatin, Clackamas County and on and on and on.

Every town, community, school district, county needs to recognize that they all have a stake in it.

And the feeling that you can just stick your head in the sand and ignore it; well, maybe that's the new elephant in the room we can't afford to ignore anymore.

Dan Itel is the editor of the West Linn Tidings.