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Sustainable dreams take shape


Forest Groves Annual Town Meeting draws more than 100 people

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JOHN SCHRAG - Forest Grove resident Terri Erskine jots down some notes about the effects of global climate change on local agricultural crops at Saturday's Annual Town Meeting. It was like channel-surfing Sustainable Radio.

“Rain barrels... I try to ride my bike between Forest Grove and Hillsboro and I’m scared to death... Ban backyard burning... There’s a lot of places where you can’t walk and feel safe.... Organic bakery.... Codes that encourage sustainable building.”

The snippets of conversation rose from people clustered around tables at Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting in Forest Grove, where more than 100 gathered in the Community Auditorium to hear about sustainable efforts underway — and to propose their own ideas.

The meeting was promoted as a way to get the city council to consider new ideas at its upcoming retreat Saturday, Feb. 9.

A mix of presentations and small-group brainstorming, the meeting identified its top priorities with the help of instant-feedback “clickers.”

In the category of what Forest Grove needs to improve, “Transportation” came in first with 15 percent of the vote.

“Support local businesses/local economy” seemed to come in second with 14.1 percent, although the third priority (“More community involvement across demographics”—13.6 percent) could be reasonably combined with the fourth (“More connections among social and ethnic groups”—12.78 percent), to make it the top priority with 26 percent.

As far as barriers to improvement, “Economics/lack of funding” came in first with 29 percent. “Lack of diverse employment opportunities in town” came in second with 18 percent. And “Lack of education regarding sustainability” came in third with 14 percent.

In keeping with that last barrier, “Community education on sustainability” was first (17 percent) among suggestions for how the city could move forward. “More local employment” got 13 percent and so did “Make sustainability economically feasible.”

Many people also wanted a better multi-modal transportation system.

Meanwhile, those gathered gave high marks to the city for its farmers market, Open spaces/green spaces/Fernhill Wetlands, Affordable Electric Rates and Recycling.

The audience participation followed several speakers, starting with Pacific Univeristy professor Rich Van Buskirk, who explained how sustainability went beyond strictly “environmental” concerns to include economic and social justice concerns as well.Only whenby: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JOHN SCHRAG - Forest Grove resident Terri Erskine jots down some notes about the effects of global climate change on local agricultural crops at Saturday's Annual Town Meeting. efforts include all three areas are they truly sustainable, he said.

Mayor Pete Truax reviewed a sampling of the city’s current initiatives: a citywide public transportation system, an all-electric Nissan Leaf for the city’s Light and Power department, a solar-powered restroom at Fernhill Wetlands, electric charging stations, covered bike racks, community gardens and formation of the Ad Hoc Sustainability Committee, which sponsored the town meeting in cooperation with Pacific University.

Some of the town-meeting suggestions could soon join that list, City Manager Michael Sykes told the crowd.

“A lot of what you said here today,” he said, “you’re going to see become public policy in Forest Grove.”

Meeting demographics

At the Forest Grove Annual Town Meeting Saturday, two colors were prominently on display:

Green for sustainability.

Gray for hair color.

According to an instant demographic survey, one-third of the crowd was over 65. Another third was between 55 and 65. Only one person was younger than 18.

City Manager Michael Sykes thought younger people might not have come because they're busier with other things.

Mayor Pete Truax thought younger people might feel everything's fine, similar to voting, where "people vote when everything's not fine."

Truax was also concerned at the lack of Latino residents, who make up 23 percent of Forest Grove. Although race was not tallied in the survey, the room was overwhelmingly Caucasian.

Enough participants were troubled by these imbalances that number three on the crowd’s collective list of what the city needs to improve was “increase community involvement across demographics.”

The instant survey revealed other fun facts about those gathered: 17 percent drove a gas-electric hybrid vehicle and a quarter used alternative transportation to get to work (15 percent walked, 7 percent biked and 3 percent took the bus).

The top sustainability sin that made them feel guilty was throwing away recyclables (33 percent). Number two was driving alone (24 percent), followed closely by leaving on more lights than necessary (23 percent).

Eight percent worked at home, 28 percent worked in Forest Grove, 12 percent worked near the city, 9 percent commuted to Portland, 7 percent were students.

And mirroring the age of the crowd, 36 percent didn’t work — which might explain why they had time to attend a sustainability town meeting.