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Hales vision extends beyond the tunnel


The fact that a new mayor and City Council are taking office in Portland may seem to be of only passing interest to residents of western Washington County.

For better or worse, however, leadership in the Rose City has a direct effect on those who live outside its boundaries. That’s not only because the entire metro area’s image is shaped by Portland’s behavior, but also because Portland’s policies and attitudes influence what can or cannot occur within the rest of the region.

For these reasons, we are pleased to see newly sworn-in Portland Mayor Charlie Hales accept an invitation to speak to the Westside Economic Alliance this Thursday in Tigard. Hales’ appearance before this group of economic advocates for Washington and Clackamas counties demonstrates he is interested in partnering with suburban communities — rather than battling them.

The City of Portland can exercise enormous clout when it comes to regional decisions about land use, transportation and economic development. On the issue of industrial lands to create new jobs, for example, Portland officials have at times insisted, unrealistically, that the region can meet most of its needs by redeveloping former industrial sites inside their city.

In fact, the region needs a wide variety of properties — greenfields and brownfields — to attract new industries. Along the same lines, former Portland Mayor Sam Adams was an advocate for keeping housing densities high — too high, for many in the suburbs — to avoid expansion of the urban growth boundary.

Adams made that point clear in a Dec. 2009 forum, sponsored by the Pamplin Media Group, in which he sparred with former County Chairman Tom Brian over growth.

Adams pointed to 15,000 acres that were brought inside the UGB nearly 20 years ago that had yet to be developed.

“My vision for the region includes taking care of what we have here,” Adams said during the forum, which was held in the Hillsboro Civic Center and rebroadcast on OPB’s Think Out Loud program. “We've not used what we've annexed since 1990.”

Brian would have none of that.

“At some time, as you face the million people who are coming here in the next 25 years, you'll have to expand the urban growth boundary,” he said.

Brian was right and the boundary was, indeed, adjusted last year — amid much grumbling, most of which emanated from east of the Sylvan tunnel.

Such tensions between Portland and the suburbs will no doubt continue, but Hales has said he intends to reach out to his counterparts in suburban cities and counties.

It will be familiar territory for the new mayor. As a Portland city councilor in the 1990s, Hales embraced land-use planning, light rail and high-density housing. But in the mid-1980s he was a lobbyist for the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland, a group often derided as advocating suburban sprawl.

His speech to the economic alliance will be an opportunity not only to showcase his well-rounded resume, but to listen and learn.

So far, we are impressed with Hales’ efforts to reach out.

In addition to the meeting in Tigard Thursday, he says he will attend the informal monthly meeting of regional mayors, an event Adams snubbed.

The region must work cohesively if it is to find greater success in the areas of economic development, education and transportation — and Hales seems to get that.

Within a region that includes dozens of cities and other jurisdictions, it will not always be possible to reach consensus on contentious issues, as each community has its own values, aspirations and willingness to pay for public services. There will be times when what’s good for Portland isn’t good for Gaston, Banks, Forest Grove and Cornelius.

But the starting point for better cooperation is mutual understanding, and we believe Hales is taking positive steps in that direction.