The question “why are we in Metro?” has often been asked at Forest Grove Planning Commission meetings, where I serve as chairman. While we hear complaints about the need to meet Metro density requirements, we seldom discuss the benefits of being part of Metro, especially as it can serve the needs of sustainability and the benefits of having considerable acreage of Metro greenspaces near Forest Grove. A better question to ask is, “How can Metro help Forest Grove?”

This is the question that needs to be put to the Metro councilors when they hold their meeting here in Forest Grove Tuesday, Feb. 25. The short answer is for the Metro councilors to recognize the unique situation that Forest Grove holds in Metro. Along with Cornelius, we are an island that is barely attached to the Metro mainland. This reality is not sufficiently recognized by Metro, and the result is Metro has not, and doubtless, will not, meet its “Region Six Desired Outcomes” in regard to Forest Grove. Each of these outcomes is important, and Forest Grove deserves to have them met.

The challenge for Forest Grove is its size and the reality of the Oregon tax structure. Because Oregon’s property taxes are oriented toward commercial and especially industrial property, it is virtually impossible to provide full city services to residential property on the taxes those properties pay. Therefore, every city in Oregon needs a strong industrial and commercial sector. Cities cannot survive as only a bedroom city.

I also serve on the city’s budget committee, and each year we manage to balance the budget while maintaining our services, but we manage this with the use of the levy portion voters must approve every five years. We are in the first year of the new levy at $1.60 per $1,000 of assessment, but this amount will not be enough to prevent us from having to dip into the city’s reserve fund in the latter years of this levy. In short, we are fiscally sound, but running on thin ice. In the long run, we need additional income, which can realistically only come from additional industrial or commercial businesses.

Given the need to develop sustainable communities where people can live and work, the tax laws are not bad, since they result in a balance between residences and places to work, but they do put a premium on developing the industrial and commercial sectors. For industry, the basic need is often good highway access, especially for larger businesses. For a commercial business, the basic need is for customers. While other factors obviously come into play — and Forest Grove is fortunate to have inexpensive power and a good water supply — two factors, good highway access and sufficient customers, are critical.

It is these two factors that Metro needs to recognize, because Forest Grove and Cornelius are not part of the mainland of Metro. We cannot be compared to other cities inside Metro that may be small in population, but are closely connected to other cities or urban areas. We have six to 10 miles of basically rural reserves between us and Hillsboro and no good highway to connect us.

For many of us, Forest Grove not being on one of these spokes of traffic is one reason we live here. However, what works for us as individuals often does not work for large businesses. Metro can help by recognizing this fact and working with the city and Washington County to develop better access. I am not about to provide an easy solution for there is none, but we do need to address the issue and work to develop better access.

The second problem Forest Grove faces is a lack of customers. The study of buying habits in Washington County has shown that the vast majority of people in the county go east to shop. That is, those in Beaverton are likely to shop in Portland, those in Hillsboro to shop in Beaverton, and those in Forest Grove to shop in Hillsboro, and those few to the west of Forest Grove will come here. In short, Forest Grove businesses cannot be supported by those living to our east. We are truly an island in terms of shopping. To make matters worse, many people in Forest Grove work to the east, and they shop there before coming home.

Commercial businesses know these facts, and thus the future of a strong commercial sector in Forest Grove depends on the size of our population. The ideal size is not another Hillsboro with a Tanasbourne area, but the solution is to grow somewhat larger than we are today. Given the impact of climate change and the distinct possibility of drought to our south, people will doubtless be moving to Oregon. We need some of those people to choose to work and live in Forest Grove. Metro can help by recognizing our need for more customers in its land use decisions.

One solution that is not possible is to grow Cornelius toward Hillsboro to eliminate the island effect, because this would go counter to the need to protect our farmland and natural resources. However, there is another way to close the gap between us and Hillsboro, and that is to develop a series of parks along the Council Creek corridor that could serve not only the recreation needs of the community, but could provide for good bicycle access to Hillsboro off TV Hwy. Creation of parks in this corridor would attract people from the mainland of Metro out to our area, where we can provide the type of businesses that fit so well into our community, such as antique hunting, cycling, and enjoying our restaurants and wineries.

I urge people to attend the Metro Council meeting on Feb. 25, and let the councilors know how we see the future of Forest Grove.

Tom Beck is chairman of the Forest Grove Planning Commission.

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