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Vote highlights big gap in support for natural land policies

The regional government began drafting plans to spend millions of dollars on parks projects last week, after voters approved a levy to maintain Metro’s growing portfolio of natural areas.

But the May 21 Special Election also served as a sort of wake-up call for Metro.

Although voters approved its levy to maintain parks and natural lands, the results were split between the three counties. With most of the votes counted, Ballot Measure 26-152 was passing overwhelmingly in Multnomah County, but was narrowly defeated in Washington and Clackamas counties.

That’s a change from the two previous ballot measures that allowed Metro to buy most of the approximately 16,000 acres of property it owns. Those measures passed in all three counties.

“I’m very happy that it passed in the region and look forward to working with those who did not agree with us,” Metro Councilor Sam Chase, who represents portions of Portland and Multnomah County, said about the split results.

Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten said he thought the measure would still benefit his county. He stopped by the campaign’s election-night party in Southeast Portland to show his support for the measure.

“It’s still good politics for elected officials in Washington County to support Metro’s natural land policies. They benefit the entire region,” Schouten said.

According to unofficial returns, the measure passed with 55.5 percent of the vote, compared to 44.5 percent against it. The vote was 165,385 in favor and 132,597 against for the region.

The measure passed in Multnomah County with 60 percent of the vote. But it received only 49 percent in Washington County and 48 percent in Clackamas County.

In 1995, voters in the region approved Ballot Measure 26-26 by 63 to 36 percent. It passed in all three counties. It received 67 percent of the vote in Multnomah County, 58 percent in Washington County and 60 percent in Clackamas County.

In 2006, voters in the region approved Ballot Measure 26-80 by 59 to 41 percent. It received 64 percent of the vote in Multnomah County, 55 percent in Washington County and 53 percent in Clackamas County.

The latest measure was designed to raise about $50 million over five years to maintain the natural lands and parks that Metro now owns.

As of election day, two campaign committees in support of Ballot Measure 26-152 had raised more than $311,000 in cash and in-kind contributions. Restore Our Natural Lands reported raising more than $270,000. A separate committee funded primarily by the Boston-based Conservation Campaign had raised more than $61,000.

Opposition to Ballot Measure 26-152 was scarce. No statements opposing the measure were purchased in the Voters’ Pamphlet. A number of mayors in the region asked the Metro Council to delay the measure, but councilors put it on the ballot anyway.

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