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Mayors should not block Metro levy

MyView: Support for region's natural spaces funding goes beyond city borders


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Wildlife such as this deer jumping over the fence to Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District Nature Park can be seen along the Waterhouse Trail.Metro is contemplating a very small levy that would cost $1.60 per month on a $200,000 home to raise funds to manage its 16,000-acre portfolio.

Some mayors are opposed to the levy. In their letter to Metro President Tom Hughes, they posed three concerns:

What would it fund?

What’s Metro’s role in natural area protection?

What’s the potential effect on their ability to collect taxes?

First, the levy will allow on-the-ground restoration and management of the region’s most significant natural areas. It would also put people to work performing restoration, create demand for local nursery stock that will be used in restoration projects and create citizen stewardship programs.

Second, voters gave Metro a clear mandate to get into natural area acquisition and management by overwhelmingly approving two bond measures totaling $363 million.

Without those funds there would be no Drake Lane Park in Hillsboro. Mount Talbert and Gresham’s buttes would be covered with developments, not nature trails. The Tualatin Basin watershed would have lower-quality drinking water and diminished fish and wildlife habitat. There would still be a “hole” in the Tualatin Hills Nature Park. There would be no Cooper Mountain or Graham Oaks nature parks.

The mayors are out of step with their constituents, who, much like the fish and wildlife they want protected, are not parochial in their desire to enjoy parks and natural areas, and act as good stewards.

On Tuesday, Dec. 18, the Metro Council will consider referring the levy to the region’s voters. Local elected officials should collaborate with Metro rather than bicker about a $20-per-year measure. They should also understand the value of a regional approach to natural areas, parks and trails funding, and the value of investing in the proper care of these special places for the good of future generations.

In the long term, the region must work to solve the bigger challenges: creating operating and maintenance revenue for all park providers and fixing Oregon’s broken tax system, which creates inequity across the board.

But these issues should not hold hostage this modest request to ask voters whether they value protecting their investment in water quality, fish and opportunities to experience nature.

The Metro Council should give them the opportunity to put their money where their values are — protecting the region’s water quality and ensuring they have access to nature where they live, work and play.

Mike Houck, a native Portlander and a graduate of Estacada Union High School, is executive director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute in Portland.