Three counties show dwindling support for Metro land measures

by: MAP COURTESY OF METRO - Metros levy to restore its natural lands passed in the green areas but failed in the red areas of the region, according to the precinct analysis from the May special election ballot.Metro officials are not worried about the split vote on their $50 million ballot measure to maintain the parks and natural lands owned by the elected regional government.

Ballot Measure 26-152 passed with 56 percent of the vote at the May 21 Special Election. But although Multnomah County voters overwhelmingly approved the measure, it failed by narrow margins in both Clackamas and Washington counties.

That’s a change from 1995 and 2006, when voters in all three counties approved the Metro measure to buy most of its 16,000 acres of property.

“It’s always hard to pass levies in low-turnout elections. There’s a block of voters that always vote no and a smaller block that always votes yes, so the challenge is getting out enough other voters who vote yes,” says Metro President Tom Hughes.

Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck thinks the elected Metro Council should be concerned by the split, however.

“There are anti-Metro sentiments out on the edges [of the region] they should pay attention to,” Duyck says.

A precinct analysis shows the measure passed in many of the more urbanized parts of the region, including the cities of Portland, Beaverton, Forest Grove, Milwaukie, Tigard, Tualatin, West Linn and Wood Village. It failed in most of the rural areas, however, and in the cities of Hillsboro, Oregon City, Sherwood.

“It is an oversimplification to say the measure passed in Portland but failed in the suburbs. The measure passed in a large number of suburbs in all three counties,” says Jim Desmond, director Metro’s Sustainability Center.

But Ballot Measure 26-151 received less support than the two previous measures. The 1995 measure passed in the region with 63 percent of the vote, 7 points more than this year’s measure. The 2006 measure passed with 59 percent of the vote, 3 percent more than this year’s measure.

The diminished support could be significant because Metro put a lot of time and energy into crafting a proposal with the widest possible backing. Among other things, the council made sure the maintenance funds would be spent evenly throughout the region. And it paid for two surveys by DHM Research, a Portland-based polling firm with years of political experience. One was a scientific telephone survey of 800 likely voters. The other was an Opt In online survey that received 5,119 responses. Both tested themes to be used in the ballot title to attract the most support.

Fish, wildlife touches nerve

The surveys found that voters in the region were especially likely to support a measure that preserved water quality for fish and wildlife. The ballot title, written by Metro, stressed improving water quality in local rivers and streams for fish and other wildlife.

The surveys also found that with a carefully crafted ballot title and a good campaign, the measure might be supported by 65 percent of regional voters and be approved in all three counties. Two committees in support of Ballot Measure 26-152 raised a significant amount of cash and in-kind contributions — more than $332,000. There was no organized opposition.

Despite all that, the measure fell 9 points short of the surveys’ estimate and failed in two counties.

Multnomah County voters were the key to the passage of Ballot Measure 26-152. It was approved by 60 percent of Multnomah County voters, compared to 48 percent in Clackamas County and 49 percent in Washington County.

Support waning

There are a number of reasons to suggest the split results might be part of a worrisome trend. Support for Metro’s land measure has now fallen in each county over the years.

The 1995 measure passed in Multnomah County with 67 percent of the vote. It passed in Clackamas County with 60 percent of the vote and in Washington County with 58 percent of the vote.

Support dropped when voters approved the second Metro bond measure in 2006. It passed in Multnomah County with 64 percent of the vote. It passed in Clackamas County with 53 percent of the vote and in Washington County with 55 percent of the vote.

Support dropped again this year. Ballot Measure 26-152 passed in Multnomah County with 60 percent of the vote, a decrease of 7 percent from 1995 and 4 percent since 2006. It failed with 48 percent in Clackamas County, a decrease of 12 percent since 1995 and 5 percent since 2006. And it failed with 49 percent in Washington County, a decrease of 9 percent since 1995 and 6 percent since 2006.

There are a number of possible reasons for the decreased support. For starters, Ballot Measure 26-152 was not intended to acquire any new land for preservation or open up any of Metro’s existing land to the public. Voters might have been disappointed that it will not do as much as the first two measures.

“It’s a lot more exciting to buy a new car than have your old car tuned up,” says Desmond.

And the measure was on the ballot with memories of the Great Recession still fresh. It did not ask for a lot of money — just 9.6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $20 a year for a typical $200,000 home in the region for five years. But money measures have been a hard sell lately, especially outside of Portland.

The vote also came as a large percentage of Clackamas County voters are rebelling against Metro’s land-use planning policies. They elected two anti-light-rail commissioners last November, including Chairman John Ludlow. And a nonbinding countywide measure to support the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Line failed at the May 21 Special Election by a margin of 57 to 43 percent.

The dwindling support in Washington County is more of a mystery. Although Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey led a coalition of mayors who asked Metro not to postpone the measure, they did not campaign against it once their plea was rejected.

Editors note: An earlier version of this online story did not reflect the fact that Measure 26-152 passed in the city of Milwaukie. We regret the error.

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