Regional tension on some proposals could hinder city's roadmap
The ambitious Portland Plan is headed to the City Council at a time when the city is facing a financial crunch.
The plan is intended to guide council policy and spending decisions during the next 25 years. For example, it envisions the formation of numerous neighborhood 'hubs' throughout the city connected by nature corridors and streets designed to encourage pedestrians and bicyclists called Neighborhood Greenways.
But because of declining revenue growth, Portland does not have enough money to maintain existing basic services. The Portland Bureau of Transportation already cut $7 million out of its budget this fiscal year. Mayor Sam Adams has asked agencies to prepare budgets with proposed 4 percent, 6 percent and 8 percent cuts for the next fiscal year.
Many of the cuts being proposed by the agencies could hinder their abilities to fully enact the Portland Plan. For example, Portland Parks and Recreation is considering reducing maintenance in the natural areas it already owns. And the Portland Bureau of Transportation is proposing to cut its Neighborhood Greenway program by $150,000 a year for the next five years.
Mayor Sam Adams, the driving force behind the plan, says he knows times are tight. According to Adams, the plan assumes Portland will have less money in the future and instead requires the city to set priorities and better coordinate its spending with other governments to accomplish the goals.
'This is all about doing better with what we have, setting priorities in different parts of the city, and getting the most out of our combined resources,' says Adams.
But the cuts could be especially large at the city agency that is writing the plan and is expected to oversee it, the Bureau Planning and Sustainability. The situation became clear at a Jan. 10 meeting of the Planning and Sustainability Commission, the 11-member citizen board that guides the agency and must approve the plan before it goes to the council.
Before the commissioners discussed the most recent draft of the plan, director Susan Anderson briefed them on the agency's next budget. She predicted it would be cut between 6 percent and 8 percent, resulting in up to nine employees being laid off. The layoffs would be in addition to 20 positions that have been eliminated during the past four years because of ongoing city budget problems, she said.
'There are things we haven't been able to do,' Anderson conceded.
The commission is expected to ratify a final draft of the plan on Jan. 24 and forward it to the council with a recommendation for approval. The council could hold a hearing on the plan in March and approve it as soon as this summer. No estimate has yet been developed of the cost of enacting everything in the Portland Plan.
Comp plan preparation
The Portland Plan is the latest plan for guiding the city's future to be considered by the council. It is also the most sweeping. The 1972 Downtown Plan focused on the urban core and helped produce Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the Transit Mall and Pioneer Courthouse Square. The 1988 Central City Plan expanded the concept of downtown to include nearby northwest and inner eastside neighborhoods, laying the groundwork for the Pearl District and the eastside Portland Streetcar loop under construction.
The Portland Plan is intended to cover the entire city, however, from St. Johns to the eastside neighborhoods that were not even part of Portland when the Downtown Plan was approved. It is also concerned with much more than potential redevelopment projects or even services provided by city agencies.
Goals include increasing equity by creating equal access for all Portland to satisfy essential needs, advance their well-being and achieve their full potential. Among others things, it seeks to increase the on-time high school graduation rate from 53 percent today to 95 percent by 2035. The plan envisions a series of intergovernmental agreements with all school districts in the city and other partners in the public and private sectors to achieve the goals.
In addition, the Portland Plan is only the first step in a planning process that includes the state-mandated rewrite of the comprehensive land-use plan, the zoning rules and other policies that govern the physical shape of the city. The Portland Plan is intended to help shape the rewritten 'comp plan,' as it is commonly called.
The planning and sustainability bureau will begin rewriting the comp plan once the commission approves the Portland Plan. Among other things, it is expected to to encourage the development of neighborhoods where all needs can be met within a 20-minute walk, a concept embraced in the Portland Plan.
The Portland Plan is expected to cost about $2.5 million to complete, with the comp plan rewrite costing roughly the same. Work on the comp plan is expected to last into late 2013.
Despite the complexity and potential funding problems, many people, other governments, nonprofit organizations, environmental groups and business associations have participated in drafting the Portland Plan. When the planning and sustainability commission met on Jan. 10, members were presented with two-inch thick binders holding 173 written comments on the plan received between Nov. 1 and Dec. 28.
The comments were in addition to feedback generated at dozens of open houses and hearings on the plan that have been held during more than two years.
The vast majority of written comments are generally supportive of the plan, including those written by representatives of other governments.
'With the development of the Portland Plan we have an opportunity to focus each of our efforts in a complementary way,' wrote Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith.
'Congratulations on a final product that is forward-looking and concise and will provide the city with useful guidance in coming years,' wrote Robin McArthur, director of planning and development for Metro, the regional government.
Local agency representatives did not necessarily endorse all specifics in the plan, however. For example, Smith's letter did not mention the plan's 95 percent high school graduation goal. And McArthur's letter did not mention the plan's goal that Portland land 25 percent of all new jobs created in the region, something that other cities inside Metro's boundaries might have object to.
Some tensions emerged from the feedback that the commission discussed at its Jan. 10 hearing. A number of writers questioned the plan's commitment to support the so-called traded sector of the economy, those businesses that sell goods and services outside the region. Some argued that exports deplete the region's resources and damage the environment.
Commissioner Chairman André Baugh argued that such businesses bring needed money into the region.
'It can be confusing, but we're talking about Portland businesses and we do need to export,' said Baugh.
Tension between environmental and business interests also surfaced. The version of the plan discussed at the meeting calls for reestablishing and reconnecting habitat corridors 'whenever possible.' In a letter, Portland Business Alliance Sandra McDonough wrote that such a policy could limit the available land for future residential and employment growth.
Without referencing McDonough's letter, Baugh said the plan should establish a direct link between nature and economic prosperity.
The ongoing tension between motorists and bicyclists also surfaced at the meeting. Commission member Irma Valdez said the plan calls a lot of bike-oriented projects, but does not require riders to pay for any of them. She brought up the possibility of a bike registration fee to raise at least a token amount of money dedicated to such projects. Commissioner Chris Smith, an alternative transportation advocate, argued against a registration fee, however, saying it would discourage bike riding.
The meeting ended with the commission agreeing to vote on a recommendation to the council at its next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday.
The full Portland Plan is available at www.portlandonline.com/portlandplan.