As the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission continued their review of the draft document last month, Mid-Multnomah County had a prominent place in the draft Portland Plan.
At their January 24 meeting, after praising Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and other bureaus’ staff work, they approved the Plan unanimously and forwarded it to City Council. Accoring to BPS staff, Council is expected to act on the Plan in April.
The Portland Plan will set policy direction for city action over the next 20 years, and set a framework for updating the 1980 Portland Comprehensive Plan, including changes to zoning and other regulations.
The Plan has a special section where, as senior planner Joe Zehnder noted, “All things east Portland” are located. “We’re saying that an emphasis on east Portland is warranted,” he told the Commission. “We’re not making a separate strategy for it, but we need to make a case for east Portland, and the importance of its success.”
Commission member Karen Fischer Gray was concerned about another plan, East Portland in Motion, dealing with area transportation issues. Zehnder assured her it would be brought to the Commission and City Council for adoption. However, the Commission was concerned about the inclusion of “community-based plans” and specific actions proposed for other areas. Zehnder said, “People may say (of the Portland Plan), ‘This is too high-level for me.’ This shows you why it matters, why you should care.” However, Commission members were concerned it might be construed as a commitment to implement all such plans. Commission member Chris Smith called this section “problematic”.
Staff has included prioritization for the creation of new sidewalks where they do not currently exist. Commission chair Andre Baugh said that in this way the City is “defining basic services as opposed to options.”
The Commission has had trouble with “Equity,” a value intended to be a guiding principal for all parts of the document. One set of advocates, representing the disabled community, argued forcefully that their input should be included. At a previous hearing, a dozen such advocates complained that their input was ignored. Each concluded his or her remarks, “I am invisible,” and pulled a paper bag over their head. At the latest hearing, staff said such advocates had submitted considerable new material.
As part of the discussion, Commission members asked if there is any inventory of accessible housing; Gray in particular said that this would be of great use to her as part of her “day job” as Parkrose School District Superintendent. Staff members present conceded that no such universal inventory exists.
Smith suggested that increased housing density would work better with “wider use of design review.” Zehnder replied that this is “probably not sustainable,” and that “just implementation of the new Irvington National Historic District is producing shock and awe” for regulatory agencies. Engstrom added that the Portland Design Commission is concerned about the effect of requiring such processes on the production of affordable housing. Instead, Zehnder said, planners are looking at greater use of the Community Design Standards, which require builders to either include certain objective design elements in their projects or undergo design review.
Commission member Don Hanson liked this approach, and said that the standards should be tailored to some extent to the character of different parts of the city. “One size doesn’t fit all,” he said.
Another issue touched on was noise, a subset of a goal to create a “healthy, livable city.” Zehnder said, “There was testimony from places transitioning into more intense use,” where noise has become an issue. Valdez said that unenforceable goals here “may open us up to unrealistic expectations.” Commission Chair Andre Baugh noted, “There are places where there are true 24-hour cities. There is an acceptable background din and then there are things beyond that.” Susan Anderson, executive director of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, suggested seeking advice from the city’s Noise Control Office, other cities, and “places like North Portland.”
During public testimony alternative transportation critic Terry Parker of Rose City Park and bike advocate David Hampsten of Hazelwood agreed on one point: the state gasoline tax, declining due to less proportional auto use and more fuel efficient vehicles, cannot be relied on to fund or maintain bicycle improvements. Valdez suggested a bicycle-licensing fee. Smith, a strong alternative transportation advocate, said that the needs covered by the gasoline tax are “under-funded by about $50 million a year.” He said he would favor some sort of fee for bicyclists, “if only to quiet the people who say we’re not paying our fair share.” However, he balked at a fee on bicycles themselves because “I don’t want to give anyone another reason not to buy a bike.” He suggested surtax on accessories such as inner tubes.
During one public hearing at Parkrose High School, several high school and college students spoke about their desire for a greater role in public processes. Last month Commission members remarked on how impressed they were with this testimony, and the cultural diversity of the speakers. Gray commented, “What we don’t realize is that these kids are often translating for their parents. There are amazing kids who are first-time college goers for their families.” However, she said, public agencies see such participation “sometimes as beneficial and sometimes as a nuisance.”
In a related matter, the Commission’s oldest member, Howard Shapiro, endorsed the goal of Portland being a “multi-generational city.” He said, “A good proportion of Portland is young, a higher percentage is old.”
Commission member Michelle Rudd said that elders are “a resource we should be taking advantage of.”