Politicians beware: Support for Metro is on the upswing
The Oregonian feature editorial for Jan. 5, 2010
The election for council president in 2010 could be the most thoughtful and provocative in the history of the regional government
This year, the Metro regional government will make a momentous decision, perhaps the most important in its history. But the principle behind it is surprisingly simple: Minimize waste.
Oregonians detest waste. Increasingly, they understand that land can be wasted as surely as money can be wasted - and, in fact, that wasting land is a form of wasting money.
This year, along with Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, Metro will distinguish land that it would be smarter to develop eventually, called urban reserves, from land that it would be smarter to set aside for generations, called rural reserves.
Years ago, Metro made a run at doing something similar. But nothing on this scale requiring the counties and Metro to reach a consensus has been attempted before. That the process might have a few hiccups, or even threaten to implode a time or two, is only to be expected. So many future investments - those of farmers, developers and taxpayers - depend on these critical decisions.
By designating urban and rural reserves carefully, Metro and the counties can boost the Willamette Valley's agricultural industry, spark economic development, encourage the reuse of empty and wasted land inside the urban growth boundary - and save money on extending roads, sewers and waterlines.
Coincidentally, in 2010, David Bragdon will be finishing up his last year as Metro Council president, and three Metro-savvy candidates have already jumped into the race.
Rex Burkholder, a former high school science teacher now in his third term as a Metro councilor, is an expert on regional transportation. Tom Hughes, the affable former mayor of Hillsboro, has considerable expertise in economic development. And Bob Stacey, former director of 1000 Friends of Oregon, is an expert on conservation of farm and forest land.
If these three can't spark a vigorous - and, yes, exciting - debate on the future of the region, no one can.
The decision about urban and rural reserves will likely be settled before a new president is elected. So it will really be up to Bragdon to shepherd this inherently contentious process to a successful conclusion. This is a legacy issue for him.
Not surprisingly, the counties don't all see eye to eye on the reserves. There have even been a few mutterings about Metro disintegrating over the issue.
But that's extremely unlikely. If anything, public opinion is moving in the opposite direction. Surveys by Davis Hibbitts & Midghall Inc. show support for regional land-use planning - what Metro does - has only intensified.
Oregonians are strapped and in a frugal mood, yes. But as the firm's Adam Davis recently told the City Club, people increasingly view compact development as financially smart, preventing waste, lessening the need for taxpayer-funded services and saving families both in money (fuel and other transportation costs) and in commute times.
Pay attention, politicians. Density is no longer the dreaded d-word, easy to demonize. Not so long as it comes, Davis says, with public safety and a few things Metro helps to provide - ample parks, "open spaces and walkability."
People in this region increasingly identify themselves as "Portlanders" and see Metro as a positive force. If you're looking for the usual suspect drawn to a Metro race-the candidate who runs against the very idea of a regional government?
Hey, for 2010, that candidate has yet to emerge.