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Neighbors fed up with Metro's track record

Those of us who, in the late 1970s, had big misgivings about the former Columbia Region Association of Governments morphing into Metro (the current regional government) did not imagine how much of Milwaukie’s (and all regional cities) government autonomy would be ripped away under the pretense of lower cost services and better facilities management of a few regional functions.

Over time it went from coordinating to an 800-pound gorilla who runs the show from behind the curtain and it is costing us dearly! It costs our tax dollars, our legitimate citizen participation process, input on critical developments which change the character of our city, of how taxes are or are not collected, of subsidies to the rich, and potential loss of safety, security and livability of neighborhoods.

For nearly 20 years, Metro has been busy proposing, promoting and ensuring that cities in its jurisdiction follow their version of smart growth. It includes putting high density, “affordable” and low-income housing in a mile-wide swath around every MAX light-rail line. With the stealth of a Wall Street bank, they are reversing the long-used system in which corporations pay taxes to governments, to where governments pay corporations to build. The public is forced to pay with tax dollars when it would cost less if a private party/corporation paid their own way. We in the neighborhood understand this, and appreciate that the Portland Tribune is talking about the backward, upside-down planners who are screwing up neighborhoods as they tell us they don’t have funds for needed local services.

In the current such planning projects: “Forward,” began as a sweet little “let’s look at refreshing downtown zoning codes to one of paying developers and corporations to do what they should be doing for themselves, and in the doing, making sure few local businesses can afford tenancy in these new, huge, look-alike developments that will hamper bringing in affordable merchandise for local limited-income residents.” This project will include seven downtown projects, including many of the Dark Horse Comics properties tying up the commercial district. They also intend to redevelop 32nd and 42nd avenues with the same taxpayer source and give away.

There are also the big sites of Murphy’s Plywood, next to the Union Pacific track, behind Mike’s Drive In and the triangle behind the Oak Street shopping mall. They could be light, clean industrial properties but the city wants to put old, sick or poor people there, breathing the diesel fumes and rumbling trains forever more. When that kind of industrial land is so scarce locally that Portland is trying to sign options on their golf courses, we have to wonder what the hell is going on here.

The shock for me was reading the name of John Fregonese in both the Metro planning books describing how they want to do “smart growth” and the owner of the EcoNorthwest planning company hired by Milwaukie and Metro now doing this project! He is also the person who laid out the rules for our citizen participation in it.

Slightly paraphrased, he says in the planning documents supplied to the citizen reps (I am an alternate for my neighborhood) says essentially, go along, don’t make waves, be a team player, look at the big picture, not the little details — just smile and go along!

That is how Metro did their pre-vote stuff with citizen activists in the region all those years ago. This is very familiar manipulation. But it got worse when Fregonese stipulated that only government officials, corporate honchos and property owners could attend the big meetings “Developers Roundtable.” The door was closed to all citizens. We noted, however, that the big people were free to attend the public meetings.

The fee paid to Fregonese was over $225,000 — to do work already determined decades ago! I asked our current development director to provide hard copies of the reports for a blind member of our neighborhood. He brushed it off with “Oh, she’s OK... she doesn’t need one, and we don’t have the money to do it.”

State, regional and local laws require that an accommodation be provided handicapped persons and adequate study materials. They don’t care... When my physician requested the city provide me with hard copies of reports and necessary materials which we would study as a part of my job as chair of the Historic Milwaukie Neighborhood Association, City Manager Bill Monahan sent a response to me saying he didn’t believe I needed them, that he felt they were for private use, and if I want them, BUY THEM! As I have aged my vision is failing and I again have double vision much of the time. Surgery didn’t solve the problem.

For three years, I have felt that there was a problem in the city-planning process. It just didn’t add up: It wasn’t just me they didn’t want to know too much, they didn’t want people to see whole documents, in ordinance changes. Like looking through a hole in the fence to see the elephant — all we saw were little pieces without the full context of what the changes really meant, and in many cases, they failed to provide adequate information about which document was being changed and how it fit in with others. They have avoided a full review of the Comprehensive Plan for 23 years, choosing to chip away one little piece at a time, but constantly! Even they have trouble keeping track of the changes.

NW Housing Alternatives (the big “affordable’’ high-density housing/office complex for a multimillion-dollar company with 1,800 rental units around Oregon) is the other big problem. They too have had a professional planner schmoozing with Metro and the city — including consulting on the rewrite of rules for high-density and affordable housing where density bonuses and tax abatements are offered. Were we told the ultimate purpose of these changes? Nope!

NWHA is seeking a zone change that will give them unprecedented “gives” and has the potential to do real harm to the downtown neighborhood. The city has given them a free pass on the kind of hearing they re ceive in order to not place conditions upon the development which would assist the safety and livability of the tenants, including children, elderly and handicapped people who need our input before the project breaks ground. But all we get is stonewalled, knowing that they are the second in a downtown onslaught of very tall, high-density buildings set at the junction of the high school and MAX station.

Right now we see a big way-too-friendly working relationship between Metro, TriMet, the city, big developers and landowners, and consultants with an in. It is so closed and orchestrated, it appears to be a corrupt system that will continue to extract tax dollars from the middle class to put low-income people into substandard and crowded high-density developments that profit only the big corporations and banks. It’s time to have a closer look at this process that has as its only considerations: No. 1: How many people can you jam in? And No. 2: How much money can you make? Neither of those address the livability we Oregonians sought to protect when we created the Land Conservation and Development Commission goals and guidelines. We can grow and develop, but we need to give a damn about how we do it, fairness and making livability our guiding star.

We have paid huge salaries for our planners who farm their work out to consultants at many times their huge salaries. Even our city manager claims degrees in law and land-use planning. So how did we get so messed up? How many planners does it take to screw up a neighborhood?

Jean Baker is a Milwaukie resident.



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