Youth, jobs, inclusiveness on Forest Grove minds
Community rec center, downtown revitalization top prioities at citys Annual Town Meeting Saturday
In the beginning, sustainability, retail development and economic growth were rated the top three areas needing attention in Forest Grove, according to the roughly 75 people who gathered in the community auditorium Saturday for the citys Annual Town Meeting.
Schools and transportation followed closely behind as the crowd registered opinions through a clicker-system instant poll at the start of the meeting.
Three hours later, a community recreation center had joined those priorities.
City Manager Michael Sykes noted that the city councils annual goal-setting session is March 1 and a number of issues raised here will be included.
The meetings demographics didnt necessarily match the citys. Sixty-three percent of the people registering opinions were over 55, with just four people younger than 21, three people aged 21 to 25 and five people aged 26 to 35.
Most 38 percent had lived in Forest Grove more than 20 years, although 23 percent were newbies, with five years or fewer under their belts.
One of the main issues to surface was the feeling that the city needed something to attract youth to healthy activities downtown, such as a community center that could offer sports, YMCA programs and other classes or events.
Pacific University professor Phil Ruder came back from a visit to Wisconsin convinced that Forest Grove needs a YMCA center like the one he saw in Appleton.
You can drop your 6-year-old off and from 10 to 5 theyre engaged, he said, noting that the facilitys central location drew the whole community together.
They actually have five YMCA centers in that town (population 73,000) and theyre all hopping, he said.
Abraham Villasenor, who attends Portland Community College, had the same idea for a community recreation center maybe with a climbing wall. Currently, Forest Groves young people go outside the city to do their shopping and for entertainment, he said.
The community recreation/YMCA center idea didnt just permeate conversations all over the room during an hour of small-group discussion it took the top spot in a poll question about What should be the most important new facility in Forest Grove? with 56 percent of the vote. A civic center/performing arts facility was a distant second with 22 percent.
During the breakout discussions, conversations varied widely.
How much affordable housing do we need? one man rhetorically asked his tablemates. Whats wrong with high-end housing?
The quality of life is going down, said a woman one table over.
People dont know about GroveLink, said a young man on the other side of the room, referring to the citys local transit service.
But some themes persisted.
I dont shop here. I dont like the atmosphere, said a young woman, who prefers stores in the Pearl District.
A number of people feel the need for improved retail offerings in the city and an instant poll at the meeting backed that up with 54 percent saying they shop mostly elsewhere and 34 percent saying they spend about half their shopping time in Forest Grove. Only 12 percent shopped mostly in the city.
The Pearl District shopper also said she opts for New Seasons over Safeway, where Im harassed for money in the parking lot.
But she was one of only a few talking about public safety, which scored near the bottom of the most important issues question, garnering only 5 percent of the vote and only 3 percent in another most important poll.
Before the small-group discussions, revitalizing downtown, creating jobs and making the community more inclusive were rated as the top three objectives city officials should pursue.
Afterward, revitalizing downtown remained at the top with 23 percent of the vote, but a community center came in second with 19 percent of the vote and youth opportunities third with 14 percent. Taken together, those last two items (which overlap considerably) came in first with 33 percent of the groups endorsement.