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Clackamas County tears up planning group

Commission votes to oust environmental rep; another resigns


County commissioners, in their latest political shakeup, targeted Clackamas County’s Planning Commission last month, resulting in the dismissal of Brian Pasko, a Boring-area resident who works as Oregon’s Sierra Club director.

Disgusted with county commissioners’ seeming disregard for Pasko’s expertise by not even interviewing him, Beavercreek Hamlet Chairwoman Tammy Stevens resigned from the position that she’s held for about 10 years on the Planning Commission, the county’s most crucial advisory body.

“I’m shocked by this situation,” Stevens said. “It takes about four years to get new planning commissioners up to speed, but he was already a valuable member after two years. He didn’t vote for whatever people think would be the Sierra Club vote.”

County Chairman John Ludlow suggested that his vote against Pasko had more to do with Exclusive Farm Use advocates associated with the Sierra Club, an organization that doesn’t itself get involved with local land-use issues.

“I don’t have any particular rub with the Sierra Club, however, some of the progress that we’ve (been) trying to get, particularly on EFU lands, is stifled by some entities,” Ludlow said.

Once he heard a recording of Ludlow’s comments, Pasko noted that he has never had to make such a land-use decision as a planning commissioner.

“His assertion that I have brought a private agenda to the Planning Commission is completely without foundation whatsoever,” Pasko said. “It shows a complete lack of understanding as to what we do.”

In Pasko’s mind, the “Planning Commission serves the role of taking time to understand complex issues and thoughtfully make recommendations as a team.” When reviewing permitting and zoning concepts, its votes have been almost always unanimous and until recently were generally accepted by county commissioners.

Split decision

County commissioners appointed Jennings Lodge resident Hank Doane to Pasko’s seat on the Planning Commission on June 25 by a 3-2 vote. County Commissioners Martha Schrader and Jim Bernard were opposed.

Ludlow and Commissioner Tootie Smith noted that Doane is vice president of operations for R.S. Davis Recycling, which runs scrap-metal facilities in Clackamas, Hermiston and Gresham.

“We’re lacking an industrial representative on this commission,” Ludlow said. “I think it’s vitally important that we have a diversity on there, so that a person is a user, so to speak, a person that pays the fees, a person is in an industry which we all think is so important be represented on this Planning Commission.”

Smith added that she hoped that Doane’s position in the metals recycling business would help the county find a site for a composting facility.

“Lord knows it’s been so hard for us to get any traction on that issue, especially in this legislative session,” Smith said. “Maybe he can offer some expertise.”

Planning commissioners didn’t have to weigh in on a hearings officer’s reversal of the Clackamas County Planning Department’s decision last year to allow a controversial composting facility in Redland. After large community protests, the officer decided such a facility had no place in the farming community.

“It’d be great to have a compost facility — where does Tootie live? Because she seems really keen to live next to a dump,” Stevens joked.

Bernard, noting that Pasko “did represent the environmental community,” argued that it was also important to retain Pasko’s representation of rural interests.

Schrader echoed concerns of Stevens in recognizing the learning curve for new planning commissioners.

“I see merit in both of these folks,” Schrader said. “I do feel more comfortable in appointing someone who’s already served.”

County commissioners also recently appointed West Linn Planning Commissioner Gail Holmes to the countywide Planning Commission. Although the county’s advisory body deals mostly with unincorporated areas, it now has a majority of folks living in urban areas, an issue that also irks Pasko and Stevens.

County Commissioner Paul Savas, however, considered a majority of planning commissioners from urban areas to be a “better mix.” Savas asked whether the Planning Commission had seven or nine members to make sure that the balance had just tipped in favor of urban areas of the county.

“It’s just unfortunate that I got in the middle of all the political finagling,” Pasko said.

Moving forward

For the new planning commissioner, it was the furthest thing from a political gamut. Working for the family business since 2007, Doane had the opportunity to apply to the county for a planning permit and looked for ways to become more involved.

“Things are always changing politically, but for me it’s about working with the county and trying to help this area be successful,” he said. “I’m not looking to do anything out of the box at this point when I’m just learning the ropes.”

Although the Planning Commission has a lot of important work on its agenda, Stevens resigned rather than face what she saw as inevitable dismissal in a couple years.

“I am not going to work my butt off just to have done to me what was done to Brian,” Stevens said. “I, unfortunately, am not going to spend my extremely limited spare time serving a county who treats people with disrespect, who make uninformed decisions, who finds citizen involvement a burden and the care of citizens less important than the almighty buck.”

At the next Planning Commission meeting tentatively scheduled for July 22, Stevens plans to testify against proposed expansions to allowable uses in industrial parks. Now that’s she’s off the Planning Commission, which has been wrangling with county commissioners and staff on the proposals for months now, she feels freer to be openly hostile to the county’s new direction.

“We undid about 75 percent of what the staff did to give an excellent balance of citizen and industrial consideration,” she said. “If they go much more liberal, then we’re going to have to file an appeal with LUBA, because these zoning changes are going to affect people who weren’t notified.”