The Metro Council has set aside $8,500 to engage Washington County Latinos in the planning process for two local initiatives: the Council Creek Regional Trail (CCRT) and the Climate Smart Communities (CSC) project.

The council last Thursday approved spending the money on “culturally relevant engagement activities” related to the two projects. Councilors also voted to enlist the help of Forest Grove nonprofit Adelante Mujeres and Centro Cultural in Cornelius in providing written project overviews in Spanish, as well as Spanish translators and project materials at open houses this year and next.

Metro earmarked $5,000 for the CCRT project and $3,500 for the CSC project. The 15-mile regional trail will connect the cities of Cornelius, Forest Grove, Banks and Hillsboro, “all of which enjoy significant and growing Hispanic populations,” read Resolution 14-4511, which authorized the expenditures.

In an effort to hear from Spanish-speaking community members in discussions about the CSC initiative — a statewide effort to reduce per-capita greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and small trucks by 2035 — Metro intends to “hold one open house or community event in Spanish,” requiring the distribution of printed materials in Spanish and services to translate input from Latinos to English, according to the resolution.

“We’ve been trying to improve our engagement with all demographics in our regional area,” said Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, who serves District 4. “We’re making attempts to get better at that.”

Examples of progress in that arena include billboards and bus stop placards in Spanish that encourage recycling and “Spanish speakers on [Metro’s] recycling phone line,” said Harrington, who told a story about a Hispanic man who recently stopped her after a Committee on Sustainability meeting in Forest Grove.

“His feedback was that reading that message made him feel proud,” Harrington said. “That was not something I was expecting.”

Efforts to connect Metro projects with the Hispanic community date back to 2006, when the regional government partnered with the Kaiser Permanente Health Foundation to initiate a “Vamanos” program in Washington County that sponsored community walks and other activities.

“What we’ve learned is we have to maintain a genuine and consistent relationship with all our communities,” said Harrington. “Frankly, government agencies tend to be a bit episodic in that regard.”

The Metro Council’s most recent effort to engage Spanish speakers “puts the connection in the right place,” said Harrington, because Washington County’s population stands at 16 percent Latino. In Cornelius, it’s more than half of the residents, and Forest Grove and Hillsboro are greater than 20 percent Latino.

Forest Grove resident Gerardo Vergara-Monroy wrote a letter to the Metro Council March 29 asking councilors to “keep engaging all community members” and enlist Centro Cultural and Adelante as helpers. Also endorsing the idea were Linda Stiles Taylor of Forest Grove, Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake and Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax.

For Harrington, the community’s connection to the regional trail is especially significant. “I want to make sure we’re hearing from everyone about where they want to go and how they want to experience nature,” she said.

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