Tag: natural area

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Cascade Policy Institute Raises Concerns Metro Is Flouting Oregon Public Meetings Law

Transparency is critical as Metro asks voters to trust the agency with billions in new taxes

February 11, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
Eric Fruits, Ph.D.
503-242-0900
503-928-6635
eric@cascadepolicy.org

Cascade Policy Institute has raised concerns with Metro Council that the regional government’s Parks and Nature program may be violating Oregon’s Public Meetings Law.

In a letter to Metro President Lynn Peterson and Metro Council, Cascade Policy Institute has identified two meetings of the Parks and Nature Oversight Committee that were held without public notice.

One of these meetings was last Tuesday, February 4, 2020. At an afternoon work session, Councilor Sam Chase informed the rest of Council that he had met with the Oversight Committee earlier that day. At the meeting Councilor Chase and the committee discussed issues Cascade Policy Institute’s Eric Fruits had raised regarding the Parks and Nature program in testimony to council on January 23, 2020. Councilor Chase says he and the committee discussed the administrative costs of the Parks and Nature program, which skyrocketed last year. There was no public notice of the public meeting of the Oversight Committee.

The other meeting was September 24, 2019. There is no record of a public notice announcing this meeting of the Oversight Committee. According to minutes the committee discussed the program’s administrative costs, which at the time were running at 20% for the year, or double the amount Metro promised to voters. Other issues included the upcoming Parks and Nature ballot measure and land acquisitions.

As late as December 6, 2019, the Oversight Committee’s webpage had no record of the September 24, 2019, meeting according to an archived copy of the webpage.

After Dr. Fruits’ testimony to Metro Council regarding the Oversight Committee, it appears Metro created a backdated webpage to give the appearance that it provided public notice of the September 24, 2019 meeting. For example, the page says, “The Sept. 24 meeting will include a tour of Killin Wetlands Nature Park” (emphasis added).

A review of the source code for the webpage reveals that the page was published on January 24, 2020, one day after Cascade Policy Institute’s testimony to Metro Council.

Oregon Public Meetings Law requires that public notice be given of the time and place of meetings and that the time must be “reasonably calculated to give actual notice to interested persons.”

Metro provided no notice of its most recent meeting of the Parks and Nature Oversight Committee. Even worse, it appears Metro created backdated notice to cover its failure to notify the public of its September 2019 meeting of the Oversight Committee.

Oregon’s Public Meetings Law indicates members of a governing body may be liable for attorney and court costs both as individuals or as members of a group if found in willful violation of the Public Meetings Law. To reduce the risk of such consequences, Metro Council must perform a thorough review of the relevant law regarding its public meetings and take whatever actions necessary to ensure Metro abide by both the letter and the spirit of the law.

As Metro is asking voters to approve billions of dollars in new taxes for housing services and transportation, transparency encouraging citizen oversight of the regional government’s spending is more important than ever. Proper notice of public meetings is not just the law, it’s the right thing to do.

A copy of the letter and documentation is available here.

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Press Release: Cascade Policy Institute Publishes Comprehensive Study of Metro’s Parks and Nature Program

October 15, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contacts:
John A. Charles, Jr.
Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

PORTLAND, OR – In the next week or so, Portland area voters will receive their November ballots. One of the items is Measure 26-203: a $475 million bond measure by Metro, the regional government for the Portland area. Metro wants the money so it can buy more land for its so-called parks and nature program. Measure 26-203 will raise the region’s property taxes by about $60 million a year. The $475 million request is larger than the two previous Metro natural areas bonds combined, which were $135.6 million dollars in 1995 and $227.4 million dollars in 2006.

Cascade Policy Institute has published a comprehensive study of Metro’s parks and nature program, with the following conclusions:

  • Metro’s natural areas program began as a vision to increase and preserve parks and natural areas to a region facing increased population growth and density.
  • As the program evolved, the mission moved from providing parks for people to locking land away from the community that paid for it. The initial promise in 1995 to “provide areas for walking, picnicking, and other outdoor recreation” has shifted to the 2019 bond measure promise to “protect water quality, fish, wildlife habitat, natural areas.”
  • Over the nearly two decades since the first parks and nature bond measure, Metro has made, broken, and delayed its promises to voters.
    • In 2002, Metro imposed a solid waste tax enacted to pay for the operating costs of new parks. In 2006, Metro diverted the parks money into Metro’s general fund. In subsequent years, Metro put two operating levies on the ballot, increasing property taxes.
    • Chehalem Ridge was pitched as a regional park for Metro’s west side, but current plans are for a few miles of walking trails and a small picnic area. The park is more than seven miles from the nearest TriMet stop.
  • After spending hundreds of millions of dollars and acquiring more than 14,000 acres of land, less than 12 percent of Metro’s acquisitions are accessible to the public.
  • More than 80 percent of the acquisitions are outside the UGB.
  • Much of the land acquired by Metro was never at risk of development because Metro manages the region’s Urban Growth Boundary.
  • Metro’s restoration objectives, efforts, and results have been opaque and uncertain. Metro has provided no measurable documentation of changes to water quality or fish and wildlife populations.

Information was obtained from publicly available resources, interviews, and on-site visits to every natural area and nature park identified by Metro. Cascade paid thousands of dollars in public records requests to Metro.

Cascade’s report is available for download.

For more information on Measure 26-203 and Metro’s parks program, contact Cascade Policy Institute at 503-242-0900.

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Contact Eric Fruits or John Charles at 503-242-0900 or by email at eric@cascadepolicy.org or john@cascadepolicy.org for more information or to schedule an interview.

About Cascade Policy Institute:

Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research and educational organization that focuses on state and local issues in Oregon. Cascade’s mission is to develop and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. For more information, visit cascadepolicy.org.

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Hidden Lands, Unknown Plans: A Quarter Century of Metro’s Natural Areas Program

By Vladislav Yurlov, Helen Cook, and Micah Perry with Eric Fruits, Ph.D., research advisor

  1. Executive summary 

In June 2019, Metro’s Council referred to voters a $475 million bond measure for the acquisition and restoration of natural areas as well as future recreational opportunities. If passed, the measure will cost the region’s taxpayers approximately $60 million a year in property taxes. The $475 million request is larger than the two previous Metro natural areas bonds combined, which were $135.6 million dollars in 1995 and $227.4 million dollars in 2006. 

Cascade Policy Institute researched Metro’s management of its natural areas program. Information was obtained from publicly available resources, public records requests, interviews, and on-site visits to every natural area and nature park identified by Metro. Several areas were more thoroughly examined as case studies because of their location, size, acquisition price, and length of time owned by Metro. These case study areas comprise about 20 percent of the land acquired by Metro in the 1995 and 2006 bond measures. 

Cascade’s findings lead to the following conclusions: 

  • Metro’s natural areas program began as a vision to increase and preserve parks and natural areas to a region facing increased population growth and density. With increasing population density, local governments would offset the loss of backyards with more parks to meet, play, and offer “nature in neighborhoods.” It was an expensive vision that would require hundreds of millions of dollars. 
  • As the program evolved, the mission moved from providing parks for people to locking land away from the community that paid for it. The initial promise in 1995 to “provide areas for walking, picnicking, and other outdoor recreation” has shifted to the 2019 bond measure promise to “protect water quality, fish, wildlife habitat, natural areas.” Parks are to be “maintained” rather than built, expanded, or improved. 
  • Over the nearly two decades since the first parks and nature bond measure, Metro has made, broken, and delayed its promises to voters.  
  • Metro promised that a solid waste tax enacted to pay for the operating costs of new parks would protect residents from additional taxes for the same purpose. Nevertheless, it swept that money into Metro’s general fund and put two operating levies—increasing property taxes—on the ballot.  
  • Metro assured the region that Clear Creek would become a regional park. More than a decade later, it has no plans to make the area publicly accessible and has removed it from its maps of parks and natural areas. 
  • Chehalem Ridge was pitched as a regional park for Metro’s west side, but current plans are for a few miles of walking trails and a small picnic area.  
  • After spending hundreds of millions of dollars and acquiring more than 14,000 acres of land, less than 12 percent of the acquisitions are accessible to the public.  
  • Even the land that is open to the public is out of reach of many Portland residents.  
  • Seventy percent of Metro’s acquisitions have been outside Metro’s jurisdiction.  
  • More than 80 percent of the acquisitions are outside the Urban Growth Boundary 
  • A statement in the 2019 Voters’ Pamphlet from a group of bond supporters admits that many of Metro’s acquisitions “exist as places on a map but not places you can actually go.”  
  • Much of the land acquired by Metro was never at risk of development because Metro manages the region’s UGB 
  • Metro’s restoration objectives, efforts, and results have been opaque and uncertain. Metro has provided no measurable documentation of changes to water quality or fish and wildlife populations.  
  • Metro has promised a strategy focused on racial equity. Even so, minority communities’ desire for parks that serve as “gathering places, places to eat, security, and places for kids to play, exercise and cool off during the summer” have been overlooked in favor of natural areas amenable only to “passive recreation.” 

Metro has acquired more land than it can manage. The focus for the next decade should be on making current lands available for public use. Metro’s largest planned park—Chehalem Ridge near Gaston—has been in Metro ownership for nine years, and there is still no public access. Metro also owns about 1,400 acres in the Sandy River Gorge. These holdings are not shown on any of Metro’s parks and nature maps and Metro has no plans at all to make these properties available for swimming, boating, hiking, or family cookouts. Metro needs to turn these and other areas into parks its residents actually use before seeking more money to acquire more land.

Vladislav Yurlov, Helen Cook, and Micah Perry are Research Associates at Cascade Policy Institute. Eric Fruits, Ph.D., is Vice President of Research at Cascade.

Click here for the full report in PDF:

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Where Is Our Metro Park at Chehalem Ridge?

By Helen Cook

This summer, I was walking on an old logging road in the middle of thick forest, not a person in sight. The only sign of human activity were signs nailed to the trees prohibiting fungus-collecting. A tattered strand of red tape displaying the print, “Invasive Species,” waved in the wind.

You wouldn’t know it since no signage exists, but I was hiking through Metro’s biggest natural area: Chehalem Ridge. In fact, you wouldn’t know this was public property. The trailhead is on the side of a gravel road after driving miles through rural countryside. A gated fence blocks the entrance alongside a sign forbidding a long list of activities, including dog-walking. (Ironically, later in the day, I observed a couple walking their dog in Chehalem. There was no one there to stop them.)

Metro bought Chehalem Ridge Natural Area in 2010. The land is nestled between Forest Grove and Gaston, about a 20-minute drive to Hillsboro. The size of the parcel is actually bigger than Central Park in New York. In other words, this land’s potential is not that of a typical neighborhood park.

But where is our park? Metro likened the area to the future “Oxbow Regional Park,” whose popularity is due in part to its camping sites, twelve miles of trails, and picnic areas.

The regional government is in no hurry to fulfill this promise. The land has purportedly undergone restoration for nine years. Yet when I asked Metro for evidence, few numbers were given. The only indication of restoration on the website are whimsical “field notes” by a Metro Senior Scientist. Some mentions of thinning forest and planting shrubs are sporadically found in updates. But I was unable to find proof of water quality restoration, which is one of the most important reason cited for acquiring the land.

So if Chehalem Ridge is really Metro’s next big success story, why hasn’t it become a reality? It’s unclear why we don’t see a park since Metro had several opportunities to develop the area.

Voters approved a $226 million dollar bond for parks and nature in 2006. This was supplemented by a $50 million dollar levy for maintenance in 2013 and another levy in 2016. But Metro is asking for $475 million dollars more in a 2019 bond, some of which is promised to Chehalem Ridge. All of this money comes from taxpayers, but Metro seems in no rush to return the favor.

Even when Metro eventually breaks ground on Chehalem, none of this money will go to the biggest obstacle: the roads. The winding roads leading to the park are extremely difficult to drive with traffic. But Metro has no jurisdiction to repave the roads. Washington County, which does have this authority, certainly has no intention of improving roads in the area. Just to be sure, I asked them. A definitive no was the immediate answer, despite the fact that Metro will be charged an estimated $2 million Transportation Impact Fee by Washington County when construction permits are issued.

During the next several years, you will not see campsites, twelve miles of trails, playgrounds, or access for low-income individuals who can’t drive to the park. What Chehalem’s master plan does promise you is three miles of multi-use trails, a trailhead, parking, and restrooms. To put it bluntly, you are promised a remote trail that’s less useable than your average neighborhood park.

I suggest taxpayers contact Metro to ask that it live up to the promise of an “Oxbow Regional Park.” If Metro wants voters to maintain a higher tax rate with this proposed bond, voters should demand that original promises be kept.

Maybe with more accountability, Metro would live up to its slogan, “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” But as of now, I’m skeptical. That’s why I plan to vote “No” this November on Metro’s newest $475 million bond. Metro needs more transparency, not more money.

Helen Cook is a Research Associate at the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She can be reached at info@cascadepolicy.org. A version of this article appeared in the Portland Tribune on October 4, 2019.

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Metro's New Plan to Keep Voters out of Chehalem ridge nature park

Metro’s New Plan to Keep Voters out of Chehalem Ridge Nature Park

By John A. Charles, Jr.

On October 19 the Metro Council adopted an Access Master Plan for the Chehalem Ridge Nature Park. This is a former industrial tree farm of 1,230 acres that Metro bought from Stimson Lumber Company in 2010.

Chehalem Ridge is Metro’s largest land purchase financed through the bond sale program approved by voters in 1995 and again in 2006. However, it’s not clear why it was ever a priority. Located just east of Gaston, Chehalem Ridge is outside the Metro boundaries and far from any urban population. The roads leading to it are narrow and winding, and there is no public transit. The entrance is gated, and the land has never been open to the public.

Chehalem Ridge is supposed to be the “crown jewel” of the Metro parks system, but the land itself is unremarkable. According to the Master Plan, prior surveys found “no significant natural areas on site.”

Surveys also showed “no historic or archeological materials” and “no cultural resources were found.”

In short, this is a generic parcel of overgrown timberland with minimal ecological value and almost no recreational appeal.

Nonetheless, the Access Master Plan treats it like the second coming of Yellowstone. Of the 1,230 acres, more than 99% are in some kind of “conservation zone” that limits or prohibits active use by the voters who paid for it. The Plan notes that the property could easily accommodate 29.5 miles of recreational trails, in four different separate-use categories—hiking, cycling, equestrian, and multi-purpose—but only three miles are being planned for by Metro. This will create conflicts between cyclists, horseback riders, and walkers.

In comparison, Portland’s revered Forest Park totals 5,157 acres and offers 90 miles of trails. After adjusting for size, Forest Park has seven times more trail miles than Chehalem Ridge will have.

Moreover, dogs are allowed in Forest Park, as they are in virtually all local parks in the metropolitan region. Metro has a strict policy prohibiting dogs.

Chehalem Ridge will have a single parking lot for 80 vehicles, public restrooms, parking for equestrians, a multi-use shelter and picnic area, and a small lawn area for family activities. If you want greater access to nature itself, it will be disallowed or discouraged.

This is consistent with Metro’s over-arching philosophy of buying up vast tracts of green spaces far from where most people live, and then limiting taxpayer use. Other Metro properties near Chehalem Ridge—including Carpenter Creek Natural Area, Wapato View Area, and Penstemon Prairie—are not open to the public, nor is there any plan to do so.

Metro went through a multi-year public outreach effort ostensibly designed to learn what people would like with this new property. According to Appendix C of the Master Plan, comments from the Spanish communities emphasized the importance of “gathering places, places to eat, security and most importantly, places for kids to play, exercise and cool off during the summer.”

Comments for the English-speaking community emphasized “wanting to hike or walk with their dogs, and both advocacy for more bike-specific trails as well as comments around not wanting to mix bikes, pedestrians and horses on the same trail.”

Metro’s Master Plan ignores virtually all these concerns. There will be no playgrounds for kids, few places for families to eat, the trails will create user conflicts, and dogs will be banned.

At the public hearing, I was the only witness to criticize the Plan. I encouraged Metro to build at least 30 miles of trails, with separate facilities for hikers, cyclists, and equestrians. I suggested that a long hiking loop be created with possible campsites for use by Scouting groups and others desiring an easy backpacking experience.

I also encouraged Metro to plan for more family-friendly elements such as disc golf, sand volleyball courts, picnic areas, and playgrounds for young children. These are the kinds of facilities found at Blue Lake Park, one of the region’s most popular recreational destinations.

The Metro Council had zero interest in these ideas. As far as Councilors are concerned, they are letting us use 5.5 acres of the Park and we should be grateful. In his celebratory speech before dropping the gavel, Presiding Officer Tom Hughes proudly defended the status quo by stating, “There will be no ivy and no dogs; both are invasive species.”

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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