Tag: Portland Metro parks

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Eric Fruits, Vice President of Research of Cascade Policy Institute submitted testimony to Metro Council regarding the lax oversight of Metro’s Parks and Nature Program

Press Release: Eric Fruits, Vice President of Research of Cascade Policy Institute submitted testimony to Metro Council regarding the lax oversight of Metro’s Parks and Nature Program.

January 23, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

Thursday, Metro Council will be receiving from staff an annual report on Metro’s Parks and Nature program. Cascade Policy Institute urges the Council reject the Annual Report and demand a revised report that includes details of the program’s skyrocketing administrative costs. In addition, the Council should replace the current members of the Oversight Committee with individuals who have the time, energy, and expertise to provide adequate oversight to the nearly billion dollar Parks and Nature program and Council should provide the new Oversight Committee with the information and staff support necessary for them monitor the Parks and Nature program.

REJECT THE PARKS & NATURE ANNUAL REPORT

In the last fiscal year, Metro spent $42 million on its Parks and Nature program. Yet the annual report provided to Metro Council is only four pages and runs less than 1,400 words with high-res photos making up about one-third of the report. What little information is presented raises more questions than it answers, in particular:

  • The Annual Report provides no explanation for skyrocketing administrative costs, which last year account for 30% of total program expenditures. Metro promised taxpayers that administrative costs would be no higher than 10%.
  • The Annual Report provides no useful information regarding how many acres were purchased in the past year, where they were purchased, or how much was paid. Previous annual reports provide at least some of this information. Metro Councilors and Metro voters deserve to know how much of their tax dollars are being used to buy land outside of Metro’s jurisdiction and/or outside the Urban Growth Boundary.
  • In April 2019, the Oversight Committee requested the Annual Report include information regarding “extra resources (bond proceeds and grants) that helped pay for capital projects at Chehalem, River Island, etc.” The only mention of capital projects in the Annual Report are forward looking promises regarding the proceeds from the 2019 bond measure. The Annual Report has no discussion of Chehalem Ridge nor River Island. The omission of these items specifically requested by the committee demonstrates the Oversight Committee has no sway over Metro staff.

REPLACE THE MEMBERS OF THE PARKS & NATURE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE

Metro council and staff frequently repeat the tired phrase “promises made, promises kept” with respect to their Parks and Nature program—it even makes its way into the most recent Annual Report. One promise made to voters in every Parks and Nature ballot measure since 2006 has been vigorous oversight of the program by a citizen Oversight Committee.

  • Beginning with their earliest meetings, Metro staff made clear the committee would be denied key information required and requested to provide oversight. For example, the committee has repeatedly been rebuffed in its efforts to provide oversight on pending land purchases.
  • Over the past year, the already weakened Oversight Committee has become a farce. The last time the Oversight Committee met was April 5, 2019, or nearly 10 months ago. This is the longest gap between meetings of the Oversight Committee. At the last meeting only 2 of the 12 committee members were in attendance.
  • The Oversight Committee was expected to meet in Summer 2019, with a discussion of the Annual Report to be an agenda item. That meeting was never held and there is no record of the Oversight Committee meeting to review the 2018-19 Annual Report.

The members of the current Oversight Committee should be replaced by individuals who have the time, enthusiasm, and expertise to serve. The newly formed committee must be provided the power—and support from Metro Council and staff—to exercise effective oversight of this billion dollar program.

For more details on Cascade Policy Institute’s recommendations to Metro Council, please read the complete letter below.

Click here for PDF version:

Testimony to Metro-Letter 200123a

 

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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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