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Save Helvetia citizen testimony at the LCDC October meeting

Brian Beinlich
Lack of Citizen Involvement in the Washington County Reserves Process

Date: October 1, 2009
From: Brian Beinlich
To: Chair Vanlandingham and the Land Conservation and Development Commission
Re: Lack of Citizen Involvement in the Washington County Reserves Process

My name is Brian Beinlich. I live in the area north of Highway 26, which includes the historic Helvetia area. I am a member of CPO 8, which is primarily how I stay informed about land use matters affecting our area.

Earlier this year, during CPO updates on the reserves process, several residents and I became concerned that Washington County was planning to put over 8,000 acres of Foundation farmland into urban reserves. We formed a grass-roots citizens’ group, “Save Helvetia”, whose goal is to have the land north of Highway 26 designated as Rural Reserves.

What alarmed us most was that Washington County planners and the Reserves Coordinating Committee were making decisions without citizen involvement. Many decisions were made in the Planning Directors’ meetings, which were open to the public until citizens began attending them, at which time they became closed. Hillsboro’s “growth aspirations”, which form the basis for the urban reserves north of Highway 26, were developed by their planners and approved in a City Council work session last year with NO public input.

Washington County did not include citizens in their Reserves Coordinating Committee. On the contrary, 12 of the Committee’s 15 members are city mayors, giving it a distinctly urban bias. The Committee met in the early afternoons, making it difficult for working citizens to attend. The County used a GIS-based “screening” system that was nearly impossible to evaluate. In contrast, Multnomah County’s Reserves Advisory Committee consisted entirely of citizens. Clackamas County’s advisory committee included many neighborhood representatives. The Multnomah and Clackamas County meetings were held at convenient times for working citizens. These committees’ recommendations, developed with direct citizen involvement, more accurately represent the interests of their citizens than those of Washington County.

A deeply-held belief in the value of historic farmland drove the “Save Helvetia” movement. Citizens throughout the county, region, and state sent in more than 350 letters and signed more than 650 petitions requesting Rural Reserves for the area north of Highway 26. Over 400 citizens have joined the Save Helvetia discussion group. Over 40 Save Helvetia members and 50 members of the general public testified before the Washington County Reserves Coordinating Committee in favor of Rural Reserves for the area. Three binders were submitted to Washington County with information about the natural resources, the long-term ag activities, the hydrology, and the history and culture of the area. None of this affected the outcome.

Washington County says that its Citizen Involvement Program was vetted by DLCD and the Regional Reserve Committee. This may well be true. Despite all the noble intentions of Goal 1, there is unfortunately no requirement that citizen input actually affect the outcome of public processes. When citizens perceive that their input does not affect the outcome, they become disengaged, cynical, and apathetic. Oversight by commissions such as LCDC and the state CCI is one way to address this shortcoming of Goal 1 and the citizen involvement process. More citizen participation and better governance would surely be the result.

Washington County engaged in a relatively closed process that was difficult for citizens to navigate. The County weighted the scale and allowed the desires of commercial property developers to trump the needs of the ag industry. Their recommended urban reserves, which equal 25% of the available EFU land, is not balanced and fails to maintain the viability and vitality of the ag industry. I believe that better balance would be achieved by embracing Michael Jordan’s and the Multnomah County’s Citizen Advisory Committee recommendations, which, among other things, call for much more efficient use of land already inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Thank you.

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