Save Helvetia citizen testimony at the LCDC October meeting
Urban and Rural Reserve Designation Process
October 1, 2009
To: Land Conservation and Development Commission
Re: Urban and Rural Reserve Designation Process
I am here today to share my concerns about a process that threatens the smart growth for which this region has become justly famous. Oregon’s land use planning system gave us the tools for such planning, and this region has done it with notable success. So far.
However, Washington County’s current process for arriving at Urban and Rural Reserves misses the mark. Rather than using its own Citizen Participation Organizations--or forming an advisory committee proportionally representing stakeholders-- they fell back on a strategy that serves well for some planning purposes: work with city officials and their planners. But the issue here is urban expansion, and there’s nowhere to expand but into Foundation Resource Lands, the same lands that are highly qualified to become Rural Reserves.
To represent the interests of all rural areas, one vote was allocated on the Reserves Coordinating Committee to be split between two farmers. It was up to them, I suppose, to remind the rest of the Committee how closely our cities’ economies and quality of life are linked to the vitality of farms, forests, natural areas and their scenic, recreational and cultural attractions.
The Reserve Committee recommendations were unbalanced, if predictable: a wish list, perhaps, from those who still equate growth with outward expansion; farms with bare, buildable land; and wooded uplands with tasty view sites for high-end residential development.
The Committee recommendations lack credibility in the region at large, and they are out of step with public opinion in Washington County: according to DHM’s August poll for Metro, a whopping 65% of Washington County respondents felt that “new development to accommodate population growth should come through redevelopment of land within the current urban growth boundary.” * Most encouraging!
Inexplicably, the committee’s report went directly to Metro without formal review or adoption by the Board of Commissioners. So the Board is in a bind: if Metro were to designate all the recommended areas as Urban Reserves, how then would Washington County–charged to designate Rural Reserves in the 2010 Comprehensive Plan Amendment process–go about considering them for Rural Reserve designation? Is the Board forfeiting its authority and responsibility for protection of high-value, sustainable natural resources? If it fails to consider lands which legally qualify for protection, what are its downside risks on appeal?
I fervently hope that Washington County will find a way to gracefully re-enter the mainstream of this region’s thinking and planning for our common future. I coined the term “Smart Growth” when I ran for County Commissioner in 1990, used it in conferences and meetings around the country while I was in office, and have been gratified to see the term spread since then into general use. I left office believing the County had pretty well adopted the concept and made some lasting changes: that we took citizen involvement seriously and were using it well to develop safer, livelier, more sustainable communities. I thought we’d shed the belief that the only alternatives to runaway growth were “no growth” or the “slow growth” of staged suburban sprawl. It appears I was wrong. Is it time again to rethink old paradigms?
My wish is that Washington County–and Metro and LCDC–will act on these “Smart Growth” commitments whether crafting or complying with policy:
- We make decisions that involve and honor those they affect;
- We learn from and base decisions on good data rather than skewing findings to fit habitual, outworn thinking or interest group politics;
- We carefully consider our real circumstances, constraints, and resources when we evaluate alternative proposals;
- We use creative design to solve otherwise intractable problems.
I’m grateful that at a time in history when our economic future is uncertain, our environmental and energy challenges unprecedented, we do have good law to work with: policies, goals, guidelines, administrative rules and precedents that–however complicated–can guide us away from hasty or short-sighted decisions we might later regret. Goal 1 Guidelines for Citizen Involvement and the Coordinated Public Involvement Plan for Urban and Rural Reserves, used in good faith, will lead us to decisions that will stand the test of time, and make us proud.
The Land Conservation and Development Commission has made heroic contributions to "this treasure we call Oregon”, and will continue to set direction for critical choices about our communal future. I honor your service, and I wish you courage and wisdom in your ongoing work. Thanks for this opportunity to comment.
Washington County Commissioner, District 4, 1991-1994
Chair, Washington County Board of Commissioners, 1995-1998
*Davis, Hibbits & Midghall Inc. Memo to Metro re: Public Attitudes about Quality of Life and Growth Management Issues, August 2009. Appendix A: Annotated Questionnaire, p19 question #6 table. Online at
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