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Save Helvetia citizen testimony at the LCDC October meeting

October 1, 2009

Meredith Younghein - A legal analysis of Washington County's Citizen Involvement Program


To: Cherry Amabisca, Chair, Helvetia Community Association; John Platt, Helvetia Community Association 

From: Meredith Younghein, Law Clerk, Helvetia Community Association

Re: Washington County’s Failure to Follow Oregon’s Statewide Planning Goals and Guidelines for citizen involvement, as well as the Coordinated Public Involvement Plan for Urban and Rural Reserves


This memorandum presents the key requirements that the statewide planning guidelines for citizen involvement place on Washington County.  These guidelines have been summarized from OAR 660-015-0000(1).  Examples are given under each of the numbered guidelines which illustrate how Washington county fell far short of its duty to comply with these guidelines.  Additionally, under #4, this memo presents exerpts from the Coordinated Public Involvement Plan, as adopted by Washington County, and contrasts the county’s commitments under this plan with how the county has carried out its citizen involvement duties in the phases of the Reserves process until now. 

This purpose of this memo is to document the complete failure of Washington County to adhere to Statewide Planning Goal 1 as embodied in the LCDC rules governing the implementation of Senate Bill 1011 and Public Involvement Plan (PIP) agreed upon by Metro and the three counties of the Portland metro area.  This memo also serves as an example of why the state needs a citizen enforcement mechanism for these guidelines because certain governments are not respecting them and honoring how crucial citizen involvement is in the land use planning process.  

1.                The County must publish a clearly defined plan for public involvement. 

Washington County adopted the coordinated Public Involvement Plan (“PIP”) for the Urban and Rural Reserves process in Spring of 2008. This plan incorporates the requirements of Oregon law and administrative rules governing citizen involvement in land use planning decisions.  The PIP was the product of a coordinated effort of the staffs of Metro and of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties to incorporate citizen involvement into the study and designation of urban and rural reserves.

2.                Citizen involvement must be an integral part of the planning process, with funding and human resources allocated accordingly.

It appears that Washington county attempted to minimize citizen involvement at every stage of the Reserves planning process as is discussed in detail in the sections below. 

3.                The larger the action, the greater the citizen involvement program should be. 

The urban/rural reserves designation is clearly a major action taken by Washington County because it is intended to affect land use and, therefore, the county’s citizens and environment for generations to come.  Washington County considered designating over 25% of its agricultural land for urban development, clearly a major action.  Therefore the citizen involvement program should have been given equivalent prioritization and resources. 

4.                The program shall involve citizens in ALL STAGES of the planning process

Below are excerpts from the coordinated Public Involvement Program with comment on how Washington county did/ did not engage citizens as it agreed to in the coordinated PIP. 

Phase 1 of the planning processInforming recommendations of the Reserve Study Areas

“These meetings will be the first of several rounds of meetings with community groups and it will be emphasized that staff and elected officials from the counties and Metro will return at different phases of the project to provide updates and seek public input that informs the study and analysis of proposed reserve areas.

Primary audiences and events will include:

· Citizen organization meetings: Staff from Metro and the counties will attend regularly scheduled citizen organization meetings in selected areas to provide introductory information on urban and rural reserves and to hear concerns, ideas and other feedback for informing the process of developing urban and rural reserve study areas.

· Citizen involvement committees:  Staff and elected officials from Metro and the counties will meet with their respective citizen involvement committees to describe plans and goals for soliciting and incorporating citizen involvement into the study and designation of urban and rural reserves.  Ideas for enhancing citizen involvement throughout this effort will also be sought.”

Washington county alleges to have used the existing CPO system to engage citizens at this stage of the process.   The county has said that the CPO's are their mechanism for involving citizens.  However, the county met with only a few CPOs during Phase 1, and these meetings were not well publicized or attended. 

The March 2, 2009 minutes of the RCC reference a CPO 8 member complaining about key elements such as the agricultural community not being equitably represented, general lack of public awareness of the process, etc. [1]

The county also received a letter from the CCI asking for more information about the reserves process.  There was no response from the RCC to the CCI to this letter. [2]

Phase 2: Developing Reserve Study Areas

“This phase of the program will focus on addressing at least two primary questions:

1.Are these the areas that the Reserves Steering Committee should study and analyze further?

2.What additional information should be considered in defining these study areas?

Information received through various citizen involvement activities during this phase will inform the decisions of the Reserves Steering Committee to formally establish reserve study areas for further analysis.

Primary audiences and events will include:

· Public open houses:  Metro and the counties will jointly sponsor and publicize public open houses during this period to describe the purpose of urban and rural reserves and illustrate potential study areas.  These open houses will solicit public input on the scope of the reserve study areas and related considerations.  Consistent messages and questionnaires will be used at all open houses.

· Citizen organization meetings:  Staff and/or elected officials from Metro and the counties will attend citizen organization meetings in selected areas to illustrate potential study areas and solicit feedback on the scope of the proposed study areas and the factors to consider in evaluating those study areas.

· Other stakeholder meetings:  Staff from the counties and Metro will present information and collect input from a range of other stakeholder groups, including but not limited to county planning commissions, agricultural organizations, local business groups, other interest groups and affected public agencies.” 

During this phase, it was not at all clear to the general public in Washington County how they were to be involved in designating which areas should be studied for suitability for urban and rural reserves. 

Washington county has said that the CPO's in the county were the mechanism for citizen involvement, especially with citizens in rural areas, however the county did not include the CPOs in the Phase 2 of the Coordinated Public Involvement Plan.   It is not clear what citizen groups the county used in non-rural areas.  CPOs are inherently rural organizations, and most citizens are not on the CPO mailing list and do not regularly attend CPO meetings.  If the CPOs were the main point of contact for dissemination information during phase 2 to Washington county citizens, the county needed to make a better effort to ensure that these organizations represented all citizens and that the meetings were well publicized and attended. 

The only person from the county to meet with some selected CPO's was not an elected official- it was Mike Dahlstrom, Public Involvement Coordinator.  He met with a few CPO's once in 2008 and once in 2009.  This is clearly engagement in meaningful discussion of the Reserves process.

An email from Linda Gray to Henry Oberhelman, a CCI Steering Commitee member, on August 18, 2009 stated that the CCI was consulted and offered the opportunity to advise the County on the Citizen Involvement Program (CIP) for Urban and Rural Reserves before the process was adopted.  The CCI member refuted the claim that any CCI-CPO members had been invited to any of the Reserves committee meetings.[3]

Phase 3: Analyzing Reserve Study Areas

“Public involvement events and activities during this phase will focus on educating the public about the application of these data and factors to the reserve study areas and will solicit citizen feedback on how the Metro Council and the boards of county commissions should weigh various factors in the designation of urban and rural reserves.  Included in public outreach activities during this phase will be discussions about how additional growth can be accommodated in communities already inside the UGB.  In addition to the main messages emphasized in the first two phases of this project, public involvement activities during this phase will seek input on the analysis provided by staff from Metro and the counties as well as the relative weight that should be given to different factors in the ultimate designation of urban and rural reserves.

Public open houses:  Metro and the counties will jointly sponsor and publicize public open houses during this period to illustrate the study areas and describe the factors and findings being applied in the analyses of these study areas.  These open houses, which will include the involvement of elected officials from the counties and Metro, will solicit public input on the application of the factors and additional issues and concerns to consider.  Consistent messages and questionnaires will be used at all open houses.

· County planning commissions2:  Staff from Metro and the counties will present information to county planning commissions describing the approach to designating reserves.

· Citizen organization meetings:  Staff from Metro and the counties will attend citizen organization meetings in selected areas to illustrate potential study areas and solicit feedback on the scope of the proposed study areas and the factors to consider in evaluating those study areas.

· Other stakeholder meetings:  Staff from the counties and Metro will present information and collect input from a range of other stakeholder groups, including those listed for Phase Two and others that are identified during the analytical work.”

The county alleges that "in late October 2008, WA County staff began presenting preliminary maps to the public addressing the suitability of lands for Urban and Rural Reserves."[4] At this point county officials alleged to have had one meeting with one CPO.  "These maps represented initial efforts to use spatial data and geographic information system (GIS) applications evaluating different factors to identify candidate reserves areas.  This analysis was subject to continuous refinement and improvement."[5]

Washington County alleges that they “reported” their preliminary maps of potential study areas to the public. What their meeting minutes reveal is that they spent huge amounts of resources on mapping the areas, and did nothing to present this information to the public or seek feedback on these initial recommendations. The county never had citizens weigh in on which areas of the county should have rural or urban reserves BEFORE producing the maps which SHOWED citizens their conclusions without any basis for how the conclusions related to input received. 

In contrast, Clackamas and Multnomah County spent 18 months in weekly meetings with their citizen representatives working collaboratively to jointly determine where and how many urban and rural reserves there should be.

         Clearly, Washington county residents were not encouraged to provide input on the analysis of urban/rural reserves factors in Washington county.  If resident’s input had been sought during this phase, the information that citizens have recently brought forward (please refer to the written and oral testimony given during the September 24 Metro meeting, which included the attached documents analyzing agri-business in the Helvetia area) would have been provided and should have been considered by the county during this phase. 

Phase 4: Recommending Reserve Designations:

Staff and elected officials from Metro and the three counties will continue to meet with the audiences and organizations that have been engaged in the study and designation of the urban and rural reserves with the aim of illustrating how citizen input has contributed to the formation of the recommended reserve designations and seeking additional public comment to inform the decisions of the Metro Council and county commissions to designate reserve areas through intergovernmental agreements. (emphasis added)”

         Washington County has not demonstrated in any meaningful way how citizen input has impacted their recommendations for reserve designations. 

The county developed their maps of "suitable" urban and rural reserve areas in 2008 and started presenting these maps at open houses in April 2009.  At this point, county residents were quite surprised to see a map of the Helvetia area with a "Town Center" at West Union Road and Helvetia Road for the first time a year and a half into the planning process. 

Eventually the county produced 37 maps with elaborate GIS layers, filters and screens.  A normal citizen cannot understand these maps.  Plus, they were always changing.  "Data layers that help define or quantify criteria are selected and then their attributes are ranked based on their relative ability to support the intended use.  A numeric value representing this ranking was then applied.  Once all of the layers were selected and assigned they were weighted based on their relative importance and then added together to generate a suitability layer that was mapped."  This description goes on for paragraphs.  So, not only can't we understand how the attributes are ranked, we can't understand the weightings.  There is no way to convey all this intricate detail to Mr. Common Citizen looking at a map at an open house.

Washington County does a great deal of their reserves planning in their Planning Directors meetings.  But when citizens tried to attend these meetings, they were told that the meetings were closed to the public.  All of Clackamas and Multnomah Counties planning meetings are open to all citizens. 

Furthermore, Washington County chose not to include citizens on their advisory committee, in contrast to Multnomah and Clackamas counties. Multnomah County’s Reserves advisory committee was made up entirely of citizens. Clackamas County’s advisory committee included many neighborhood representatives.  The Multnomah and Clackamas County meetings were open to the public, scheduled at convenient times for working citizens, and provided opportunities for public comment.  Recommendations from these counties’ advisory committees, developed with direct citizen involvement, more accurately represent the interests of their citizens than the recommendations of Washington County. 

5.                The roles, responsibilities and timeline of the planning process should be clearly defined and publicized by the agency. 

This was done in the Coordinated Public Involvement Plan released by Metro and the 3 counties.  However, Washington County has not followed either the spirit or the letter of the Public Involvement Plan

6.                There shall be a recognized & elected citizen involvement committee.

The Multnomah County Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) included 19 citizens.  Clackamas’ Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) included 14 citizens.  Clackamas County has citizen representatives from 4 CPO’s and 3 hamlets on their committee.  The Washington County Reserves Coordinating Committee had one position allocated for a representative of the Washington County Farm Bureau and the remainder of the members were elected officials, all but one of whom represented cities.  

7.                The committee should promote and enhance citizen involvement and evaluate the process. 

Washington County has not accommodated working citizens at their Reserves meetings.  Washington County’s Reserves Coordinating Committee (RCC) has been meeting for over 18 months to develop Urban and Rural Reserves recommendations, decisions that will shape county communities for decades to come.   The meeting times discriminate against working citizens because the meetings start at 1:30 in the afternoon but the time for citizen testimony varies - it could be 3:00 before a citizen can speak.  People who work and want to attend or give testimony must take vacation time off of work.  Both Clackamas and Multnomah counties schedule their Reserves advisory committee meetings for evenings so that citizens can attend and not miss work.  For example, Clackamas and Multnomah counties started their Reserves advisory committee meetings at 6:00 p.m and at Metro’s hearings, the public testimony is given at the beginning of the meeting so citizens can testify and then leave if needed. 

Clearly then, Washington County is not promoting or enhancing the involvement of its citizens in the reserves process, nor did they consider how to improve the process after numerous requests by citizens to do so. 

8.                Citizens must have the opportunity to be involved in plan preparation, plan content, and plan adoption. 

Once again, the real decision making about urban or rural reserves in Washington County happened during Project Advisory Committee meetings. The Project Advisory Committee was composed of the planning directors of the county and its cities and its meetings were closed to the public.  The county’s RCC has approved the planning directors’ recommendations without changes, and therefore the most important Reserves decisions were made behind closed doors.

The reserves designations that affect the community of Helvetia seem to be entirely based on the City of Hillsboro’s “growth aspirations,” which were developed in their entirety by the city planners and then approved in a City Council work session last year with no public input.

Furthermore, Since agriculture is such a large part of Washington County, and the county wants to take 25% of all EFU-zoned farmland in the county for urban reserves, it would seem that  representation from agriculture groups would be important to the county.  For comparison: Clackamas County’s PAC has 4 representatives from agriculture and timber.  Washington County’s RCC has one.  That one voting position had to be shared by two Farm Bureau representatives. 

9.                Technical information used to reach policy decisions must be available to the public in plain language

Documents released by the county on their website regarding the factors for designation urban and rural reserves are incredibly convoluted and difficult to understand to the point that we can only assume this is to intentionally keep citizens from understanding the process.  Washington County’s approach to how they are analyzing reserve factors is not at all in plain language and is not understandable by lay-people.  Therefore, it was critical that the county present this technical information at open houses early in the process and allow time for citizens to understand their methodology. 

The maps released during phase 2 of the planning process could not reasonably  be expected to be understood by lay-people without backgrounds in GIS/ mapping. They released 37  intricate maps with GIS layers, filters and screens that developers from the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) (a Washington D.C. lobbying firm) created for the county.  Clackamas and Multnomah County spent 18 months in weekly meetings with their citizen representatives.   One purpose of these meetings was to help citizens understand the mapping and to get information out to all their neighborhoods.  Washington County’s efforts were non-existent by comparison. 

Therefore, the only conclusion that can logically be reached is that Washington County intentionally made their maps and reports impossible to interpret in order to prevent citizens from understanding the implications of these maps. 

Washington County has spent a lot of time and effort in TELLING their citizens where the urban and rural reserves are going to be and how many:  they have a long list of how many posters and cow postcards and counter-top displays and information tables and four-color brochures and news updates they have done. But they have spent extremely minimal resources asking their citizens what they would like the future of the county to be, or to help citizens understand the reports they have spent millions producing. 

10.            The public should have the opportunity to help inventory, map, analyze, and evaluate the necessary elements for plan development

To summarize the statements made above, Washington County’s reserves coordinating committee did not involve citizens at all in helping to inventory the county’s valuable agricultural and natural resources. The county did not ask citizens to share any of the valuable information they possess about the county’s natural or agricultural resources.   

In contrast, the county focused on taking input from developers and  developing inventories of lands “suitable” for development, as provided by developer’s organizations, such as NAIOP.  NAIOP, unlike agricultural groups, was clearly included in the inventorying of potential reserves areas.  

11.            The public should have the opportunity to help evaluate alternative land conservation and development plans

First, no comprehensive alternatives were presented to citizens by the county.  

Second, After the county’s only public hearing, the final recommendations were presented at the September 8 RCC meeting.  When the RCC was voting on the final acreages for reserves, certain mayors advocated for specific individual homeowners who had expressed their desire to be included in the urban reserves.  These desires were accommodated, and this resulted in more acres being designated as urban reserves after the meeting than in the plan presented.   

In contrast, when landowners requested that they be included in rural reserve areas (over 1600 people expressed their desire to have their land included in rural reserve areas) their requests went unanswered. 

12.            The public should be able to review and recommend changes to plans before the public hearing process for adoption begins

The first and only public hearing in Washington County was August 20, 2009.  Over 100 people testified at this hearing, because all of these citizens were excluded from giving their input until this point.

Prior to this, the public could go online and review documents, or attend open houses, but, during these open houses, community members were only asked to fill out a short form “questionnaire”.  For example, at the first open house during which any plans were presented in April 2009, county residents learned of plans for a town center north of Hwy 26.  After revealing this plan however, the county did not attempt to get feedback from citizens except through the same “questionnaire” form. 

During 18  months of work on the Reserves designation process,  Washington County chose not to include citizens on their advisory committee, not to hold any hearings before the Board of County Commissioners, not to open their Planning Directors meetings to the public, and not to schedule meetings of their Reserves Coordinating Committee at a time convenient for working citizens.  Hillsboro also chose not to ask for citizen input when they developed their growth aspirations.  

13.            The county should clearly state the mechanism through which citizens will receive responses to their comments.  The county should develop a process for quantifying and synthesizing citizen feedback.

The county’s response to over 100 testimonies at the public hearing on August 20, 2009 was in the form of “issue papers”, published through their website.  In these issue papers the county officials summarized and then dismissed the importance of each piece of testimony in favor of increasing rural reserves.   After receiving such a massive outpouring of public testimony, the county concluded that their recommendations had not changed at all.  This clearly speaks to the lack of weight given to any citizen input received by the county. 

14.            Citizens should get reports about public feedback. 

The forum designated for reporting on public feedback is the county website, where they summarize citizen feedback for and against urban reserves, and then completely disregard the importance of this public feedback in their decisionmaking process. 

[1] Available at:  www.co.washington.or.us/reserves RCC meeting materials for March 2, 2009. 

[2] See January 2009 meeting minutes which reference the CCI letter. 

[3] - email dated August 9, 2009, Henry Oberhelman to Linda Gray, "Are you aware of any formal invitation to any CCI-CPO member to sit at the table for any or all of the URRP committees?"  Linda's response, "No."  She went on to say the above "...that the CCI was consulted...."

[4] (August 3, 2009, Washington County Staff Recommendations)

[5] Id.

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