Washington County mayors talk community projects, cooperation at forum
Mayors from cities across Washington County shared updates about what is happening in their communities and perspectives on working collaboratively at a Westside Economic Alliance breakfast forum Thursday, May 11.
The mayors of Beaverton, Cornelius, Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Sherwood, Tigard, Tualatin and Wilsonville, as well as moderator and former Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey, spent plenty of their time ribbing one another. But they agreed that partnerships between the cities, with Washington County and the regional government Metro, and with local businesses and nonprofit groups are key to their collective success.
"Really, we are blessed to be in this working group of all of us," said Lou Ogden, Tualatin's mayor since 1995 and the longest-serving mayor in the region.
Denny Doyle, who has been mayor of Beaverton since 2009, mentioned a visit he and other leaders from Washington County — including Ogden, Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway and Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax — made to Washington, D.C., to urge officials there to support federal funding for transportation and community development. He cited the importance of advocating for and as a region, rather than as individual cities.
"We can't do this alone anymore," Doyle said.
Mayor Tim Knapp of Wilsonville, in office since 2009, took Doyle's point a step further.
"The reality is that the lay of the land is no longer like it was," Knapp said. "We don't have individual cities operating in their own geographic area. We all run into each other constantly. And whether it's jobs or housing or homeless, or any transportation, all of these things — it oozes out from one city into another. And unless we're working and talking, even while we're trying to advocate for our own communities, it isn't going to be very successful if we are not taking other people's needs and other people's ideas and perspectives into account also."
Mayors proud of city projects, campaigns
Even when discussing their local projects, at Willey's prompting, several of the mayors made note of how they fit alongside — or borrow from — other cities.
Doyle rattled off a list of downtown projects that are in the works or on the drawing board in Beaverton. Among them was the Beaverton Center for the Arts, a performing arts center on which the city expects to break ground early next year across from The Round, a mixed-use development alongside the Beaverton Central MAX station.
"This is something that's been in the works for quite a number of years," Doyle said, adding, "We're really excited about it. It's going to change the landscape of The Round."
Sherwood Mayor Krisanna Clark, who has been serving since 2010, teased Doyle by mentioning the Sherwood Center for the Arts, completed in 2015: "Already built."
But Beaverton has something that Sherwood intends to copy as well, Clark added — banners on streetside poles naming residents who are serving in the Armed Forces.
"Much like Denny Doyle stole our idea for the center of the arts … we also stole this great idea from Beaverton," Clark said, to laughter. "The military banner program is something that we're very proud to roll out. As a city, we are proud to support this citizen-initiated project, and we are going to be putting between … 40 or 50 banners down our Langer (Farms) Parkway. And we're hoping for even more."
She added, "We joke and tease about Denny stealing my idea for the center of the arts and me stealing his idea for the banners, but that's what it's all about. You know, we don't retrain the wheel up here. What we do is we take great ideas and we make them happen within our communities. And the way that we can do that is by working together as mayors."
Callaway, who succeeded Willey as Hillsboro's mayor in January, was asked for his thoughts on how hoped-for transportation improvements on regional freeways would impact his city.
"There are 50,000 people who drive into Hillsboro every day to work. There are 30,000 Hillsboroans that leave to go to work every day. So, you know, for them to be able to make that roundtrip every day in a timely manner really is important to their quality of life," Callaway said. "Also, you know, we have manufacturers who need to get their goods to market."
Callaway named Genentech, a drug manufacturer with a center in Hillsboro, as an example. Some of the drugs they make require refrigeration and must be delivered promptly, he said.
"And if they can't get to the airport, it is no longer a quality-of-life issue, but it's a life-and-death issue for those who are waiting for those drugs on the other end," said Callaway.
Strategies to address housing touch other issues
Truax, Forest Grove's mayor since 2009, and Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin both fielded questions about affordable housing in their communities. Both talked about the need for many sectors and levels of government to work together in addressing the issues of housing, homelessness and beyond.
"This is where silo thinking falls apart," Truax said, advocating a holistic approach to those issues. "You can't deal with just affordable housing. We can't deal with just homelessness. We can't just deal with workplace education and workplace training. We've got to put all of them together. We have to coordinate it together, because it's truly a community problem."
Dalin said, "Whatever projects we can do at the state or federal level that allow more money to move into these programs — every one of these mayors can tell you about one or two affordable housing projects they have set up to go. So I'm super-happy to have ours finally moving, but we need to look at opportunities to move that financing in there, whether it's with private-public partnerships or whatever it is, because there are a lot of needy people that really, this is the apex, this is the cornerstone for them making a change in their lives, is getting some kind of stable housing."
Truax also named Pacific University as a "vital part" of the fabric of the Forest Grove community.
"We talk about partnerships — that's a partnership for Forest Grove," said Truax — himself a Pacific alumnus, Class of 1969. "It's a partnership for Washington County, partnership for Hillsboro. … It's truly a regional university. My dream is that of someday, it is of national significance, and that the world headquarters of Pacific University stays in Forest Grove."
Tigard, where Thursday's event was held, is undergoing something of a metamorphosis. Urban renewal is ongoing in its long-neglected downtown area, and planning is underway to bring a light rail line southwest from Portland through the city.
"Southwest Corridor is just not a train. It's just not a light rail. It's a connection to roads, trails, urban renewal, housing, affordable housing, density issues," said John L. Cook, who has been Tigard's mayor since 2013. "It's a lot to do with everything. Everything that was talked about up here, whether it was transportation or affordable housing, Southwest Corridor is part of all of that."
Similarly, Ogden said that the ongoing effort in Tualatin to close the gap between "the 'haves' and 'have-nots'" has had to go beyond shelter and housing. Through partnerships with the Tigard-Tualatin School District and others, the city is working to provide educational opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics to children across the socioeconomic spectrum.
"We have jobs going unfilled, and in fact, the number of jobs unfilled about equals the number of folks who are unemployed or underemployed. So how do you solve the problem? Doesn't take rocket science. It takes a little bit of STEAM," said Ogden, adding, "The best affordable housing program, the best social services program is a good-paying job."
The nonprofit Westside Economic Alliance holds regular breakfast forums, sponsored by Legacy Health, that often feature local elected officials and business leaders as guest speakers and on discussion panels. The seven cities whose mayors spoke at Thursday's event are among its public members, as is Washington County itself.
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times