So, what about the rest of us?

The Oregon Legislature’s “Grand Bargain” was a boon to the city of Hillsboro and adjoining Washington County jurisdictions. It was a necessary response to an Oregon Court of Appeals decision that put the metro area’s entire regional planning process in limbo.

I agree with recent commentary by writer Jeff Bachrach that the Oregon land-use system is broken, and can say so from a dual perspective. As mayor of the city of Woodburn, which began “periodic review,” for a period ending in 2020, way back in 1997 — with no final decision in sight — I can speak to the extensive, expensive and convoluted process involved in attempting to expand an urban growth boundary. I also served as the Neighboring Cities representative on Metro’s advisory committee during its Urban and Rural Reserves designation process. So far, these are two very similar stories with very different endings.

Washington County has a praiseworthy track record of job creation and business development — even more praiseworthy when compared with the rest of our state. The availability of industrial land is by no means the only reason for their success, but without it, their continued success would be stifled. The Legislature, the governor’s office and other interested parties were able to recognize the public interest in allowing them to add quality employment land in locations that make sense.

So, what about McMinnville, Springfield, Bend, Newberg, Keizer and yes, Woodburn? We may or may not aspire to be Hillsboro, but we do aspire to provide quality jobs for our residents and our neighbors and develop a solid tax base and contribute to a vigorous regional economy. We are all handcuffed by the inability to add quality employment land in locations that actual employers want. As Mr. Bachrach suggests, some of us may be at the next session of the Legislature pleading for our own mini-Grand Bargains. But, individually, we don’t have the financial and political horsepower of Metro.

So, what changes would help every city in Oregon that would like to add industrial land? First, remove the supremacy of soil type as the determinant of where growth can or can’t occur. Willamette Valley cities, in particular, could then evaluate sites with reference to adjoining uses and ease of expansion. It’s ironic that many expansion proposals would be smaller if cities could use common-sense planning without adding sites with lower soil classifications to comply with existing requirements.

Second, identify the needs of actual industries and provide for automatic or expedited approval of sites that meet these criteria. Industrial users want flat sites, decent public infrastructure, proximity to freight providers and a trained or trainable workforce. Interest wanes quickly as distance from an interchange or airport increases, or as construction costs increase. Desirable sites should be made available in time to respond to economic opportunities. Ones that are less so but might be 20 or 50 years from now can wait.

Third, the criteria local governments must use in the process should be clear enough to actually follow. And, they should be spared second-guessing by the court system when they do follow them. If Washington County was required to use Department of Agriculture criteria only in evaluating agricultural uses, why was that not the rule from the beginning? If Woodburn was required to use one form of economic analysis in evaluating land needs and no other, why wasn’t that in the rules?

Finally and fundamentally, respect the process or don’t have it. A UGB expansion proposal such as Woodburn’s involves thousands of hours of staff and volunteer time as its components are analyzed. A final proposal is reviewed and approved by a planning commission, a city council and a county commission before it even reaches the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC). Metro’s proposal went through yet another layer or two of local government and public involvement. Are city and county governments entitled to make the decisions they were elected to make? Does LCDC have the right to exercise its statutory authority without endless second-guessing by interest groups or the Court of Appeals? Or, if we’re not Hillsboro, should we not waste our time trying to grow our local and state economy?

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