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Climate Smart Communities: How to balance jobs with housing needs

City council discusses effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2035


by: JOSH KULLA - Affordable housing, such as that at Jory Trail at the Grove, continues to be needed in Wilsonville. Yet, 57 percent of the citys housing stock is tied up in multifamily housing, the highest of any metro city. Metro’s Climate Smart Communities initiative is entering the home stretch when it comes to planning and public input.

But it’s clear from recent public meetings that Metro still has a way to go in convincing local cities to agree on a shared approach to significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Climate Smart Communities project is guided by state House Bill 2001, which was adopted by the Legislature in 2009 and requires the Portland metro area to reduce per capita emissions from cars and light trucks. The bill calls for reduced emissions by 2035 using a mixed bag of tools that might include an emphasis on public transit, bicycle use or alternative fuels.

Planning on the program in the metro area kicked off in earnest in 2011 with studies of the region’s transportation patterns and needs. Earlier this year, three preferred scenarios for reducing emissions through land use and transportation policy were offered up for public examination.

Now, Metro is sending representatives to cities across the Portland area as part of an attempt to reach a consensus on a final preferred scenario for the entire three-county region by the end of 2014.

“This is something that every metropolitan area in the state will eventually have to do, but typically, Metro is first,” said Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen, who represents the south metro area, including Wilsonville, on the tri-county Metro Council.

Wilsonville city councilors were briefed on the issue at a meeting in June, and Dirksen led a second discussion at the council’s July 15 meeting.

One of the primary issues raised at the meeting was the potential impact that land use policy could have on transportation and the resulting emissions.

In Wilsonville, this already complicated area is made even more so by the fact that roughly 90 percent of the people who work in the city are not residents. Attracting more and more jobs, said Councilor Scott Starr, could be viewed as working against emissions goals by virtue of putting more people in cars headed to Wilsonville.

“If we recruit manufacturing,” said Starr, alluding to the city’s recently adopted economic development strategy, “there’s a good chance that this will work against the goals we have. So as an area, if we’re going to be aggressive, do we not want manufacturing jobs to come here?”

Dirksen responded swiftly that manufacturing will remain vital to the regional economy.

“We have to expect the manufacturing sector to grow as the rest of the region grows,” he said. “That can’t be part of the plan to say you’ve got to reduce the number of jobs in the region; that’s a no-go.”

That, Starr said, could be viewed as contradicting existing Metro policy.

“One of my biggest concerns is as a body sometimes it would be my interpretation that Metro is very much against putting in more traffic lanes,” he said. “And if more people are moving here and more businesses are coming here, we need to have the traffic lanes so people are not sitting idle on our freeways. It’s important to know when not to make things worse, in essence.”

That is exactly why there remains a pressing need for affordable housing in all metro-area communities, Dirksen said. Without the ability to live in the same community as one works, he said, these types of transportation quandaries will remain unsolved.

Starr noted that Wilsonville leads metro area cities by a wide margin when it comes to providing less expensive multi-family housing, with 57 percent of housing stock falling in this category.

“I think we’ve done more than our part in that area,” Starr said.

Councilor Richard Goddard noted that the Interstate 5 Boone Bridge supports commerce and asked if an upgrade will be considered as part of the initiative.

“Should increasing the capacity of the bridge be part of this program?” he asked.

“Well, there’s certainly no unanimity on the council,” Dirksen answered. “There’s one school of thought that says that adding capacity only encourages people to use cars. I’m not saying that’s my opinion, I’m just saying that’s an opinion that is widely held.”

He added that planners currently are holding off on examining specific concepts until the larger-scale analysis is finished in the fall.

For more information about Metro’s Climate Smart Communities initiative, visit oregonmetro.gov/climatescenarios.



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