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The first-term Metro councilor deserves four more years to work on projects like TV Highway and homeless services.

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PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Metro Councilor Juan Carlos Gonzalez is running for a second term.Voters in Metro District 4 — including Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Cornelius, parts of Beaverton and much of urban unincorporated Washington County — have an interesting choice on the May ballot.

Four years ago, 25-year-old Juan Carlos González became the youngest person elected to the Metro Council. The Centro Cultural de Washington County official and Cornelius native, who now lives in Hillsboro, succeeded Kathryn Harrington on the council — and like Harrington, who moved on to become Washington County chair that year, we get the sense González doesn't intend for Metro to be the last stop in his political career.

We were impressed in 2018 with González's energy and enthusiasm, as well as the deep network of connections he had already made with elected officials across Washington County. He was Harrington's preferred successor, and we endorsed him as well over another young, relatively inexperienced candidate, on the basis of his policy chops, passion and relationship-building acumen.

In 2022, González seems more than four years older than he was when we sat down with him the first time around. Who can blame him?

Like everyone else, Metro has been on the back foot for more than two years grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. It has sapped attention, time and money from all other issues.

Metro suffered a bruising defeat in November 2020 when voters, fresh off approving a hastily assembled homeless services measure that May, shot down a years-in-the-making transportation and infrastructure bond that would have built a light rail line to Bridgeport Village and made major investments in regional transportation corridors.

And, perhaps most visibly, the situation in downtown Portland itself seems to have deteriorated noticeably from what it was just a few years ago. Homelessness, a visible problem for a long time now in the Rose City, seems more out-of-control than ever. Violent crime rates are way up. Trash and graffiti have gone from not-uncommon to seemingly omnipresent. Much of this is Portland and Multnomah County's problem to fix, but Metro can't wash its hands of it, either.

On the issues

González is seeking another four-year term, arguing that he's best positioned to continue tackling the many problems facing the region. He wants to see through some of the things he's started — including paying out the homelessness bond from 2020 and finally doing something about the dangerous Highway 8 corridor, which has seen two high-profile, fatal crashes within the past few weeks.

Challenging González is James A. Ball, whose last foray into elected politics ended with him losing the general election to Democrat Lisa Reynolds in a Portland-based House district. That race wasn't close — Reynolds was elected by a massive 66-point margin.

Ball just moved from downtown Portland to Hillsboro late last year. He admits he was looking for a place he could run for office and had his eye on the Metro District 4 seat, although he told our editorial board he and his wife were planning to leave their residence in Portland either way. He is familiar with the community, as he worked in Hillsboro before relocating.

Ball presents himself as a moderate Republican, one who acknowledges climate change is being driven by human activity and appreciates the role of government in addressing social problems. While this is officially a nonpartisan election, his center-right views distinguish him from González, who is a registered Democrat and has aligned himself with progressives during his time on the Metro Council.

At a time when it feels like radicals are tugging conservatives to the right and liberals to the left, we think voters are looking for moderation — at least to an extent — in this election season. And Ball makes some strong points in his favor, not least of which is that the region seems to be going in the wrong direction, people feel like it's going in the wrong direction, and he wants to change things up and refocus Metro toward what he feels it should be doing instead.

As for González, he argues that we are in the early stages of what will be a lengthy process. That's not a very satisfying point, but it's a salient one.

Metro's voters just approved an affordable housing bond in 2018 and a homeless services bond in 2020. Housing developments built with the 2018 bond money are just beginning to come online — like The Mary Ann in Beaverton last fall — and some have yet to break ground. The 10-year homeless services bond is even earlier in the process, having been approved less than two years ago.

González said the goal is to start seeing an appreciable decrease in homelessness by this summer, and a larger decrease by next summer, and so on. He's optimistic that it will happen, and even that by the end of the 10-year measure's lifespan, the region will have reached "functional zero" chronic homelessness.

Like Ball, we opposed the 2020 homeless services measure. We weren't fans of how quickly the measure came together, and we expressed concern that it would jeopardize the more carefully planned transportation measure — which tax-weary voters indeed rejected months later.

But also like Ball, we recognize that voters have spoken. For better or worse, Metro has this money and it has this mission to spend it wisely.

We trust González will make it so.

Our recommendation

González simply demonstrates a greater command of the issues, more knowledge of the district, and a better voice for policy specifics than Ball.

While Ball paints a picture of a bloated Metro government that is obsessed with permanent housing and bureaucracy, González knows the details, including that the 2020 measure also includes money for temporary shelter, case management, and support for people who are housing-insecure and at risk of losing their homes.

While Ball has seen homelessness in Portland and Washington County and he doesn't like the way it looks, González has been on the ground talking with service providers and the chronically homeless, learning what they need and what they want.

And it goes beyond homelessness.

We saw the energetic, impassioned González of four years ago when he talked about Tualatin Valley Highway and the progress that's finally being made to line it up for a major investment. He has a vision for the corridor, and he's committed to making it safer. Again, he's talking to people — community leaders, state transportation officials, family members of the people who have lost their lives on the highway — and developing a sense of what is doable and what must be done.

Ball did identify TV Highway as an area of concern when we asked him about transportation issues in District 4. But he didn't have a solution, instead suggesting at one point that if TV Highway can be made safer for pedestrians and cyclists, perhaps another highway can be built to keep motor vehicles moving quickly through the area. That's not realistic, nor would it solve the problem.

González told us he wants Metro to do more to account for the climate impact of its actions. He noted that he and other councilors get an analysis of the fiscal and equity impacts of proposals when they're discussing what to do. He wants to see a climate impact analysis alongside them — something that seems so obvious, in a day and age when we had a snowstorm in mid-April, a 117-degree heat wave last June, and devastating wildfires on the Metro region's doorstep in September 2020, that we can hardly believe it's not already happening.

While he says he accepts the science behind climate change, Ball doesn't seem too concerned about it. He says the problem with motor vehicle emissions will effectively solve itself in due time, presumably with electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles becoming more widespread, and it shouldn't prevent projects like freeway expansion — something Ball favors in Portland and would like to see more of in Washington County, too — to expand traffic capacity. That seems like a high-risk, low-reward play to us, especially given studies that show freeway expansion isn't all that effective in relieving congestion.

Across the board, while we appreciate Ball's profile as a fiscally conservative, socially moderate candidate of the sort that used to do quite well on the Westside, and while we think much of his criticism of Metro is warranted, we have greater confidence in González.

As one might expect with a candidate who clearly really wants to serve in elected office — focused more on what he could run for and possibly win than what the office itself actually does — Ball just isn't fully formed enough on the issues. Metro Council is a good stepping stone to bigger and better things, but it's also a good place for policy wonks like González to make a difference. We'd like to see voters give González a chance to build on what he's learned in the past four years and see through projects like improving TV Highway, wisely spending money for homeless services, and bringing Metro up to speed on climate issues.

We encourage a vote for Juan Carlos González as Metro councilor for District 4.

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