Why I oppose Milwaukie's proposed 'Council Goals'
I will be the sole dissenting vote on the Milwaukie City Council Goals for 2019-2020, and wanted to take a little time to explain why.
For the past two years, Council has had three goals: completion of Milwaukie Bay Park by 2022, promoting/facilitating affordable housing and adopting a Climate Action Plan. See milwaukieoregon.gov/citycouncil/goals.
Two of those goals will continue, with Milwaukie Bay Park having been replaced by a rather nebulous goal of enhancing the city's public engagement capacity.
City Manager Ann Ober has limited Council to three goals for which funding and staff time can be allocated. And that has been a successful strategy: For years, Council adopted a great list of laudable goals, but few of them actually moved forward, usually due to lack of a funding source. In contrast, these three goals have been actively moving forward.
But actually, we've never had a discussion of exactly what a "Council Goal" should be, and maybe that was the first misstep. In my mind, a "Council Goal" should be something concrete that benefits the community — whether that's an infrastructure project (e.g., parks, sidewalks) or a new ordinance or policy. The prior three goals all fit this definition. The new goal is largely about staff training and capacity — and I do not dispute that we need to invest in the staff, or that doing so benefits the community in the long run. But that is really the city manager's role, and her goal. She should put the resources needed for that into her budget requests, but that does not constitute a "Council Goal" in my book.
I do hope that this will be the last cycle for both climate and housing goals. Not that either will be solved by 2020, but we should be using the coming months to establish funding mechanisms for the staff positions needed to move them forward over the coming years, just as we did with the SAFE (Safe Access For Everyone) pedestrian-infrastructure program, which was funded largely by a utility fee, against which the city bonded in order to get projects done more quickly. The first SAFE projects are being built right now around Ardenwald and Milwaukie elementary schools. It's still a big priority for the city, but it no longer occupies a slot as a "Council Goal," because it is funded and implementation is underway. Climate and housing should be the same within the next year.
Which gets me to why I dissent from the vote — it seems premature to remove Milwaukie Bay Park as a "Council Goal." We have a lovely plan that will cost significantly more than we were told it would a few years ago, and the same funding issues need to be addressed to get the project on a path to implementation. City staff will continue to work with the Parks and Recreation Board and North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District on a funding strategy. But it is already fairly clear that we won't meet the expressed intention of completion by 2022, and I worry that removing it as a "Council Goal" will result in further reductions in momentum for a park that has already been over 20 years in the making. (As an aside, if you have $500,000 and you'd like to sponsor some element of the park, please give the city manager a call!)
On the bright side, I guess this round of goals means we should have an entirely clean slate the next time we do goalsetting. There are many potential Council goals, most of which have been getting little or no attention and staff time in recent years, including but not limited to:
1. removing Kellogg Dam and restoring Kellogg Creek
2. building a reliable and affordable 1-gig broadband internet service to all households, as Sandy and other communities have done
3. addressing emergency preparedness, both for city services and with residents
4. annexing areas to our east
5. updating our property maintenance and nuisance codes (which will be ever more important as density increases — see below)
6. updating our historic preservation code and registry — also needed before we see significant redevelopment in our neighborhoods
7. finishing our four unfinished parks: Balfour, Bowman/Brae, North Clackamas and Kronberg parks
8. creating a community center, possibly at the Wichita Center
9. updating and enhancing the Milwaukie Center
Given that the city staff will be focusing on public engagement between now and then, I hope we will have more public engagement on goals, which were not discussed during televised meetings, next time around, too.
Over the next six months, in the context of our Comprehensive Plan update, the city will be grappling with a number of wide-ranging policy decisions about how Milwaukie should develop over the coming decades. Should we facilitate more "missing middle" housing types — triplexes, townhomes, small garden-apartment complexes? Should we, like Minneapolis and as has been proposed in Portland, eliminate all single-family zoning and allow up to three or four units to be built on every lot? Or conversely, should we limit increased density to neighborhood hubs and arterial streets? Should we reduce or even eliminate requirements that new housing construction provide off-street parking for the residents?
These and other issues will be the subject of a 6 p.m. town-hall event on Thursday, April 18, at the Waldorf School on Harrison Street. Come with your questions and concerns to make sure that Council hears from all views across the diverse Milwaukie spectrum.
And before that, there's a special open house discussion of a study that's been done for two specific forms of missing middle housing — accessory dwelling units (ADUs, also known as "granny flats") and cottage cluster housing. That open house will be 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 3, at the Public Safety Building, 3200 S.E. Harrison St.
Milwaukie will need to increase opportunities for new and more diverse forms of housing, but it does not have to jeopardize the small-town feel that many of us value. This housing work has just begun, so now is the time to engage on these thorny issues and ensure your voice is heard. Watch the Pilot or the city's website, milwaukieoregon.gov, for more details, and make the time to come out and participate.
Lisa Batey is a Milwaukie city councilor.
The views expressed here are the author's alone and do not represent views of the City Council.