Westside mayors talk progress at forum
After a two-year hiatus in which local mayors found themselves meeting virtually via Zoom, area mayors gathered in person on Thursday, May 26, for a breakfast forum in Tigard.
The annual event, hosted by the Westside Economic Alliance and sponsored by Comcast, was held at the Washington Square Embassy Suites, attracting 10 Washington County mayors. Each mayor had two minutes to highlight events, followed by audience questions. Here's what their cities have been doing over the last year:
Mayor Jason Snider said Tigard is gearing up for the construction of Universal Plaza, its signature downtown revitalization project on Southwest Burham Street. Groundbreaking for the plaza, whose first phase includes an interactive water feature/splash pad, public restroom, porch swings and a boardwalk connection to the Fanno Creek Trail, was held Thursday evening.
He said the city was excited to get the project, which the city hopes will become a destination site for people to gather, off the ground.
Snider said a recent trip to Washington, D.C., where he talked with federal representatives, has paid off.
"We got notified by Congresswoman (Suzanne) Bonamici a couple of weeks ago that there's a project that Tigard was supporting and ODOT had planned on Hall Boulevard — safety improvements — that she has put on the top of her list of 15 projects that she can fund, or hopefully Congress will fund, and that's a $3.2 million investment that will bring very needed safety improvements to a corridor that's quite dangerous on Hall Boulevard," Snider said.
Tigard has been negotiating with ODOT, the Oregon Department of Transportation, to transfer at least part of Hall Boulevard to the city's jurisdiction. The road today is part of Oregon Highway 141, an unsigned state route that runs from Beaverton to Wilsonville.
Snider said he's also pleased with an urban growth boundary expansion proposal that Tigard has sent to Metro for approval, which involves a novel land swap with the regional government that would let the city go ahead with developing River Terrace 2.0 on its western edge.
During the pandemic, Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin noted, his city welcomed a new farmers market that has proven wildly successful.
Plans are to expand the Friday night market in Cornelius from June through August.
The market opened on Friday, May 27. Along with selling fruits and vegetables, concerts will be held during the farmer's gardens.
Dalin explained that his city of 13,000 residents is also bumping up against the urban growth boundary, with almost all its industrial land filled, including the 138 acres included in the "grand bargain" that was brought into city limits in 2014.
Cornelius has had Dalin in the mayor's seat since late 2011 and a veteran administrator, former Beaverton mayor Rob Drake, as city manager since early 2012. After more than a decade, Dalin and Drake's partnership will end this summer.
"Folks may have heard or already know, we're just kicking off our recruitment. Rob Drake is retiring after 10 years in Cornelius as our city manager," Dalin said, quipping: "We're going to be (looking), so if you see me talk to your city manager…"
Drake, one of Washington County's longest-tenured public servants, previously announced he would step down at the end of June.
Mayor Keith Mays said economic development activity in Sherwood has increased over the years, something that will help diversify the city's tax base and bring more jobs to the community to ensure "we're not 100% a bedroom community."
"It will help us become a sustainable community and as part of that, we're redoing the Sherwood West Master Plan so it also reflects those goals. We're near completion. We're certainly excited about that," said Mays.
In addition to that, Sherwood is working to add lots of roads, trails and other infrastructure.
Mays said the city is in the final engineering phase of a pedestrian bridge that will cross Highway 99W, from the Sherwood Family YMCA to Sherwood High School.
"We're super-excited about that. A big shout-out to ODOT and PGE, because they're being great partners and (helping) all of our efforts to get that engineering done on schedule so we can get it done on time," Mays said.
He encouraged any business owners who might be interested to check out Sherwood's new industrial development on the city's eastern border with Tualatin.
"Come check out Sherwood," Mays said. "We'd love to have you. Look to Sherwood if you want to grow, expand or relocate."
Mays also gave a shoutout at the forum to one of Sherwood's favorite sons, Sherwood High School alumnus Adley Rutschman. One of the top overall prospects in Major League Baseball, and a No. 1 overall pick in 2019 out of Oregon State University, the catcher was promoted from the Triple-A Norfolk Tides to the Baltimore Orioles roster last weekend.
"If you haven't been out to North Plains lately, just letting you know that we're finally waking up … growing and spreading our wings out there," said North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan. "For years, our community has been longing for a grocery store. Many of our communities, and many of us, we take it for granted that you have a grocery store down around the corner you can walk to and so on and so forth."
She said that dream will soon come to fruition in North Plains, with the urban renewal agency recently purchasing the last 5 acres of commercial land available on Northwest Glencoe Road.
Lenahan said North Plains is working with Portland-based Rembold Properties to develop the Glencoe Road site, with hopes to break ground next year.
The development will be called The Collective. Like Lenahan said, it will include a grocery store complete with space for a beer and wine section, as well as a family-friendly space. The site will include food carts as well, with the possibility that a hardware store might want to locate there in the future.
In addition, North Plains leaders have been working with Angelo Planning Group and Kittelson & Associates Inc. to "reimagine" the downtown area.
Lenahan said North Plains is also working on an urban growth boundary expansion, which Metro will have to approve.
"We have performed an economic analysis and realize that we have a large deficit in the industrial/commercial land, and we are really excited to partner with the county and other communities and consultants to add to the economic partnerships in the region," she said.
Mayor Pete Truax noted that Forest Grove will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Forest Grove's incorporation as a city in October. Shirt buttons touting the city's sesquicentennial have already been manufactured, Truax said.
He joked that if nothing else, learning how to pronounce that city's milestone is an accomplishment in itself.
Forest Grove is Washington County's oldest incorporated city. While it was incorporated in 1872, it was among the first areas west of Portland to be settled by European American pioneers on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. The Tualatin Academy for the children of settlers opened in 1849 on what is now the Pacific University campus.
Forest Grove voters on May 17 reauthorized the city's local option levy, Truax noted, increasing the amount of $1.60 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $1.95, effective July 1, 2023.
"So we have another six years of some financial stability, and that is much appreciated by the city and by the community," said Truax, who is not seeking a fourth term this year after serving as mayor since 2009.
"The other issue that we obviously have on our front burner is homelessness," Truax said.
A task force to look at the issue has been put together, which includes Truax and two city councilors, as well as Forest Grove's police chief and city manager, Henry Reimann and Jesse VanderZanden. That group is putting together a strategy on how to deal with the issue, Truax said.
"It's not going to go away in the near future, so we need to hold hands and act as partners in that and move forward in finding a solution for those people less fortunate than us," Truax said.
Hillsboro city voters also approved a local option levy on May 17, as Mayor Steve Callaway said at the forum.
Callaway said Hillsboro is addressing workforce development by partnering with the Oregon Aerospace Careers for Everyone, or O-ACE, which is a high school pathway program for students interested in careers in aviation. The program is administered through the Hillsboro School District.
"We have juniors and seniors who are going through the two-year program. Then they go on to (Portland Community College), and then they will have jobs waiting for them as aviation mechanics, aviation engineers and professional pilots," Callaway said.
He said this is a way to fill the huge gap as the workforce ages, as well as filling the pipeline with young people who are traditionally underrepresented in the aerospace, high-tech and manufacturing sectors, such as women and people of color.
Also afoot is an advanced manufacturing partnership with 15 to 20 companies, with Hillsboro planning to create the first industry-recognized registered student apprenticeship program in the nation.
Callaway said for the last several years, Hillsboro has been working with industry leaders to set up the curriculum for the program.
Callaway also addressed the mass shooting Tuesday, May 24, at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
"We have to do something about gun violence, because less than 40 hours ago, 19 kids were slaughtered. Two teachers lost their lives," Callaway said. "'Going into harm's way' should not describe going to a grocery store in Buffalo, going to church in Laguna Woods (in California) or going to an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas."
Mayor Frank Bubenik said Tualatin is continuing to assist residents who are struggling to pay utility bills by not shutting off water service because of nonpayment.
Bubenik said Tualatin will use $1 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to pay for water and sewer infrastructure for a planned affordable housing development, with more than 100 units, to be built in Basalt Creek, an 847-acre planning area between Wilsonville and Tualatin. That facility will be built by Community Partners for Affordable Housing.
As Bubenik noted, Tualatin also established an urban renewal zone in Basalt Creek.
City officials are also discussing whether to create another urban renewal zone around Tualatin Commons in an effort to revitalize that area. It was built up recently with high-profile developments like the Nyberg Rivers shopping center off Interstate 5, which opened just last decade, but it is also plagued by traffic congestion and limited walkability, and it lacks a distinct downtown core like neighboring Tigard and Sherwood have.
Tualatin is also working on topics of equity and climate action, which city leaders have identified as priorities.
While in-person park concerts and movies will return this summer, and the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta is still on for fall, the Tualatin Crawfish Festival has been permanently canceled.
"Instead, we're going to have a really big concert in Community Park in lieu of that," Bubenik said.
He also said a brand-new makerspace, a specialized section inside the Tualatin Public Library dedicated to creating physical objects and digital media, has attracted more than 1,000 visitors in the six months since it open.
Jaimie Fender, who took over as King City's mayor at the start of this year, said King City has finished its transportation system plan.
Officials have had several visioning-type meetings with developers eying the city's Main Street commercial project, included within 528 acres of land brought into the city in 2018. King City has been planning for years to expand westward to Southwest Roy Rogers Road, more than doubling its footprint.
"Ignore all the other mayors and give me a call, because the new opportunities of King City are going to be quite amazing," Fender joked.
Fender said King City has also kicked off a grant program for local businesses and is looking forward to receiving applications.
"We've had two new businesses open up in King City in the last three months, which for our tiny little town is quite astonishing and wonderful," Fender said.
She said the city recently held its first installation of public art, a mosaic piece whose main theme is monarch butterflies. This summer, plans are to create a milkweed garden in the park to attract live butterflies. A Rotary "peace pole" will be installed soon in the park as well.
Truax gave Ken Gibson, Fender's predecessor as mayor, a piece of artwork from Valley Art Association on behalf of all the mayors in appreciation for his five years of service as mayor of King City. Truax said Gibson did an outstanding job as mayor, leaving it in a better spot than he found it.
While Mayor Lacey Beaty said she could stand up and brag for hours about the amazing things Beaverton is doing, instead she wanted to talk about some of the hard topics facing the country and local cities.
Beaty said the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that every level of government, every business and every business leader must work together to meet the needs of the community.
"Y'all, we have a child care crisis," she said. "We do not have slots here in Washington County for every kid and every parent going to work."
Beaty said that makes child care not only a government problem, but a business problem as well.
Like Callaway, Beaty addressed the recent shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo.
"We have a gun violence problem in this country," she said. "I am a war veteran. I've seen firsthand what gun violence does. We do not need that walking into our schools."
She said when she dropped off her 4-year-old child off at school on Wednesday, she had the same helpless feeling she experienced as a 19-year-old soldier finding herself in the middle of Baghdad.
In addition, she said the climate change crisis is something that Beaverton is working to address.
"But we can't do it alone, and it's not fast enough," she said. "115 degree summers. Ice storms. This is something the collective power in this room can make meaningful first steps to address."
Beaty noted that homelessness is another major issue as well. Beaverton found funding for a year-round shelter through partnerships with Washington County and Metro, she said. A recent count of houseless individuals shows that no one is working fast enough to address the crisis, Beaty said, and it calls for greater urgency from community leaders.
Mayor Stephanie Jones said Banks is proud to have finally replaced its faulty water transmission line, which was more than 60 years old.
"It was leaking one and one-half million to two million gallons a month, which is a lot of lost water," Jones said. "So, we've got that replaced, and it actually came in and was finished ahead of schedule, which doesn't often happen on large projects. We're really happy about that."
As a result, in January and February, Banks did not have to turn on its backup wells.
"This means that our building moratorium that we've had for the past two and one-half years, based on our lack of water, has come to an end, and now instead, we are asking developers to provide a source of water, because what we've gained is not enough for the growth that we see coming," Jones said.
That includes developers who are looking at both the east and west side of the city to build. She said it's the job of Banks officials to make sure whatever development comes in will be acceptable to the city's current residents, ensuring that local schools can handle the increase in population.
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