Clackamas commissioners question Metro, TriMet projects
Clackamas County commissioners sharply questioned two evolving regional projects during their Tuesday, Oct. 25, meeting. Both involve processes being run by other governmental agencies that will not be concluded for months or fully enacted for years. The county board was concerned that Clackamas County residents have not been well informed about the projects and do not understand the changes that could occur.
One project involves Metro and a potential urban growth boundary expansion in Tigard. The other involves TriMet's evolving plan to change 80% of its bus lines. The county board cannot stop either project and was debating how to comment on them.
The most heated discussion concerned the Metro project, with a majority of the board alleging that the elected regional government was ignoring the county's needs and favoring Washington County at Clackamas County's expense.
"This is an insult," Clackamas Chair Tootie Smith said of the project, which involves a "land swap" within the urban group boundary Metro administers to allow the Tigard to expedite the development of River Terrace, the rapidly expanding subdivision on the northern most part of that city.
Metro administers the UGB where development can take place in the Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties under the state's land-use planning laws. Tigard wants to bring 500 acres of land into the boundary sooner than normal to begin developing River Terrace 2.0 earlier than would otherwise be allowed.
To make that happen, Metro has proposed withdrawing 500 acres of land from the boundary in one of three areas within Clackamas County. All three are near Damascus, and one involves land near Oregon City, too.
Tigard's proposal involves two areas of property, separated on either side of Southwest Roy Rogers Road. Metro likes that it included so-called "missing middle" housing in the proposed River Terrace 2.0. That includes such units as cottages, townhouses, duplexes and other forms of housing that typically offer more living space than a typical unit in a large apartment complex.
Since such housing is smaller and less expensive than full-size, standalone houses, it also attracts a more diverse group of buyers than standard residential homes. Tigard planners previously have also proposed a commercial area aligned along a main street as part of the future development.
All Clackamas commissioners agreed that more housing is needed in the region. But they balked at giving up land without getting anything in return. Smith was especially adamant that the county has land that could be used for industrial development that is not being allowed by Metro. She said the land could be used for the chip factories that a recently formed state task force is struggling to encourage.
"We have a big fat issue (in this state) with the lack of big lots available for development," Smith said.
The commissioners were also concerned they did not know what the residents and property owners in the Clackamas lands under consideration by Metro thought of the potential swaps. Commissioner Sonya Fischer said they might want to be removed from the UGB. But she had not heard from any of them and did not know if Metro had even contacted them.
The commissioners directed county staff to draft a letter to Metro saying all options should be on the table the regional governments want to swap Clackamas County and Washington County lands within the UGB. It will be discussed next week.
Next steps include: a discussion of the potential sites at an Oct. 26 Metro Policy Advisory Committee meeting; the end of the public comment period on Nov. 2; MPAC making recommendations to the elected Metro Council on Nov. 9; the council providing direction on its intended decision to the Department of Land Conservation and Development and affected property owners on Dec. 6; a public hearing on the ordinance before the council on Jan. 19; a council vote on the ordinance on Feb. 2.
Even if the swap is approved by then, construction on River Terrace 2.0 is not expected to begin for four more years.
TriMet Forward Together process questioned
The commission also discussed asking TriMet to reconsider its Forward Together process to change most bus lines. Once again the commissioners questioned whether county residents were aware of the project and how it could change their bus service. The board of directors of the regional transit agency is scheduled to adopt the plan by the end of the year.
"I don't know why the timeline is so compressed," said Commissioner Paul Savas.
The commissioners expressed some relief when county staff said the plan will be phased in over several years, and that TriMet has promised to seek more public comment before each phase is enacted. The schedule also depends on TriMet being able to overcome its current driver shortage.
Although the project is intended to expand service in much of the region, it would also reduce service on some lines. Several open houses on the plan have been held in the region and an online survey is being conducted.
When TriMet announced the planning process, the agency said it was in response to COVID-19 related changes in transit use. But a letter to TriMet approved by the commission on Tuesday said it has "evolved into a 6-year service concept" that "has not been adequately inclusive or transparent."
"The stated approval timeline (by the end of the year) feels unnecessarily rushed and could preclude meaningful public engagement. Before approval of the concept, a broad public campaign is necessary. Such a campaign would make sure that those impacted, especially current riders in areas where service will be greatly reduced or eliminated altogether, have been notified and offered an opportunity to participate," the letter said.
The letter also called for a deeper analysis of how the services reductions in Clackamas County would affect residents, especially those dependent on bus service.
At a minimum, the letter asks TriMet to extend the public comment period for 30 days beyond the Oct. 31 deadline.
Officials in other parts of the region have also questioned some of the service cuts. For example, Hillary Ostlund, library director for the City of Hillsboro, questioned cutting the the bus route that shuttles people to the Brookwood Public Library.
"The bus that services Brookwood Library is a lifeline for some community members," Ostlund said in a press release. "Our diverse community needs to be able to access this key public resource without an automobile. Work must be done to enhance access, not take it away."
That Line 46 bus also serves some employees of the Dawson Creek Corporate Park.
When TriMet announced Forward Together, it said goals included bringing service closer to 50,000 more residents and making weekend service available to 100,000 more people. It would also create new routes serving new areas in all three counties, especially in East Multnomah County and parts of Washington County. But the agency admitted existing service could be reduced to parts of such westside communities as Beaverton, Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn.
The changes are being considered during an unprecedented — but possibly temporary — reduction in TriMet ridership. According to the U.S. Census, the share of people using public transportation to commute to work fell dramatically during the pandemic. A mere 15,000 Portlanders used public transit to commute daily in 2021, down from 49,000 in 2019 — a 69% drop. Carpooling, walking and bike commuting also saw huge declines.
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