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Portland’s Comprehensive Plan is gradually pulling out of the station without stopping to pick up the passengers. 


For those of us left standing on the platform, this has been a very stressful experience.

I am taking this opportunity to respond to an editorial from the Community Involvement Committee extolling public involvement in the plan (Comp plan isn't a solution, but more foundation, Dec. 12, 2015). The authors are fine people, some of the finest people to donate their time and energy to help Portland plan for its future. Sadly, I have to disagree with them.

A month ago I participated in a lengthy review of the comprehensive plan process with other members of the city’s neighborhoods and neighborhood coalitions. Last week we delivered to the City Council a synopsis of our comments on the defects in public participation in the Comprehensive Plan. Among the conclusions were: The process did not follow the community engagement goals and policies; community input has had little effect; the decision-making process has not been transparent; there has been little access to the planning commission; and many parallel processes went forward with inadequate resources.

As with many community leaders, I sit on many boards and committees. Today, I am responding as chair of the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association since there has not been time to confer with the other neighborhoods and coalitions on this submission. Eastmoreland’s experience with the Comprehensive Plan process was worse than most, although many similar stories have emerged.

As the CIC members have stated, we have had many opportunities to go to meetings, draw on maps, submit testimony, and even enter comments on the MapApp. The problem has not been the level of adult day care. The problem has been that when our input contradicted the opinions of the Department of Planning and Sustainability, the input was simply discarded. 

In Eastmoreland's case, we requested a change of zoning to bring our neighborhood into consistency with zoning elsewhere in the city. The idea was initially supported by staff. Then, the staff issued a stinging rebuttal to our submission — two weeks before our testimony was due — that disparaged Eastmoreland's planners and architects. 

We were invited to a hearing on our proposal — where we were not allowed to speak — and then the staff lobbied the planning commission to reject correcting the zoning while ignoring our professional research and misinforming the planning council on significant issues. Our MapApp comments, overwhelmingly in support of fixing Eastmoreland’s zoning, were discounted.

Similar neighborhoods’ zoning — even those that had not even requested changes — were corrected. Eastmoreland was singled out for special treatment, raising the question whether speaking up is to be punished in the current planning process. For more details, Eastmoreland’s detailed letter on zoning issues and the general review by the directors and chairs of the city’s neighborhood coalitions can be found at eastmoreland.org

A month ago, Eastmoreland submitted an Oregon Open Documents request for information concerning why we had been so badly treated. The planners have responded that substantially more time will pass until there is a response.

The law that governs the Comprehensive Plan requires substantive public involvement. The sense of many people in the city is that we were allowed to speak, but no one ever bothered to listen.

Does this matter? Yes, if Portland’s residents care about a heritage of quiet tree-lined streets, a substantial urban canopy, and livable neighborhoods. Portland neighborhoods think it matters a great deal and has dedicated thousands of hours in what appears to be a futile attempt to make a difference.

It is time for the Comprehensive Plan express to stop, open its doors, and allow some passengers to board.

Robert McCullough is an economic consultant who serves as chair of the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association and the Southeast Uplift Coalition Program.

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