Peterson previews ambitious Metro agenda
Metro President-elect Lynn Peterson previewed an ambitious agenda for the elected regional government Friday morning. It includes tackling transportation bottlenecks, expanding transit service, and reforming the permitting process to encourage the construction of a wider range of housing in all three counties.
"We've done a lot of good planning, but we've got to get some shit done," said Peterson, who will take office in January.
Peterson was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Housing Forecast sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland, which represents both large and small home builders in the greater Portland region. It was held at the Oregon Convention Center on the morning of Nov. 2.
According to Peterson, population growth is causing problems throughout the region, ranging from increasing congestion to the affordable housing crisis that is contributing to homelessness.
"We're facing a lot of challenges pushing forward on livability in our community, and many of our residents are feeling that anxiety," said Peterson.
As Peterson explained, in the past, Metro and other governments in the region have concentrated on improving just one transportation corridor at a time. As a result, most of the region has not received the investments necessary to reduce congestion and support new development. Among other things, Peterson said important corridors like McLoughlin Boulevard and the Tualatin Valley Highway have been all but ignored, meaning they are not supporting as much traffic and housing as they could and should.
Peterson also said she has already started discussions with city and county leaders to reduce barriers to residential construction, including high system development charges that support infrastructure improvements, and zoning restrictions that prohibit the construction of so-called missing middle housing, like duplexes, triplexes and accessory dwelling units. She specifically thanked Washington County Chair Andy Duyck and Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, who were in the audience, for starting the conversation in their county.
"We need to have missing middle housing, both as infill and on the edges," said Peterson, who believes the question of how to fund the required infrastructure outside urban cetners needs to be addressed.
Peterson also pitched the $653 million affordable housing bond Metro referred to the Nov. 6 general election ballot, saying it was a necessary step to provide homes to households earning below the median family income in the region. She said the region has a shortage of 40,000 affordable units. The HBA has endorsed the measure, although it would only help finance up to 3,900 units if approved by voters.
Although she did not mention it, Peterson will also lead the crafting of the regional transportation funding bond Metro has promised to refer to the November 2020 ballot. It is intended to help pay for the proposed Southwest Corridor MAX line that is currently estimated to cost between $2.3 and $2.9 billion. But polls show that such a measure must support transportation and transit projects in all three countries to have a realistic chance of passing.
"We need to build intersections that speed bus travel and also increase highway lane miles," Peterson said as a possible preview of the kinds of projects she is thinking of including.
Peterson spoke at the forecast as relations between Metro and local home builders are improving. In the past, the Metro Council did not always agree to expand the urban growth boundary it administers as much as some home builders wanted or into areas they preferred. After the last periodic review, the council did not expand it all, provoking complaints that Metro was contributing to the affordable housing crisis.
In response, outgoing Metro President Tom Hughes led a collaborative review of the expansion process that completely reformed it. This year, for the first time, the council solicited and is considering requests from four cities to expand the boundary into designated urban reserves adjacent to their borders. Beaverton, Hillsboro, King City and Wilsonville have requested the boundary be expanded by 2,200 acres to support up to 9,200 new homes. The council appears poised to approve all four requests in December.
"You guys worked on some really good reforms to the urban growth process, and I want to say thank you. I look forward to your help as we get the expansion areas underway," Peterson said.
Peterson, a transportation expert, is a former Lake Oswego councilor, Clackamas County chair, and director of the Washington Department of Transportation. She was elected Metro president at the May 2018 Primary Election with only token opposition.
Metro is the only elected regional government in the country. It is charged by state law with transportation and land use planning, and also administers a regional park system, public venues like the convention center, and the Oregon Zoo. It mostly encompasses the urbanized portions of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.