Q&A: Candidates for Metro president talk regional issues
What is the best and quickest thing the Metro Council can do, as soon as possible, to reduce the number of people living in minimal shelter outside?
Gary Dye — The best way to serve the homeless is to set aside campgrounds throughout the area (including next to wealthy neighborhoods) that have water, shower stations, power outlets, wi-fi service, dumpsters, porta-potties, policing, and free mass transit. Think of it as a modern-day poorhouse. If needed, parks should have set asides for these campgrounds. The homeless should then be removed from all other areas of Metro, including the sidewalks where you live and work.
Lynn Peterson — Metro is committed to urgent, needed action. In the first six months of the Homeless Services measure, we have worked with County partners to get results:
• At least 2000 people have been housed;
• Approximately 1,600 new shelter beds (year-round and seasonal) have been stood up, and;
• over 17,000 households were helped from falling into homelessness.
We started implementing programs prior to tax revenue collection— accelerating transition into shelter. We have made Metro facilities available for emergency shelter and will be providing additional support throughout this year as more permanent, supportive housing is made available.
In order to keep this pace up and make a real difference, we must continue to apply pressure to county, City, and state partners to improve coordination and open needed facilities. We are 9 months into this effort and are already seeing an impact.
In addition, the affordable housing bond has already seen over 400 units open with 800 additional under construction and over 2,000 additional units in permitting and pre-construction. In the first year of work, Metro and the seven housing authorities have spent approximately 50% of the funds and are on target to delivering at least many more housing units than promised in the measure.
Metro's key role is to continue our new work in collection of data and hold the counties to their local implementation plans.
Alisa Pyszka — Metro should utilize its properties to provide interim shelter, not just for vehicle parking. Metro owns the Expo Center at the end of the MAX Yellow Line light rail station. The site includes approximately 11 acres of surface parking area adjacent to the station. Allocating just 1 acre of the parking area could provide approximately 100 interim housing units through a program like Dignity Moves. A partnership with Dignity Moves solves all houseless persons' concerns and only requires engagement with Multnomah County for services. This solution is completely within Metro's control.
In San Francisco, building permits for a Dignity Moves project were approved in 2.5 weeks under their emergency shelter ordinance. Development will be complete within six months since no foundations or utility trenching is necessary. It could even be located on a gravel parking lot. Each unit costs approximately $25,000 to build (for context, permanent affordable housing units in the Portland region are approx. $450,000). If San Francisco can do this, so can we.
At the same time, Metro could immediately begin to convene regional homeless service providers to share insights regarding what programs are working or where gaps exist in the system to help individuals no longer live on the streets. One specific outcome from these meetings would be the development of a central database to document how many shelter beds are in the region, where they are located, and how many are available each night. We can use this data for a simple mobile app to tell providers or houseless individuals where they can find an open bed that evening. (Right now, the only way to get this information is to call each shelter every night.) This group of providers can also begin to focus on the needs of each individual on the sidewalks and determine who will be getting them access to the various types of care that may be required. This approach to focusing on the individual is imperative to cutting through debates on policy and achieving meaningful results. Rockford, Illinois is a best-case national example of how a city can achieve "functional zero" homelessness by using this model.
What is your position on proceeding with stalled transportation infrastructure projects in the region, including the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project, the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project, the Southwest Corridor MAX Line, and any of the other projects in the transportation bond measure defeated by Metro voters at the November 2020 general election?
Gary Dye — Metro should not be passing transportation bond measures -- bond measures should only be passed within each county. The people want to decentralize.
Governments have not recognized the revolution of working at home rather than in central city offices. This means much less rush hour traffic, and much less mass transit to the central city. Uber, Uber Eats, and Amazon have brought transportation services to those who don't have cars or don't want them, with driverless cars being available soon. Government is too slow and inflexible to change with the changes we see in society. With this, we must put a halt to all mass transit projects. We also should postpone the construction of the interstate bridge, as well as the replacement of bridges over the Willamette. Eliminate Tri-Met's legal monopoly. Return the money saved to the taxpayer. If anything, we should extend Highway 217 to a point just south of the Interstate Bridge.
What should be done with the Portland Expo Center, which is facing high maintenance costs but still supports popular trade and similar shows?
The Expo Center should be sold to the public and operated privately. It is not a legitimate function of government.
Lynn Peterson — I am thoroughly committed to making sure these projects are completed. I was the only elected official to stay at the table on the I-5 Rose Quarter project to make sure we found a resolution to the issues of equity, climate mitigation, and safety which culminated in an agreement on the "Hybrid 3" alternative. On the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project, I represent the Council in bi-state negotiations and am helping lead efforts to achieve a practical, equitable, and transit-ready solution to move forward. The SW Corridor Max line is in serious need of affordable housing solutions and high-capacity transit to not just keep Barbur Boulevard moving but the entire I-5 Corridor. I am committed to working with the local jurisdictions, TriMet and the State to find the financing for this project.
Throughout my career as a transportation engineer and planner, elected official, government transportation leader, and non-profit advocate, I have worked to re-design projects to incorporate elements to reduce GHG emissions and work with communities of color on what they need to repair the past atrocities in the development of our region and others around the nation that stunted or stopped inter-generational wealth creation.
Alisa Pyszka — Significant projects such the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project, the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project must move forward with clear objectives and outcomes. Regarding the I-5 bridge, I would advocate for current traffic counts that consider future congestion pricing to determine the minimum number of lanes necessary to facilitate economic needs and meeting goals to mitigate climate change.
In order to move these projects forward, Metro must take a much stronger leadership role in guiding the management of our regional system. Oregon state elected leadership is looking to Metro to lead the process in answering complex questions. For example, regarding the Rose Quarter, which includes a proposed new cap of the freeway, the current proposal to lease newly created land for private development will require challenging discussions and detailed agreements. Metro needs to take responsibility for this regional project and move those discussions forward to give the state the certainty it justifiably needs to invest in the project. Current leadership is not performing on this responsibility. Our current approach to transportation planning is allowing piecemeal projects to happen with no desired outcome clearly articulated. My significant experience working with private developers, the public sector, and leading complex projects makes me the right candidate to deliver on these projects.
In addition to moving our regional system forward, Metro should be actively working with cities and counties across the region to leverage the existing federal bi-partisan infrastructure bill with available grants. For example, there is currently $5 billion in federal grant dollars through the recent bi-partisan infrastructure bill for "Safe Streets and Roads for All" (Section 24112) Vision Zero safety projects. Due to the significant amount of projects required across the region, Metro must be a leader in working with local jurisdictions to access funds available right now and leverage alternative sources to maximize investment of region funds. In doing so, Metro can convey to the electorate that they are utilizing all available funds to the greatest extent possible. A future requested funding package could include a message to the voters that proposed projects can't be constructed with alternative funding sources and would have a stronger chance of being approved.
What should be done with the Portland Expo Center, which is facing high maintenance costs but still supports popular trade and similar shows?
Gary Dye — The Expo Center should be sold to the public and operated privately. It is not a legitimate function of government.
Lynn Peterson — Expo costs are higher than the revenue generated, and I committed to a long-term solution for this unique property and public asset. At my request the Metro Council agreed to begin work on a Development Opportunity Study that has been completed and proposals will be solicited this summer for potential redevelopment of the site. Those ideas could include or not include the Expo building or use of the venue in order to find the highest best use for the site. The 53-acre site is zoned industrial land, something we are short of in the region. So, I pressed to start a conversation about the highest and best use of the site for the region's short and long term needs for high, green energy and manufacturing wage jobs.
On a separate note, I have publicly advocated for the use of Expo Center parking lots to be used as a Safe Park location for those individuals and families living in RVs and cars. I continue to work to make the location viable. This parallel conversation has been underway with the Expo's day-to-day governing body— the MERC— as well as the City of Portland for quite some time. There is a meeting set to discuss this with MERC on April 18, 2022.
Alisa Pyszka — Metro must first determine the market viability of the Expo Center going forward, which includes the current consideration of Vancouver, WA expanding their convention center. Such an analysis must include representatives from the lodging association that is dependent on the Expo Center for guests and revenues and can provide important market considerations. Right now, Metro only provides an economic impact study of the facility on an annual basis. These reports simply consider how much revenue and jobs are generated by the Center. The reports provide no information of competing peer cities so it is not clear how the Expo Center is performing in terms of industry expectations. Once a comprehensive analysis is complete, Metro needs to determine if it will retain the facility or not based on an informed decision in collaboration with the private market. If it is determined that the facility will not be retained, then Metro can consider redevelopment opportunities.
The current Metro process, which has been underway for two years, includes continued operation of the convention center as a potential option with other ideas that are not grounded in market realities or input from industry experts. For example, one proposed development options a workforce training facility, but in talking to regional workforce leaders, no one was aware this concept was being considered. Continued exploration of vague concepts will not help Metro determine an important direction of "go/no go" regarding continued operations of the Expo Center.
If it is determined that the Expo Center is not viable going forward, then Metro should delineate specific aspects of the site such as important historic cultural considerations and wetlands that will shape the future redevelopment. With this information defined, a clear understanding of opportunities will emerge. Finally, Metro needs to look beyond the site itself and work with the City of Portland to develop a sub-area plan of the larger area that includes several under-developed sites. This is what Metro does —long range and visionary planning. They need to leverage the important light-rail station and access to the Columbia River to begin developing a great place over time. If the region wants to mitigate climate change impacts, it is critical that Metro takes a proactive approach in working with land owners and the private sector to collaboratively build places on land within the Urban Growth Boundary that will provide the housing and employment lands we desperately need.
Metro has been accused of "mission creep" over the years. Do you oppose Metro taking on any of its newer responsibility, such as the regional homeless crisis? Do you believe there is any other regional role Metro need to play?
Gary Dye — Let's call it "Portlandia."
Metro is an abomination. Its very existence means that Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties can't work together, or the State is not doing its job coordinating and assisting these counties. There is a redundancy here, causing inefficiency and waste. We are employing many more government bureaucrats than necessary for the work needed. We must eliminate this redundancy by either:
1. Abolishing Metro,
2. Abolishing the three counties within Metro and creating one big county, or
3. Making Metro the 51st state, seceding from Oregon (and maybe annexing Clark County).
But maybe we shouldn't stop there. What's the difference between Fairview and Gresham and Troutdale, or between Beaverton and Hillsboro and Tigard, or between any of them and Portland? Or between Multnomah and Clackamas and Washington counties? Not much. So, let's also get rid of all of the cities and counties within Metro. Do we need multiple police departments, road departments, parks departments, personnel departments, etc., existing within their respective artificial and arbitrary boundaries? I believe we can lay off 1/3 of the government employees working for all these governments, and provide the same services that we get now. And that means reducing our bloated property taxes by 1/3! Heck, we can even become the first government to cross state lines by incorporating Vancouver, Washougal, Battleground, and Clark County! Why not rescue them, too?
Won't you join me in my quest of not only reducing a government that is suffocating us, but in eliminating entire levels of government? Now is the time to humanely lay off these unproductive, redundant employees of government so that they can become useful citizens in the private sector. We owe it to them to regain their dignity, and we owe it to us to regain ours, too.
Lynn Peterson — Metro is a product of local jurisdictional support and need. Prior to Metro's involvement in affordable housing and supportive housing service, there was a void in leadership at the State and Federal level in dealing with the growing homelessness crisis.
When an issue becomes a crisis too large to be dealt with by individual jurisdictions, Metro steps into that space when asked to help out. The counties asked for our help on both the affordable housing bond measure and the supportive housing service measure to work toward a solution to end the crisis. Just as it does with transportation, Metro has oversight and leadership to help the region move forward together but the authority for implementation still is at the local level. This is a partnership to get better, more effective outcomes.
I don't envision Metro taking a more expansive role in the next five years. There is important work to do on the Urban Growth Boundary expansion discussion over the next two years and the continued work on the affordable housing bond, the parks and nature bond and the homeless services program. However, if there is a regional ask for assistance, Metro should and will be ready to help.
Alisa Pyszka — I do not oppose Metro taking on the responsibility of the homeless crisis. I support Metro's role as a regional government to efficiently provide services that cut across local jurisdictions. I believe the current bonds are appropriate under a regional government. However, Metro leadership needs to recognize the important responsibility of good stewardship of those bonds through timely investments and transparent communication regarding spending.
I envision Metro taking more of a leadership role as opposed to a simple expansive role. Under current leadership, Metro is reacting to issues as opposed to engaging in collaborative planning to address our complex issues. For example, regarding the homeless services bond, Metro needs to outline strategic solutions that address immediate interim housing solutions in addition to permanent affordable housing. Metro should engage the state to determine how we can increase access to mental health and substance addiction and recovery services. Helping individuals to no longer live on sidewalks requires various types of programs and active support from homeless service specialists. Metro needs to welcome a range of ideas that shift conversations from binary "or" to "and" solutions that provide diverse opportunities for results.
Metro has an opportunity (and an obligation) to leverage the collective strength of our diverse communities, perspectives, and ideas to solve problems. As a region, we can build collaboration across counties, cities and services. This requires a genuine commitment to engaging different perspectives and building trust across the public and private sector. This type of work requires years of communication and outreach, but will result in a resilient region working toward a common vision with meaningful results.
What is the biggest problem in the region no one is talking about?
Gary Dye — The OPUC is letting Northwest Natural keep tens of thousands of defective meters running on houses for up to four years, significantly overbilling ratepayers hundreds of dollars. They are also needlessly replacing $20 million worth of meters that don't need replacing, and sticking the bill to the ratepayers.
Lynn Peterson — Homelessness and garbage have certainly been the top two items that people have been talking about. And Metro is certainly a partner in working on both these issues. Currently our RID Patrol program teams are picking up more than 3 tons of trash a day of illegally dumped material and bi-weekly homeless encampment trash pickup.
The next issue this region needs to tackle is how we need to bring the cost of housing down and the median wage in the region up. In order for someone to afford a one-bedroom apartment, anywhere in the region, you need to make $26/hour. As we drive more people out of the region to find affordable housing, these same folks increase their cost of transportation. We will need to look at these issues in the upcoming update of the Regional Transportation Plan and the next decision regarding employment and residential 20-year growth needs with the next urban growth boundary expansion decision.
Alisa Pyszka — Our region is appropriately focused on the individuals struggling on the streets and our housing crisis. However, we must also start talking about how much we value our businesses that provide important jobs and provide the amazing amenities that make this place so incredible. The lack of collaboration between the government and private sector is keeping us from solving problems, and hurting our regional creativity and competitiveness.
Recent headlines discussed that PENSOLE Design Academy, a footwear design institute, is moving to Detroit to develop the design program in conjunction with a new US shoe manufacturing facility. This type of creativity should be happening here. I reached out to Dr. D'wayne Edwards, founder and director of the organization, about what we can do to get him to come back. He thanked me because I was the only one that asked the question and replied he will get back to me in a few years. Another technology company CEO shared with me that she can't get her talent to come downtown out of fear of safety. Small business owners are frustrated that people living in tents are blocking store entrances and customers, and yet they must pay increasing taxes and parking rates that are not addressing the problem. When elected officials don't appreciate and engage our business leaders they will go elsewhere, such as Intel did in Ohio.
As Metro President, I am committed to elevating the importance of business and providing the regional infrastructure that will help them thrive. Government does not create jobs; it creates a great environment so that businesses can provide jobs. Our current politicians can choose to collaborate with the private sector and build an amazing community or perpetuate the status quo on their own.
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