Leaders look for holistic approaches
Public leaders from around Clackamas County discussed a litany of issues facing their communities with U.S. Rep Kurt Schrader at a round table meeting Tuesday, Feb. 18. Schrader, a Democrat whose district includes a large portion of Clackamas County, along with Tillamook, Lincoln, Polk and part of Marion County, heard from city and school leaders from West Linn, Wilsonville, Canby, Gladstone, Milwuakie, Molalla, Happy Valley, Oregon City and Lake Oswego, as well as county commissioners, Metro council, and Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue and Clackamas Fire District.
Transportation projects, housing, homelessness and education dominated the meeting's conversation, but several people in attendance pointed out the importance of addressing each of these issues with all the others in mind.
"It just can't be about transportation, can't be just mental health, can't be just education. All these things are related," Schrader said. "One great thing about coming from this state and this county in particular is we are more willing to share risk, share opportunities. We got to realize that we need to do this as a community."
Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp said he wished more lawmakers could better understand how these issues fit together holistically, and especially how they impact, and are impacted by, climate change.
Several officials at the meeting said widening and improving I-205 was one of their top priorities. Clackamas County Commissioner Jim Bernard said that the state legislature is considering re-allocating money designated for the I-5 Rose Quarter project to I-205, an idea that West Linn officials like Mayor Russ Axelrod have previously expressed interest in.
Metro Councilor Christine Lewis said that funding for I-205 had been a part of a Metro's T2020 ballot that voters will decide on in November. According to Lewis, I-205 is no longer on the ballot because the council decided to focus on regional arterials with the measure.
Schrader said it would be easier for him to make the case to for federal funds for I-205 if the project was listed with the projects on the ballot.
Wilsonville City Councilor Joann Linville said that I-5 around the Boone Bridge deserved attention as well, to address traffic inadequacies and seismic concerns.
Several leaders at the meeting also expressed excitement at the prospect of the Willamette Falls Locks opening. Axelrod said a bill to form a public corporation to open and run the locks was on the floor of the Oregon House of Representatives that morning. Schrader mentioned that businesses like the Willamette Falls Paper Company are excited for the locks to open as well, so that they can start transporting goods along the Willamette.
Housing and homelessness
Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas said that one of the unintended consequences of building affordable housing is to make housing in the area more expensive. He mentioned a study by Portland State University that found that affordable housing leads to gentrification. Savas asked a look at how to implement affordable housing without inadvertently making the housing problem worse.
According to Schrader, some members of Congress are blocking his attempts to push for more funding for housing and urban development.
Clackamas County Commissioner Sonya Fischer said that services to keep people housed are an important part of the conversation that don't get the attention they deserve.
"Without some supportive services people won't be successful in staying housed," Fischer said.
Tim Konko, the city manager from Oregon City, noted that there is not just one single issue that has led to the area's epidemic of homlessness. Mental health issues, drug addiction and domestic violence all drive up homlessness, he said.
Schrader told the Clackamas County leaders at Tuesday's meeting that Congress is starting to see the importance of Career and Technical Education and that federal funding for CTE programs may soon be possible, although he said for now, Congress' focus is on higher education. However, he also noted that there is bipartisan support for funding special education.
"One of the things at the federal level that I feel is very counterproductive to a lot of our equity work is around what President Trump has proposed with regards to cutting the education budget and providing vouchers (for private school)," West Linn-Wilsonville School District Board Chair Regan Molatore said.
The voucher system does not serve the underprivileged students who rely on public funding for free and reduced lunches or busses to get to school, Molatore explained.
Schrader said that he agreed and added that he is opposed to many of the Trump administration's proposals for education.
The congressman said that as he heads back to Washington, Tuesday's conversation about collaboration between jurisdictions and community partners will be on his mind.
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