Three of Metro’s six district councilors are on their way out. Newcomers will soon fill those seats. As Rob Manning reports, some think the election comes at a crossroads for the Metro regional government.
Term limits are behind the exits of Rex Burkholder and Carl Hosticka from Metro. Former governor Barbara Roberts isn’t running for the seat she was appointed to last year.
The open Metro Council districts stretch from Wilsonville north through downtown Portland to confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers.
Eight candidates have filed for the seats. But they’re not spread evenly.
Craig Dirksen is the mayor of Tigard and the only candidate for the region’s southwestern district. I asked him if he really needed to campaign.
“I do need to run a campaign, not necessarily to get elected, but I am honor-bound to get to know the people I might be representing, and give them a chance to get to know me," Dirksen said.
And in his travels, Dirksen says he gets an earful the minute he says he’s trying to be part of Metro.
“As I campaign, I find myself defending Metro’s existence, as much as my own campaign to be on the council.”
Dirksen isn’t the only elected official suggesting Metro has relationship problems in the region.
Metro has an all-funds budget for next year of half a billion dollars, and it directs millions in federal transportation funds.
Metro wins votes to support some of the things it does, like buying park land and managing the Oregon Zoo. But Metro can also be a lightning rod.
Metro’s strongest foes most often battle over the region’s urban growth boundary – the line separating where it’s ok to build, from where it’s not.
Perhaps some of that pressure is off, though – thanks to a long-term decision reached recently on reserve areas.
Sam Chase is hoping so. He’s one of five candidates running to represent Metro’s northernmost district.
“The decisions have been made around urban reserves and other things, and now we have some time. We have three, four, five years, to put some plans forward around implementing housing strategies to help us meet those regional goals that we have," Chase says.
Chase is arguing Metro has an opportunity to make housing inside the urban growth boundary more affordable. Chase worked on housing issues for years, as both an advocate and government staffer.
Chase is facing long-time educator and community activist, Helen Ying, in the race for Metro District 5. The two of them have raised significantly more campaign cash than the other three candidates. Ying also sees new opportunities for Metro.
“What would I like to see Metro do more of? It would be in these two areas: To be a leader in the region in helping to grow our economy, and helping to shape ‘affordable living’,” Ying says.
Where Ying and Chase differ is over the strengths they say they’d bring to the district seat. Chase helped push the Portland Development Commission and the state legislature to create new funding streams for affordable housing. He says he’d champion those kinds of policy ideas.
“When I get to Metro Council, I’m going to be able to provide leadership and direction around these new areas, that we need to be really focused. And I think I’m the candidate who brings that to the table, and I think that’s going to be incredibly important, for Metro as we’re facing a lot of turnover.”
Helen Ying says her strength is in building relationships. Her district would be almost entirely within Multnomah County, but Ying says she could help reach out to Clackamas and Washington county critics.
“I think that’s why I wrote in my voters’ pamphlet statement, ‘Helen can help’.” (laughs)
Ying says helping starts with listening.
“You know, my background, as a teacher and counselor, that’s one of the things that’s innate, is to listen. And to let the person know – ‘I honor and respect what you have to say.’ And let’s find out, ‘What do we share, that’s in common that we can start as a starting point?’.”
Sam Chase agrees it’s important to listen, but in the end, he says Metro has to “move forward.” He’s worried that Metro’s federal funding may decline, while the region’s population is going up.
“The real issue is we are facing tremendous population growth in this region, and we’ve got to find a way to manage it one way or another.”
Bob Stacey is a candidate for another seat, Metro District 6. His campaign fundraising has far outpaced an opponent who chose to limit fundraising to a total of $750.
As the director of conservation group, 1000 Friends of Oregon, Stacey was sometimes at odds with Metro in the past, for not protecting enough farm and forestland. Now, Stacey doesn’t want the regional government to back down against critics pushing for less interference from Metro.
“So when people talk about Metro as if it’s a piece of red meat that can be thrown into a discussion, but then they have a wedge issue that’s apparently much narrower but ends up gumming up the works of local community decision-making, there’s going to be a backlash, and there’s going to be popular resentment of the people who put those on, and efforts to get them reversed,” Stacey says.
Stacey and the unopposed candidate for District 3, Craig Dirksen, expect Metro to keep spending lots of time on land-use planning. Dirksen says in a way, he prefers that.
“I think we need to be careful of something that I like to call ‘jurisdiction creep’. As time goes by, whatever government you’re talking about keeps being called upon to more and more and more. And then all of a sudden, people turn around and ask ‘Why are you doing everything?’ And it’s ‘Well, because we were asked to’.”
At least two of the Metro races are likely to be decided this month.
But policymakers elsewhere could have as much to say about Metro’s agenda, as the new councilors.
Lawmakers in Salem and Olympia could pull the pilings out from under the funding plan for a new Columbia River bridge. That could put the Columbia River Crossing before Metro again.
And the state is still evaluating Metro’s latest urban growth plans. The regional government has already received preliminary word that it might be looking at a “do-over.”