Politics

Bob Stacey, a pioneering figure in Oregon’s growth, has died

By Jeff Mapes (OPB)
Sept. 10, 2022 1 p.m.
Bob Stacey, right, died this week. He was a deeply influential figure in Oregon land use.

Bob Stacey, right, died this week. He was a deeply influential figure in Oregon land use.

Courtesy of Metro / Courtesy of Metro

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Bob Stacey, one of Oregon’s most influential figures in land use and transportation, died Thursday at the age of 72.

Stacey was one of the pioneering attorneys who helped lay the legal foundations for Oregon’s unique growth management system, which limits suburban sprawl and protects farmlands and other open space. He helped wage one of those legal battles against the Rajneeshee cult, which attempted to build a city on farmland in Central Oregon’s Wasco County in the 1980s.

As Portland’s planning director in the early 1990s, Stacey helped bring denser housing development to the city as he sought to accommodate population growth without having to rely on ever-increasing suburban sprawl. He later held top policy roles for TriMet and in the administration of Gov. Barbara Roberts, where he sought to bolster transit and other alternatives to driving. He also served as a councilor for Metro, the Portland area’s regional government, from 2012 until he stepped down in 2021 as he battled health problems.

“Oregon just lost the most important person that most people have never heard of,” U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer said in a statement announcing Stacey’s death.

In an earlier tribute to Stacey on the House floor last year, Blumenauer said: “He’s been a thought leader in all things that matter — environmental protection, land use, climate, traffic congestion, affordable housing, air quality, economic development.”

While Stacey may be largely unknown to average Oregonians, he helped shape the way Oregon grew, and he schooled generations of activists on the importance of curbing the kind of sprawling development so often found around the country.

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“Bob never ran out of creative ideas on how to protect Oregon’s communities, farms and forests, and how to connect them all together,” Metro President Lynn Peterson said in a statement.

When he stepped down, Stacey praised Portland’s regional government, saying it has the authority to work with local governments throughout the area to develop a coordinated growth policy.

“We have a competitive advantage, to be emulated,” he said on the agency’s webpage. “I am really optimistic about the region’s prospects, in terms of economy, growth development – and the resources that keep this place special.”

Stacey was one of the original staffers for 1000 Friends of Oregon, the watchdog group set up shortly after the creation of Oregon’s statewide planning system by the Legislature in 1973. The group, backed by iconic Gov. Tom McCall after he left office in 1975, played a big legal and lobbying role in ensuring that Oregon would have a strong system.

In his first years on the job, Stacey fought for a strong urban growth boundary around the Portland region and helped form alliances with the housing industry to shape new development patterns. Stacey’s job was “all things urban,” recalled Richard Benner. Benner went to law school with Stacey and worked for 1000 Friends.

As a gubernatorial aide to Roberts, Stacey encouraged her to oppose a proposed freeway — the Westside Bypass — on the western fringes of Washington County. He frequently biked to work and around town, and a bicycle and pedestrian overpass was named for him in Southeast Portland.

In his long career, Stacey also served at times as a top aide to Blumenauer at Portland City Hall and in the U.S. House.

In his floor speech last year, Blumenauer said that the Rajneeshees had once tried to poison Stacey. The congressman was referring to a box of chocolates sent to 1000 Friends, ostensibly from supporters in the Columbia Gorge. Stacey quickly became suspicious that the Rajneeshees might have poisoned the candies after he found the chocolate didn’t actually come from the Gorge group.

Benner, who also was one of the original 1000 Friend attorneys, said the group never actually tested the chocolates. But the Rajneeshees were behind the poisoning of numerous salad bars in The Dalles that health authorities found sickened more than 700 patrons. Ma Anand Sheela, the top aide to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, as well as another top Rajneeshee official, later served prison terms on several charges, including ones related to the attacks.

After serving several posts in government, Stacey returned to head 1000 Friends in the early 2000s. At the time, voter-approved property rights initiatives were threatening the future of the land planning system. Stacey worked with legislators to produce a measure that gave rural property owners the right to build some additional houses but that prevented large-scale developments.

He was diagnosed in 2012 with meningioma, which causes tumors in and around the skull, Metro officials said. The condition worsened last year, forcing him to step down from the agency. He is survived by his wife, Adrienne Stacey, and by two daughters and two grandchildren.

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