Voters across greater Portland on Tuesday approved a renewal of Metro’s parks and nature bond measure, which will raise $475 million to protect clean water, restore fish and wildlife habitat and provide opportunities for people to enjoy nature close to home.
Measure 26-203 is passing 67% to 33%, according to election results from Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties. When early results were announced, a crowd of about 75 people cheered and hugged each other at the election-night celebration at the Southeast Portland headquarters of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon.
"We are grateful for the support of voters throughout the region who recognize the value of these investments in our water quality, parks and open space, and the opportunity we have to improve equity and access for all the people of our region," Metro Council President Lynn Peterson told the crowd.
The measure does not raise taxes and instead renews the current property tax rate of $0.19 per $1,000 of assessed value. It costs about $4 a month for a home assessed at $250,000.
Money from the bond measure will support six program areas: land purchase and restoration, improvements at Metro parks, Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants, “local share” money to support local park providers, walking and biking trails, and complex community projects, such as providing public access to Willamette Falls.
All projects supported with bond money are required to prioritize community engagement, racial equity and climate resiliency. People of color, Indigenous community members and other people historically left out of parks and nature work shared their input to shape the development of the bond measure.
"Like so many people in this neighborhood, I grew up in an immigrant family. We never went camping and we weren’t able to vote," said Duncan Hwang, associate director of APANO. "Because of this campaign, those families have the same opportunities I never had. Because of this measure and Metro’s other programs, local Chinese and Vietnamese youth have had the opportunity to go camping the last couple of summers and had a really great time."
The centering of racial equity extended throughout the campaign, he said. APANO hosted a get-out-the-vote canvas last weekend designed to reach people of color, and advocates reached out to ethnic press like the Portland Chinese Times.
Community engagement started in summer 2018, with a 25-member stakeholder table representing conservation, recreation, agricultural, nonprofit, business, local government, neighborhood association, Indigenous and culturally specific interests. An online survey in April collected input from more than 700 community members across greater Portland.
Climate resiliency also emerged as a top priority during the development of the bond measure. Future bond investments are intended to make communities more resilient to the effects of climate change.
"The Metro Council showed great leadership in including climate resiliency in this," said Kathleen Brennan-Hunter, president of the Intertwine Alliance's Board of Directors and director of conservation programs at The Nature Conservancy's Oregon office. "If we take care of nature, nature will be better able to take care of us in a dynamic climate and changing weather conditions we’ll face."
Voters approved Metro parks and nature bond measures in 1995 and 2006, and local-option levies in 2013 and 2016 to protect and care for land, improve water quality and increase access to nature for people close to home. Today, Metro cares for more than 17,000 acres of parks, trails, natural areas and historic cemeteries.
As with previous bond measures, all spending with the 2019 bond will be monitored by a community oversight committee and subject to annual audits.
With the passing of the bond measure, the work is just starting.
"We will take the next few months to start working on a work plan and follow up with opportunities for people to get engaged with different levels of work as we craft a specific plan to implement this," said Jonathan Blasher, parks and nature director. "Regardless of tonight’s outcome, the work that we do is important for now and future generations. We will take good care of the voters' dollars, and we’ll do everything we can to keep their trust now and in the future."
Where the money will go
Land purchase and restoration, $155 million
Metro will purchase land from willing sellers and restore it to improve water quality, fish and wildlife habitat. Projects will be selected from 24 distinct geographic areas based on attributes such as the potential to restore stream banks, oak and prairie habitat, or their cultural significance.
Metro park improvements, $98 million
Metro will complete nature parks such as Chehalem Ridge in Washington County, increase access for people with disabilities and maintain water systems, trails, bathrooms and other amenities at parks such as Oxbow and Blue Lake.
Metro will award grants for capital projects to purchase land, restore fish and wildlife habitat, or provide access to nature. Priority will be given to projects that reduce the impacts of climate change and implement Metro’s Strategic Plan to Advance Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
Local parks and nature projects, $92 million
Metro will distribute money to cities, counties and park providers across greater Portland to purchase land, restore fish and wildlife habitat, and build and maintain parks in local communities.
Metro will secure rights to build new trails and construct missing sections, completing projects identified in a regional plan for a network of walking and biking paths.
Complex community projects, $50 million
Metro will provide funding for public projects that also address other community issues such as jobs, housing and transportation. This program area will include $20 million to help provide public access to Willamette Falls in downtown Oregon City.