The growing Latino population in western Washington County has prompted Metro to re-think its public engagement process, and led to the passage of a new Hispanic engagement plan by the Metro Council.
The Council Creek Regional Trail, proposed by Forest Grove, will connect several communities with significant Hispanic populations, including Cornelius, where more than 50 percent of the population identifies as Latino. The trail also goes through Hillsboro and Forest Grove, which are 22 percent and 23 percent Latino, respectively.
As the Portland region becomes more diverse, hearing from minority groups becomes more important. Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington felt the effort to engage these traditionally underrepresented communities needed to be boosted. Harrington emphasized the need to bring more people to the table when she introduced the resolution.
"Metro has been continuously evolving our public participation practices to ensure that we're reaching out, inviting as many people as possible to participate," Harrington said. "One of the changes that we've been embracing is that our public participation processes have needed to change as we've had a growing Hispanic population in our region."
Councilor Craig Dirksen agreed, emphasizing how difficult it is to engage citizens.
"Engagement of the community and our constituents is always a challenge, even when we have a common language, and when you add the additional barrier of not common language it just exacerbates the problem," Dirksen said. "So finding ways to engage with our community more effectively is always valuable."
After a brief discussion, the Metro Council unanimously passed the resolution, which authorizes $8,500 in grants to Adelante Mujeres and Centro Cultural. These two non-profit organizations work with the Hispanic population in Washington County. In exchange the groups will coordinate to provide written project overviews in Spanish, distribution of project materials to their networks, open houses to gather feedback and a farmer's market booth where staff will distribute information and answer questions.
The engagement will not be limited to the trail; it will also include outreach for the Climate Smart Communities Scenarios project. Specifically, the groups will help to gather input and distribute information during the public comment period that lasts until September.
Adelante Mujeres executive director Bridget Cooke said her group has been working with local and regional governments for years to improve outreach to Spanish speakers.
"We really know how to reach the community because we're in it and working with them everyday. Having us do the outreach saves Metro time and dollars because we're already having events in the community and we can work the seeking of input into those events," Cooke said. "Also, we are members of the community – most of our staff are – we know how to approach people and we are a trusted source, which means we're more likely to receive useful feedback. We can explain what this is about in a way that makes sense."
Several other organizations sent in statements supporting the engagement effort.
"When I look at the goals of Metro, I often harp on the goal regarding equity," Forest Grove Mayor Peter Truax wrote. "Too often, many of us merely pay lip service to the provision of such an important aspect of our community. There is much to do regarding equity, but this is moving us in the right direction."
Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle agreed.
"As an agency, we recognize that culturally specific and sensitive outreach is necessary and valuable to reach this important part of our community," Doyle said.
Private organizations, including the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Oregon Walks and Kaiser Permanente also showed their support.
"It is imperative that our local, regional and state level government continue to prioritize funding for new forms of engagement that bring a larger, more diverse and more representative cohort of citizens to the table to discuss transportation funding and neighborhood development," said Aaron Brown, board president of Oregon Walks.
These groups and the Metro Council recognized that improving engagement was a necessary step to improve the region, not only for all segments of our community, but also for the future.
"This solution really helps us to connect with a portion of our community, which we do not connect with very well," Dirksen said. "Hopefully this will help give them further confidence in the future to become further engaged in other areas."
Note: This story has been updated to clarify that the trail project is being administered by Forest Grove. It also has been updated to include quotes from Cooke.