A renewal of Metro’s parks and nature bond measure got closer to the ballot this week, as the Metro Council fine-tuned a package of proposed investments.
This November, voters across greater Portland likely will be asked to keep the same tax rate to continue protecting clean water, restoring fish and wildlife habitat, and connecting people with nature – with an emphasis on advancing racial equity and making the region resilient to climate change.
At a work session Tuesday, the Metro Council directed that the potential bond raise about $475 million while keeping existing tax rates the same. They adjusted the amounts going to six major program areas and directed staff to explore new pilot programs that would directly empower people of color, Indigenous people and other historically marginalized groups to meet their communities’ needs.
Moving toward a June 6 hearing to refer a bond measure, the council agreed to distribute $155 million to protect and restore land, $92 million to support local projects, $98 million to take care of Metro parks, $40 million to create walking and biking trails, $50 million to advance large-scale community visions and $40 million to award Nature in Neighborhood-capital grants.
Conversation focused on the grants, which are slated to receive nearly three times as much money as they did in Metro’s 2006 parks and nature bond measure.
Although the Nature in Neighborhoods community grant program in the 2006 bond measure has been popular, some councilors expressed concerns that $40 million might be more funding than necessary. They wondered if there were enough organizations with the capacity to lead these types of capital projects. However, the councilors agreed to keep the distribution as-is. Metro Council President Lynn Peterson said if an issue arises with meeting the target goal down the road, the Metro Council could decide to move some funds to another program area.
When it comes to protecting and restoring land, Councilor Sam Chase proposed setting a date for parks and nature staff to come back with detailed plans for proposed target areas where Metro will prioritize land for bringing nature back to urban areas.
“If there is an opportunity to depave in a restoration effort or if there is an opportunity to bring back daylight to a stream, let’s not leave that off the table,” Councilor Chase said.
Parks and Nature Department Director Jon Blasher, who presented the updated bond proposal, introduced new ideas to ensure that people of color and other historically marginalized groups benefit from public investments – a Metro commitment that is woven throughout the potential bond renewal. Developed in partnership with community leaders, the new proposal calls for pilot programs that would empower community organizations to direct some of the land purchased by Metro and reduce the barriers to applying for grants.
Blasher pointed out that the bond proposal would pilot a new “participatory grantmaking” approach to give community members a bigger voice. Councilor Bob Stacey asked to make sure that “the community is appropriately and accurately identified, so that we’re not leaving out people that have always been left out before.”
The potential bond measure has been shaped by input gathered from community members since last summer. In March, community-based organizations helped Metro gather more in-depth input around three Metro destinations: the Glendoveer Nature Trail, Blue Lake Regional Park and Oregon City. In April, an online survey collected input from more than 700 participants around prioritizing investments in the six program areas.
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. As with those measures, all spending in a potential 2019 bond would be monitored by a community oversight committee and subject to annual audits.