Throughout the pandemic, parks have taken on even greater importance in our community. Parks are some of the only places people can visit outside of their homes. Metro’s parks have remained open, with safety measures like closed playgrounds and restrooms to protect visitors and staff. It's been shown over and over that nature can restore health, and people across greater Portland are benefiting from decades of voter investment in nature in our region.
Metro is building on those investments with the 2019 parks and nature bond measure, which provides $475 million to support clean water, healthy habitat and access to nature.
In late April, Metro sold $200 million in bonds for a low interest rate of 2.22% over 20 years. The agency’s top-tier credit rating provided the low interest rates and a $10.5 million premium, allowing us to stretch the bond money even further.
Now it’s time to put that money to work.
In recent weeks, staff have been working to develop a detailed work plan to turn the big policy goals in the bond measure into specific actions, programs and criteria. Despite the stay-at-home orders, this work remains on schedule and will be presented to the Metro Council on May 19. Information about this work session can be found on Metro’s website.
Added to this work plan and in response to the economic crisis, Metro staff is looking for ways to target and accelerate bond investments to support community partners and jobs in a way that will allow Metro to meet the bond’s critical racial equity, community engagement and climate resiliency criteria. By law, bond money must support work that results in a capital asset – a new park, visitor amenities, a property acquisition or other similar capital projects.
This work includes community engagement like open houses, design workshops and site visits that provide community members authentic influence in our bond programs and projects. Parks and Nature is in a very fortunate position. Because of voter support of the 2018 parks and natural areas levy and the 2019 bond measure, it is able to continue its important work. But as with many in our community, Metro is experiencing deep economic pain during the pandemic. Metro has laid off about 40% of its workforce, primarily at our venues like the Oregon Zoo, the Portland Expo Center, the Oregon Convention Center and Portland’5 Centers for the Arts.
Parks and Nature temporarily paused some recruitments earlier this spring that were in progress or were about to start. The pause allowed the department to reduce costs and provide Metro time to more fully understand the department’s fiscal picture. Some of these open recruitments have since been filled or will be filled in the near future as Metro continues to move forward to support the bond work and its commitments to voters.