Voters in November will decide on a $475 million parks and nature bond measure to protect water quality, restore fish and wildlife habitat and improve access to nature – with an emphasis on advancing racial equity and making the region resilient to climate change.
The Metro Council decided unanimously on Thursday to send the bond measure to the Nov. 5 ballot.
“If you ask somebody on the street, ‘what brought you here?’” the beauty of the area and the climate is the answer for many people,” Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick said. “We want to make sure that when people move here, we protect those special areas, we have those vistas, we have clean water, clean streams, special places we can go that continue to make this a place we can all enjoy.”
If voters approve the bond measure, it would maintain the current tax rate of $0.19 cents per $1,000 of assessed value – about $4 a month for a home assessed at $250,000.
The bond measure has been shaped by input gathered from community members since last summer, including 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.
The bond measure centers low-income residents and people of color who have largely been left out of previous investments, said Tony DeFalco, executive director of Verde, a nonprofit based in the Cully neighborhood of Northeast Portland that works to boost environmental wealth for low-income residents and people of color.
“We are pleased to see strong racial equity criteria in place to guide all investments,” he said. “This is an important step forward to complement ecological criteria with racial equity criteria.”
DeFalco spoke to councilors at the meeting on Thursday on behalf of six community-based organizations that serve communities of color: the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Self Enhancement, Inc., Centro Cultural de Washington County, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization and the Native American Youth and Family Center.
The bond measure, if passed, would support projects across Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties.
- $155 million for land purchase and restoration: Metro would purchase land from willing sellers and restore it to improve water quality and fish and wildlife habitat. Projects would 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.
- $98 million for Metro park improvements: Metro would complete nature parks such as Chehalem Ridge in Washington County and maintain water systems, trails, bathrooms and other amenities at parks such as Oxbow and Blue Lake.
- $40 million for Nature in Neighborhoods grants: Metro would award grants for capital projects to purchase land, restore fish and wildlife habitat, or provide access to nature. Priority would be given to projects that reduce disparities for historically marginalized groups such as people of color, Indigenous people and people with disabilities.
- $92 million for local parks and nature projects: Metro would 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.
- $40 million for walking and biking trails: Metro would 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.
- $50 million for complex community projects: Metro would provide funding for public projects that also address other community needs such as jobs, housing and transportation. This program area would include $20 million to help provide public access to Willamette Falls in downtown Oregon City.
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.
Helen Cook, a Beaverton resident, urged councilors to not refer the measure to voters because she said it would be an ineffective investment that wouldn’t serve the environment or people. She cited Chehalem Ridge in western Washington County as an example, saying that the future nature park won’t officially open until a decade after Metro acquired the main portion of the site.
“The question has to be asked: Why has Metro allocated so much money to preservation and maintenance and areas that are generally not easily accessible to the public?” she said.
Construction for the future Chehalem Ridge Nature Park is scheduled to begin in early 2020. The bond measure, if passed, would include money for a second phase of visitor amenities.
Community members who participated in the development of the bond measure said they hoped Metro would remain committed to long-term engagement beyond the bond.
There’s a long history of Indigenous communities becoming engaged only to then become marginalized and forgotten, said James Holt, an enrolled member of the Nez Perce Tribe. Working with Metro and Parks and Nature Director Jonathan Blasher in recent months on the bond has been a different experience, Holt said.
“We have felt a voice and a standing that has escaped us for many years, so we hope for consistency in this process,” he said. “We talk about equity, and we know that is a timely and costly process, so we hope that Metro will sustain that. All land and water in this area is precious to us. We have this sacred responsibility, and we’re happy to engage with you to facilitate the cleaning of the water and restoring of the land that is hurting at this time.”