Since the last bond update, greater Portland and the rest of the country has yet again heard the call that Black lives matter and witnessed demonstrations against police violence and the systems that oppress people of color.
The world of parks and natural areas is deeply connected to these systems. The same day George Floyd was killed by police, Amy Cooper, a white woman, called the police as a threat against Christian Cooper, a Black man, when he asked her to leash her dog in Central Park. This has been the most public example of the exclusion, suspicion and threat people of color regularly experience in outdoor spaces. It happens in our region and in our parks.
This reality highlights why racial equity is a foundational value of the 2019 parks and nature bond measure. Turning that value into actions and investments is the goal of the bond refinement process and the bond work overall.
Metro's staff is happy to announce that it has a refinement plan – a road map over the next year and a half for developing the six programs in the 2019 parks bond measure. During refinement, staff work with community members, partner organizations and jurisdictional colleagues to develop a strategy for bond implementation that reflects the bond principles and criteria and achieves regional goals for protecting habitat, climate resilience, access to nature, racial equity and community engagement.
This is intended to be an update about the status of the work, especially in light of changing circumstances in greater Portland and the world at large, and to highlight opportunities for your engagement in the months ahead.
Being responsive to the Metro Council and community
During the bond development process, Metro heard from you about the importance of being involved early in the bond program decision-making and the need to prioritize investments and actions identified by communities of color, Indigenous communities and other historically marginalized groups.
When staff reviewed the refinement plan with the Metro Council earlier this spring, they affirmed the foundational values of the bond measure: racial equity, community engagement and climate resilience. They confirmed a commitment to meaningful, inclusive and up-front engagement in all aspects of the bond.
Now, faced with a public health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 and regional and national calls for racial justice, these words take on an expanded meaning.
Understanding that community partners are facing unanticipated pressures, burdens and stress, Metro staff is identifying opportunities to leverage bond contracting in the short term to benefit organizations and contractors in communities that have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic and shutdown.
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. Money can be spent on community engagement, planning and engineering for a project, and these types of early work are where the bond can likely provide the quickest benefits.
But staff also recognize the need for enough time to ensure the programs uphold the bond’s racial equity, climate resilience and community engagement criteria to have a long-lasting impact well beyond the life of the bond. Staff also need to be honest about the effects physical distancing, office closures and schedule reductions have on our staff and timeline.
Staff update: community engagement lead
Metro is very happy to announce that one of the key positions on the bond implementation team has been filled. Humberto Marquez Mendez has joined the bond team as the community involvement specialist. Humberto will develop and lead the strategy that will bring community members into the center of the bond’s decision-making processes. Before joining Metro, Humberto was a community engagement manager at the Regional Arts & Culture Council. You can reach him at [email protected]
Refinement big picture
The refinement plan maps key milestones for developing the six programs over the next year and a half. The work runs on two tracks:
1. Identify opportunities in the short-term for contracting and investments to benefit communities most impacted by the pandemic and shutdown.
2. Answer questions raised by the bond measure that will help launch the development for the bond’s six programs.
For instance, how does Metro define, measure and support meaningful community engagement as described in the bond measure? How are staff measuring success of the bond, and how does a representative and diverse independent oversight committee help Metro ensure it's meeting the promises of the bond?
To answer these questions, Parks and Nature staff is relying on our experience with past bonds, Metro’s policies and plans to advance racial equity, the Parks and Nature Equity Advisory Committee, and what was learned and heard from community members during the community engagement that created the bond’s building blocks.
You’ll hear more from the bond team in the coming months as we share updates, convene community conversations, and ask for feedback and direction on a set of bond program development decisions and actions, some of which are described below.
Ongoing and upcoming refinement work: Bond-wide
- Bring to life the already established bond criteria regarding racial equity, community engagement and climate resilience.
- Set goals, strategies and resources to advance contracting with minority-owned, women-owned and emerging small businesses (known collectively as COBID-certified firms) and diversify workforce participation.
- Develop engagement plan with specific strategies and tools for continuing conversations with community partners.
- Establish an independent bond oversight committee.
Ongoing and upcoming refinement work: Programs
Protect and restore land
Bond funding: $155 million
The protect and restore land program is the heart of conservation in Parks and Nature. This program dates back to Metro’s first bond measure in 1995 and is key to Metro’s work to protect clean water and restore fish and wildlife habitat. The program’s mission is now expanding to protecting culturally significant sites and bringing nature back into urban areas.
- Based on community input and priorities shared during bond development, the science team is collecting data and information on the ecology and cultural significance of each of the 24 target areas.
- After this information is compiled, Metro will convene a series of meetings and conversations with community through this fall and winter to understand where the priorities for preservation in each target area should be.
- Those conversations and data will inform the specific plans for each target area that is ultimately approved by the Metro Council.
Bond funding: $92 million
This program supports greater Portland’s 27 parks providers to fund and build projects that are important to their communities. Projects must fulfill the bond measure’s racial equity and community engagement criteria.
- Parks and nature staff are currently developing the program criteria, policies and guidelines to share with park providers.
- Once the program criteria and guidelines are developed by about mid-September, park providers can submit their priority projects to Metro for review and determination that they meet the bond criteria and other program guidelines.
- Beginning in October, Metro and local park providers will develop and finalize agreements about the use of the local share funds.
Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants
Bond funding: $40 million
This program funds nature projects that are identified and led by community groups, organizations, schools, park providers, soil and water conservation districts, and others. The capital projects must protect water quality and fish and wildlife habitat, support climate resiliency, and/or increase a community’s connection to nature. The projects must also fulfill the bond measure’s community engagement, racial equity and climate resilience criteria.
- Metro is aiming to hire the capital grants program manager in fall 2020 to kick off program development and more community outreach on the needs and goals for the program.
- Research the 2006 bond’s capital grants program to understand what can be carried over into the 2019 grant program.
Take care of Metro parks
Bond funding: $98 million
Community members clearly stated they want to see Metro protect and maintain our existing parks, cemeteries, boat ramps and other facilities and finish the parks we have started building. This program focuses on providing safe, welcoming places for people to connect with nature.
- Metro is poised to identify and advance a small set of projects that address immediate infrastructure needs at existing sites like Oxbow and Blue Lake regional parks in early to late fall 2020. COBID-certified firms will be sought out to complete this work.
- Develop a better understanding of how the bond criteria and what we’ve already heard from community members can help Metro identify specific community needs and prioritize additional projects.
- Begin conversations with the community about project priorities in early 2021. The team is identifying project opportunities that could improve current Metro parks or build future parks approved by the Metro Council but that lacked the funding for construction. Community involvement is a critical component of identifying and developing future projects.
Bond funding: $40 million
This program is key to expanding and improving the region’s system of trails by identifying new trail routes and connections between existing trails, acquiring property and building trails. The program will also create a competitive capital grant program to fund trail-building by local governments.
- The bond resolution identifies a number of trails to consider for prioritization of trail gap acquisition or construction based on what Metro heard from community partners and stakeholders.
- Now, Parks and Nature staff are compiling the maps and data and developing tools and resources for community engagement that will help prioritize trail acquisitions and how to develop a competitive grant program for trails.
- The timeline for developing a refined plan for acquisition for trail segments will match the timeline for the protect and restore land program.
- The development of the trail grant program is not expected to start until winter or spring 2021.
Complex community visions
Bond funding: $50 million
This program area will help deliver large-scale projects that uplift communities by leveraging nature to achieve benefits such as job opportunities, affordable housing and safe, reliable transportation.
- Included in this program area is $20 million for the future Willamette Falls Riverwalk.
- Staff will be working with the Metro Council later this summer and through the fall on a plan for how to develop this program and what types of projects might be eligible for funding.
- Having a better sense of the plan for this program area in the fall will allow Metro to begin to create space for community engagement and feedback on project priorities.