After a 45-day comment period and thousands of comments from the public, Metro planners released roughly 30 pages of responses and recommended changes to the region's state-mandated plan to curb tailpipe emissions last week.
The recommended changes range from relatively small wording tweaks to more substantive concepts. Together, they frame the final rounds of conversation about the region's Climate Smart Strategy, a suite of transportation and land use policies and proposed actions to curb per capita greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks at least 20 percent by 2035, which was required by the Oregon Legislature in 2009.
Climate Smart Communities project manager Kim Ellis said the public comment period revealed broad support for the Climate Smart Strategy. "We heard strong support for investing more in communities across the region and ideas for how those investments should be implemented," Ellis said via email. "This is consistent with what we’ve heard in past engagement activities. This project validated that adopted local and regional plans are good and that we need to work together as a region to make them happen."
The proposal, with the recommended changes, now goes to the elected leaders on Metro's top advisory committees – the Metropolitan Policy Advisory Committee and the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation – for consideration. MPAC and JPACT discussed the strategy last Friday at a rare joint meeting, but will spend the next several weeks poring over the recommended changes – and perhaps adding some of their own – before making their final recommendations in about a month.
Metro used several channels to invite public comment on the draft Climate Smart Strategy. An online survey attracted nearly 2,400 people, who shared their thoughts on each of the core policies in the strategy and left a total of over 11,000 comments. Metro published a fact sheet last week (below) summarizing the survey's results: large majorities supporting more investment in each of the strategy's key policy areas.
The fact sheet also highlights key themes in comments left on the survey. The top three: "Invest more in transit, walking and biking." "Spend tax dollars wisely." "Have a bold vision for the future."
During the comment period, Metro councilors and staff engaged in direct one-on-one and group conversations with elected, business and nonprofit leaders. Additionally, 90 people and organizations submitted formal letters and testimony with specific proposed changes.
"Our goal in this final phase was to engage as many people as we could," Ellis said. "The 45-day comment period provided an important opportunity for them to weigh in again to help decision makers better understand the perspectives, opinions, and concerns of residents and stakeholders throughout the region."
The recommended changes don't seriously alter the core of the draft Climate Smart Strategy: build the land use and transportation plans already adopted by local communities and the region. To do that, the strategy says, means finding the money – around $24 billion over the next 20 years. If funding can be found, planners say, by 2035 communities around the region will have more frequent transit, a more complete walking and biking network, new technology to manage traffic flow and limited roadway expansions – in short, everything most communities have already said they want.
And according to the models, the region will exceed the state's target, achieving a 29 percent reduction in per capita tailpipe emissions by the time 2035 arrives.
Responding and recommending
Proposed changes to the strategy came from cities and counties, elected officials, nonprofits, state agencies, residents and Metro staff.
Most of the recommended changes are minor. Many involve tweaking bulleted lists, such as adding a reference to safe routes to schools at the request of Portland Schools Board member Ruth Adkins or removing a repetitive phrase in the Regional Framework Plan at the request of the Metro Technical Advisory Committee. Others involve strengthening a verb – changing "consider" to "use", for instance.
But some potential changes have more substance. For example, at the request of a coalition of transportation and equity advocates, staff recommended edits directing Metro to better connect regional investments in frequent transit and affordable housing, and added new performance monitoring measurements like transit affordability and ridership. In another case, Metro staff recommended adding items to the strategy's "Draft Toolbox of Possible Actions" that would suggest seeking funding for electric buses. This change was proposed by electric-vehicle advocates Drive Oregon and the city of Wilsonville, which operates the SMART transit service.
In many cases, Metro staff recommended no change to the draft strategy, suggesting that leaders choose to focus on these issues as the strategy is implemented through the 2018 Regional Transportation Plan, or forwarding the comments to other Metro projects and programs. These included comments asking Metro to change how it allocates transportation and planning grants, and to improve its measurements of equity.
The conclusion of the formal comment period means the region is close to a final strategy as the state's deadline of Dec. 31 nears. But several key issues have yet to be resolved.
Among those outstanding issues: the role of highway expansions in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a point made repeatedly by Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas at the joint MPAC/JPACT meeting last week.
Issues like these will be hashed out over the next few weeks by Metro and elected leaders, local planners, and community members from throughout the region. MPAC and JPACT are expected to make a final recommendation to the Metro Council on Dec. 10 and 11, respectively. Metro councilors will hold a final public hearing and consider adoption at their Dec. 18 meeting.
If the Council adopts the strategy, it must next be approved by the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission, which will take it up in January.