Add the 16 members of the Portland Parks Board to the list of people where blindsided by a decision last month from Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish to prohibit bicycling at River View Natural Area.
On Wednesday the Board sent a pointed letter (PDF) to both commissioners demanding to know why the two leaders made the unilateral decision without first consulting the project’s two advisory committees, the public, or the Parks Board itself. Even the Parks Board’s representative on the River View Project Advisory Committee, Mauricio Villarreal, did not learn about the decision until one day after it was announced.
Here’s an excerpt from the letter:
At the March 4 Parks Board meeting we heard from several community members (some of whom served on the RVNA PAC) about the biking ban, but primarily expressing their dismay about the decision having been made during the interruption in the planning process…
The Parks Board is concerned that the policy change decision made during the halted public process of the RVNA management plan results in circumventing community engagement and undermining the professional input of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and the Project Advisory Committee (PAC). Furthermore, we feel that this action is a missed opportunity for public agencies, stakeholders, and the public to partner in a transparent and collaborative spirit.
We would welcome an opportunity to discuss this matter with you, with the goal of understanding how and why this decision was made and why the PAC process was ceased last summer. We also hope to work with you to avoid similar pitfalls in the future.
If you recall, we reported on the March 4th Parks Board meeting when they first heard of the bike ban. At that meeting Parks Director Mike Abbaté fielded several questions from board members about the decision. Board member Jim Owens, a principal at environmental planning firm Cogan Owens and Green with 35 years of public policy and community engagement experience, said he was “very concerned” that the board was not consulted prior to the decision.
At that meeting, Owens asked Abbaté if there was a way to “re-open the conversation” about biking at River View to which Abbaté replied, “I don’t have an answer.”
Parks Board member Mauricio Villarreal served as the board’s representative on the River View Project Advisory Committee. Even he was unaware of the decision. “I never heard anything until yesterday,” he said at the March 4th board meeting, “I would echo that the process broke down.”
This letter, along with the an editorial from The Oregonian and a letter from the three largest bicycling advocacy organizations in America, should serve to validate the outrage over this decision from many Portlanders. It should also buoy the spirits of the Northwest Trail Alliance, the Portland-based non-profit organization that has filed an intent to appeal to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals just to get answers from the commissioners and get a shot at a fair public process.
The NWTA’s best chance is to get the LUBA to remand the decision, which would force the commissioners to do what the Parks Board has wanted all along: to simply “re-open the conversation.”