BikePortland

In unanimous letter, Metro council says they agree with coalition on regional spending priorities


(Photo: Metro)

Whatever transportation funding package emerges for the Portland region, it’ll include a lot more than three freeway expansion projects and one transit project. Why? Because all seven members of Metro Council — including president Tom Hughes, just said so.

In a letter released yesterday (PDF), Metro offered a resounding endorsement of the views expressed by nine regional advocacy groups. Those groups, part of a nascent and broad-based transportation reform coalition, shared a letter with Metro (and TriMet and Metro’s powerful JPACT committee) about major concerns with the direction of a regional funding proposal. In that letter, the leaders of AARP Oregon, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, Oregon Walks, the Welcome Home Coalition, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, and others — said they would not support a funding package unless it prioritizes equity and affordable housing while making active transportation investments commensurate with freeway capacity investments

Here’s the text of Metro’s letter:

Dear Community Leaders:

Thank you for your March 15 letter to TriMet, JPACT and the Metro Council. You have laid out a clear vision for transportation and housing investments that can improve the lives and livelihoods of our region’s residents. You have also underscored the fact that achieving broad- based voter support for significant transportation investment requires hearing and responding to community expressions of need and priority.

You’ve called for a plan that not only includes big road and transit projects but also transportation safety, active transportation and safe routes to schools, expanded transit service affordable to low income households, affordable housing in areas well served by transportation choices, and equitable outcomes in all our transportation work. And you are appropriately insisting that the communities you represent, and the regional community as a whole, should be heard in the process of building an investment plan and electoral strategy.

As you point out, that’s the successful strategy used by community leaders in the Puget Sound region, Los Angeles County, the San Francisco Bay area and Atlanta to win transportation and housing measures last November that will help finance over $180 billion in improvements to those communities.

We share your views and are eager to expand the regional conversation about how we build an investment strategy that better meets the needs of our region’s people. Thanks again for encouraging me and other elected representatives to listen to more voices, consider more needs and build a stronger, broader coalition of support.

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This is a subtle but powerful letter by Metro. I often say electeds get to choose who they assign power to — regardless of that group or individual’s actual power (for instance, the City of Portland can give one loud business owner veto power over a project simply by choosing to give that business power even if they don’t have it/deserve it). This is a case where Metro has just given this coalition much more power. Note how they refer to the coalition members not as “advocates” but as “community leaders.” Metro also cleverly repeats the main points of the coalition’s letter in a way that essentially makes them their own. Phrases like, “you have laid out a clear vision,” “you have underscored,” “you are appropriately insisting,” “as point out,” and “we share your views,” are very strong praise that adds considerable heft to the coalition’s views.

The Street Trust’s Policy Director Gerik Kransky, reached by phone this morning, said he was, “Frankly, a little surprised to see all seven members unanimously sign the letter.”

“We’re thrilled to have regional elected leaders stepping forward as partners,” he said. “They heard us loud and clear and they agree with our approach.”

Kransky said the coalition’s letter “took the conversation public,” allowing stakeholders to respond outside of any legally binding process. Hopefully that frees up other elected leaders copied on the letter to share responses of their own. Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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