Metro Council President Lynn Peterson is facing a set of challengers on the May ballot. She was only joined by two of them at the Metro Council debates: Gary Dye, a consultant in the oil industry who is running on the platform that Metro should be reformed to the point of nonexistence (and doesn’t have a campaign website) and longtime urban planner Alisa Pyszka, who is Peterson’s realistic opponent.
So, who is Alisa Pyszka, and what are her stances on the region’s biggest issues?
Pyszka has worked as an urban and economic development planner in the Portland region for more than 25 years, with highlights including heading the Economic Development Division for the city of Vancouver, Washington, serving as the Vice President of Recruitment for Greater Portland, Inc. and founding the Bridge Economic Development consulting firm.
Pyszka’s platform hinges on the belief that Metro hasn’t been using its abilities wisely under Peterson’s tenure and that she is the better candidate for getting things done. She specifically cites her experience forming public-private sector partnerships as key to a thriving future for the Portland region, and says these collaborations need to be prioritized more, especially when it comes to housing development.
Because Pyszka is running against an incumbent, it’s hard to talk about her platform without digging into who she’s running against – and why she wants to change Metro’s status quo. Pyszka secured editorial endorsements from The Oregonian and Pamplin Media, both of which focus on two events they say blighted Peterson’s time in office.
The first of these is the homelessness tax measure Peterson pushed to include on the May 2020 ballot, which critics say hasn’t been spent wisely. As a result of this blowback, the controversial advocacy group People for Portland is attempting to put a new tax measure on the November ballot that would dictate a substantial amount of the money earned from this homelessness measure would fund emergency shelter services and anti-camping laws – a departure from Metro’s current “housing first” approach.
The second major critique of Peterson’s tenure is of how she handled Metro’s multibillion dollar transportation measure that would’ve funded the TriMet Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project, which failed at the ballot box in November 2020.
From Pyszka’s perspective, Metro can walk and chew gum at the same time when it comes to housing and homelessness. In a Pamplin Media interview, she said Metro “needs to outline strategic solutions that address immediate interim housing solutions in addition to permanent affordable housing.”
When it comes to transportation and infrastructure – which has not been Pyszka’s primary area of focus in her planning career – she says Metro’s “current approach to transportation planning is allowing piecemeal projects to happen with no desired outcome clearly articulated.” On her website, Pyszka says Metro should take an active leadership role on transportation projects, and needs to “make sure [the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project] is designed with minimal freeway expansion while continuing to serve the economic needs of the region.”
At The Street Trust-hosted Active Transportation Summit earlier this week, Peterson urged attendees to support three very controversial regional megaprojects: the I-5 Rose Quarter, Interstate Bridge Replacement, and I-205/Abernethy Bridge projects. All of these projects are freeway expansions, which Peterson says should be accompanied by congestion pricing in order to mitigate their environmental impact.
Pyszka says Peterson should be standing up to the Oregon Department of Transportation more aggressively, and supports a more expansive freeway tolling plan than what Peterson says she will compromise with ODOT on.
So why, then, has Pyszka failed to receive endorsements from the transportation activist set?
Peterson’s endorsement from The Street Trust’s Political Action Fund cites her expansive experience in the transportation field, saying “few leaders in the nation can boast a career in transportation spanning sectors, localities, and decades like Lynn.” They think she’s up for the job and will be on their side “in some critical efforts happening right now, including stepping up to lead on a regional congestion pricing strategy gone adrift and making sure the ‘IBR Solution’ across the Columbia River is a right-sized, VMT-reducing investment in our low-carbon future, not a gargantuan freeway expansion with sprawling interchanges that obliterates Vancouver’s waterfront along with our transportation coffers.”
So, even though her views on the current direction the region is headed in may not be as progressive as anti-freeway activists would like, Peterson has cultivated relationships in the transportation field for decades. Pyszka can’t say the same.
If neither candidate manages to secure more than 50% of the vote, the election will move to a runoff in November. With gears turning on several regional megaprojects, it will be interesting to see how/if they influence this race.
Taylor has been BikePortland’s staff writer since November 2021. She has also written for Street Roots and Eugene Weekly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m looking for a candidate who’s a little more skeptical of car-oriented “megaprojects”, and also someone who is more interested in focusing on Metro’s core missions rather than look for ways to get involved in new projects that clearly have the goal of raising their political profile. I also want someone who will integrate climate change into Metro’s transportation thinking (a lot) more than the agency has done to date.
I have no doubt that Peterson is going to win, but she might have to do it without my vote.
Also, I generally like runoffs because it provides more time to get to know the candidates and learn more about their positions, which sometimes leads me to vote for a more speculative client in the primary where I feel it is certain the leader will make it past the primaries, as is the case here.
Also, regarding TST’s endorsement of Pederson… Pick one: (A) They know which side their bread is buttered on. (B) Don’t upset the apple cart. (C) Another food based favor-the-status-quo aphorism, included in the comments below.
The criticism of Peterson is well deserved, the ballot measure was/is a joke. 250 million and the problem keeps getting worse.
The SW corridor also was very poorly planned and promoted.
Not sure Pyszka is any better but any incumbent in the whole area has a ton of explaining to do regarding the state of the Metro area in the last 4 years.
We have 5000 or so people without housing for whatever reasons and the taxpayers passed a 250 million dollar bond.
Do the math, seriously, they could buy them all a condo in the new high rise expensive condos that are empty all over town.
This is ridiculous. The is why Oregon may get a Trump cult member as governor and elect Trump cult congress members.
We can do much better.
We can’t do any worse than the current Dem controlled Governor’s office, State Senate and State House. Combine that with Dem controlled Fed government and we are in the deep brown stinky yogurt. Oregonians will be begging for a “Trump cult member” if they don’t change course. Will they? Not a chance. They’re going off the cliff like lemmings.
Actually we *CAN* do a lot worse, which is the problem with having an unhinged opposition party. If the Repubs would return to the sane center, then Dems would have an actual choice to make.
And Again, The Street Trust is just an absolute joke.
Endorsing a Freeway builder of the highest order.
Who funds this bunch anymore?
People/agencies that don’t care that TST spends almost a quarter of its money raising money?
PS Their 2019 990 shows that half their funds come from government grants.
Show me a comparable non profit that spends a lower percentage on fundraising.
I just looked up S.O.L.V.E., just came to mind, they spend 20%…the best ones are generally at 15%. SOLVE also does 10 times as much good.
If you spend 25% raising money and get the other half through grants which this group should not get, that is a pretty half assed record.
I’m not sure how you define “comparable”, but PeopleForBikes spends 3%; I don’t know if they are representative, but they’re the first example I picked more or less at random with Bike in their name.
But then what is it exactly that TST has actually accomplished with the money they don’t spend on fundraising?
A nice salary for Sarah Iannarone?
And they support fewer cops and the closing of all major Portland arterials to vehicles in order to “save the homeless”. Ridiculous
I’ve been a Lynn Perterson fan for a long time. But, I will be voting for Pyszka this time. It’s refreshing to have a serious candidate who is not all in on a huge freeway expansion.
I am both very skeptical of Peterson due to her support for freeway projects and of Pyszka due to her connection to business interests. I will probably do more research and vote for whichever candidate seems more favorable towards public transportation expansion and improvement.
Thanks for the coverage of Alisa. She has my vote!