Land use advocate and Former Metro Councilor Bob Stacey has died

Bob Stacey at the Leftbank Building on March 18th, 2010. I interviewed him during his campaign for Metro President but never ran the story. I will always regret that! (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Bob Stacey died Thursday evening, September 8th. He was 72 years old.

Stacey was a former Metro Councilor who spent nearly 50 years fighting to preserve Oregon’s land use policies from the type of suburban sprawl that consumed most other regions in America.

Never one to seek the spotlight, Stacey worked the inside game as well as anyone. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t love showing up at events around town. In 2012 he came up to one of our Wonk Night events at our former office downtown. In 2016 he introduced former New York City DOT leader and current urbanism rockstar Janette Sadik-Khan when she visited Portland. “It’s not a secret we may have lost our edge. So we need to learn everything we can about our peers,” he told the crowd.

Beneath his affable demeanor, Stacey was a brilliant advocate who wasn’t afraid of a fight. He was one of the loudest voices against the Columbia River Crossing project (now called the I-5 Bridge Replacement Program). I happened to take video of his sharp critique of “the really big, fat bridge” at a 2013 event:

And he just kept on fighting, even after he stepped down from his Metro Council post last October due to the onset of a non-cancerous brain tumor.

As I worked on a story back in February about the broken-down elevators on the railroad overcrossing that bore his name in southeast Portland, I was very surprised he wanted to talk with me about it. To Stacey, the story wasn’t just about elevators not working. “It speaks to the imbalance between the amount of resources that get scraped together to build new stuff without having a clear commitment to how we maintain it in the future,” he said. “And I think that falls heaviest on forms of transportation viewed as less important than cars.”

It spoke volumes to me that this person — who once fought the infamous Rajneeshee cult, was Portland’s planning director, had served stints as a chief of staff on Capitol Hill, and almost became Metro Council president — cared so much about what many people thought was a relatively inconsequential issue.

Yes, Stacey was, “The most important person most people have never heard of,” according to a statement from Congressman Earl Blumenauer Thursday night; but in the past year some people tried to change that. Stacey was given the Bud Clark Lifetime Achievement Award by The Street Trust in October 2021 and the City of Portland changed the name of the Gideon Overcrossing to the Bob Stacey Overcrossing last April.

The video below is from the 2021 Alice Awards where The Street Trust Executive Director Sarah Iannarone spoke about his accomplishments and work:

I doubt these accolades meant as much to him as knowing that he helped inspire a generation to follow his lead and stand up for Oregon’s land use and transportation values.

Thank you Bob. May you rest in peace.

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Betsy Reese
Betsy Reese
25 days ago

Beautiful tribute, Jonathan. – You gave Bob his flowers while he was still alive, often covering details other news outlets did not. You were perhaps the last journalist to interview him when you wrote about the Bob Stacey Crossing elevators being out-of-order for so long this past year. We will cherish those published quotes. Thank you. Betsy & Rich

25 days ago

I’m so sorry to hear this news; Bob was always willing to stop and chat, and was generous with his insight and experience.

Best wishes to his family, and may he rest in peace.

25 days ago

He was a real asset to our community and he will be missed!

Scott Kocher
25 days ago

Such a life, so well-lived. Bob’s gentle vibe, sense for justice, and ability to stay positive through decades of advocacy will continue to inspire.

Chris Frost
Chris Frost
24 days ago

Bob made Oregon and Portland better places. He will be missed.