Schools and Land Use – A History in Documents

November 1, 2009

We have a bit of a paradox – schools are a key piece of urban infrastructure. They are tremendous generators of social capital, often serving as the heart of a neighborhood. And they have significant impacts on transportation, generating hundreds (in the case of some high schools, probably thousands) of trips per day. I think everyone who listens to traffic reports on the radio knows that when school is out, our streets and freeways are less congested.

The paradox is that the government entity tasked with delivering urban services, including local transportation – City Government – has relatively little say over school planning.

Since at the Planning Commission meeting coming up on November 10th, we’re going to take another crack at discussing schools zoning issues, and we hope to make a recommendation to City Council on 3 out of the 4 issues in front of us (the 4th issue needing more work is the use of athletic fields at schools for non-school activities), I thought it would be useful to prompt a little discussion about this issue. But really I hope this discussion will help inform some of our work on the Portland Plan, which I suspect is the best vehicle to address the relationship between the City of Portland and the school districts that are partially or completely within the boundaries of the City. And I’m going to use several documents, historical and contemporary, to help outline the basis for that discussion.

First of all, if anyone has any doubts that the physical arrangement of classrooms in the city can have impact on educational outcomes, you only need to read Beth Slovic’s recent, excellent “Left Out” cover story in Willamette Week to understand that the impact can be huge.

Let’s go back in history to look at how we got many of the school buildings we have today. A report (part 1 and part 2 – both PDF files – thanks to Beth Slovic for pointing me to this report) from 1957 prepared by the Planning Commission for Portland Public Schools looks at post-war birth rates and predicts the rise (and projects the later decline) in school-age population and suggests areas in which the school district should acquire land for schools. The contrast is fascinating – in times of growth, the school district looks to the City for planning assistance, but I’m not aware whether the school district has ever had a conversation with Planning Commission about how to plan what schools to close (someone please correct me if such conversations have occurred).

By 1979, things were different and the school-age demographic was already in decline and the Goldschmidt adminstration adopted a schools policy (PDF file) for the City that includes criteria for closing schools – but as far as I can tell, this policy was entirely aspirational, it included no agreement with PPS for a City role in making these decisions. The policy also includes many aspirations for how the City and School District (and County) could cooperate on a number of fronts. I suspect many of us would agree that the goals of this policy are still relevant today. Of course the landscape in which these issues exist has changed a lot in the 30 years since. A partial list would include:

  • In 1983 Resolution A established distinct roles for the City and County around urban services (City) and social services (County) putting the delivery of social services through schools in a different context (the Sun Schools program attempted to re-unify this to a degree, but has suffered from cutbacks in a difficult funding environment).
  • 1990, voters adopted Measure 5 that had the dual impact of largely decoupling schools funding from property taxes while capping property taxes overall. This has led to funding constraints for schools and both the City and County.
  • Since that time dramatically fewer children walk or bike to school. Current efforts at “Safe Routes to School” programs are working to reverse this.
  • And of course the demographic trends in school enrollment have come to pass.

Finally, many of those schools built post-war now have historical significance and PPS has released an Historic Building Assessment.

So where does that leave us? On the 10th, we’ll talk about the zoning code provisions for schools. But the bigger strategic conversation will happen inside the Portland Plan. What kind of partnership do we want to build between the City and its school districts (not just PPS!) as we develop our strategic plan for the next 30 years?




  1. Hey Chris,

    Thanks for reading my story. I should point out that Lynn Schore gave me the 1957 Planning Commission documents. It was her citizen sleuthing that uncovered those gems.



  2. Chris,
    Here is the controlling statute for PPS facilities planning. PPS seems not interested in complying nor sharing information about those analysis, or meeting with Metro, City, and County planners required by this statute.

    I’ve asked that they publish any meeting notes or minutes on their site. I’ve asked that they identify any population study used for these analysis on their site. etc… etc…

    They ignore these requests. The meetings are subject to ORS 192 and yet they cannot bring themselves to provide this information voluntarily.

    This facility planning work is due Dec 31, 2009, yet PPS says they have little developed or refined work done.

    195.110 School facility plan for large school districts.* (1) As used in this section, “large school district” means a school district that has an enrollment of over 2,500 students based on certified enrollment numbers submitted to the Department of Education during the first quarter of each new school year.**

    (2) A city or county containing a large school district shall:

    (a) Include as an element of its comprehensive plan a school facility plan prepared by the district in consultation with the affected city or county.

    (b) Initiate planning activities with a school district to accomplish planning as required under ORS 195.020.

    (3) The provisions of subsection (2)(a) of this section do not apply to a city or a county that contains less than 10 percent of the total population of the large school district.

    (4) The large school district shall select a representative to meet and confer with a representative of the city or county, as described in subsection (2)(b) of this section, to accomplish the planning required by ORS 195.020 and shall notify the city or county of the selected representative. The city or county shall provide the facilities and set the time for the planning activities. The representatives shall meet at least twice each year, unless all representatives agree in writing to another schedule, and make a written summary of issues discussed and proposed actions.

    (5)(a) The school facility plan must cover a period of at least 10 years and must include, but need not be limited to, the following elements:

    (A) Population projections by school age group.

    (B) Identification by the city or county and by the large school district of desirable school sites.

    (C) Descriptions of physical improvements needed in existing schools to meet the minimum standards of the large school district.

    (D) Financial plans to meet school facility needs, including an analysis of available tools to ensure facility needs are met.

    (E) An analysis of:

    (i) The alternatives to new school construction and major renovation; and

    (ii) Measures to increase the efficient use of school sites including, but not limited to, multiple-story buildings and multipurpose use of sites.

    (F) Ten-year capital improvement plans.

    (G) Site acquisition schedules and programs.

    b) Based on the elements described in paragraph (a) of this subsection and applicable laws and rules, the school facility plan must also include an analysis of the land required for the 10-year period covered by the plan that is suitable, as a permitted or conditional use, for school facilities inside the urban growth boundary.

    (6) If a large school district determines that there is an inadequate supply of suitable land for school facilities for the 10-year period covered by the school facility plan, the city or county, or both, and the large school district shall cooperate in identifying land for school facilities and take necessary actions, including, but not limited to, adopting appropriate zoning, aggregating existing lots or parcels in separate ownership, adding one or more sites designated for school facilities to an urban growth boundary, or petitioning a metropolitan service district to add one or more sites designated for school facilities to an urban growth boundary pursuant to applicable law.

    (7) The school facility plan shall provide for the integration of existing city or county land dedication requirements with the needs of the large school district.

    (8) The large school district shall:

    (a) Identify in the school facility plan school facility needs based on population growth projections and land use designations contained in the city or county comprehensive plan; and

    (b) Update the school facility plan during periodic review or more frequently by mutual agreement between the large school district and the affected city or county.

    (9)(a) In the school facility plan, the district school board of a large school district may adopt objective criteria to be used by an affected city or county to determine whether adequate capacity exists to accommodate projected development. Before the adoption of the criteria, the large school district shall confer with the affected cities and counties and agree, to the extent possible, on the appropriate criteria. After a large school district formally adopts criteria for the capacity of school facilities, an affected city or county shall accept those criteria as its own for purposes of evaluating applications for a comprehensive plan amendment or for a residential land use regulation amendment.

    (b) A city or county shall provide notice to an affected large school district when considering a plan or land use regulation amendment that significantly impacts school capacity. If the large school district requests, the city or county shall implement a coordinated process with the district to identify potential school sites and facilities to address the projected impacts.

    The City School Policy was adopted by Ordinance 150580 by the City Council as part of the Comprehensive Plan. Planning staff has acknowledged this in response to our questions. An Ordinance is law and this one is posted on the Auditors website as required for any Ordinance.

    Finally, I’ve requested from both Doug Capps and Brian Winchester, that PPS put the complete Long Range Facility Plan upon the PPS web site where it can be easily found. Brian refused as if this plan were not a public document, but his personal property to determine whether or not it should be posted. County funds and public labor and funding help complete this plan. It is a public document.
    It shows all class room layouts, and provide a great deal of useful information about each property such as size, zoning, and condition..

    I also requested that the PPS Board meeting minutes for 2001 and 2002 be posted. They were up and then removed, so I know they are available.


  3. Mark, thanks for the ORS citation. Is the Dec 31 due date a statutory obligation (or LCDC deadline), or a Portland Plan milestone?

    • Chris,
      The statutory due date for facility planning per ORS 195.110 (PPS) and .120 (parks) is December 31, 2009. See also SB 336, (2007)

      You see now why we think the planning staff responsible @ PPS, PPR, and the City are not being honest with citizens when they say they don’t even have a draft plan, much less the required meeting minutes and notes as provided in 195.110 (4). The plan is due in less than two months and we don’t have a draft?

      I think all Portland citizens would be very interested in those land identification requirements and the cost benefit analysis in(5) that are required for constructing those facilities plans.

      With the never ending series of stories on poor choices and even claims of fraud and misrepresentation in government spending, at this juncture in our economic cycle, we should be especially vigilant in examining how agencies make decisions on spending. (see the Oregonians recent stories on solar and wind power investment, and pass through tax credits as the most recent examples).

      Are these agencies complying with the City land use rules and State statutory requirements, or are these political choices based upon something other?

      Are these rules and laws just an inconvenience to surmount in pursuing political agendas, or do they actually represent some means of protection for citizens against corruption and graft?

      BDS and therefore the City, is complicit by choosing not to enforce their own rules.

      These agencies (PPR and PPS) are reluctant to share with the taxpayer just how they make decisions or even which data sets were used to construct these required planning analysis and decisions.

      In fact, they won’t even acknowledge having those required meetings in 195.110 (4) much less provide the information on who, where, and when, and any analysis from them.

      What are they hiding?

      Do you now see why we are addressing the PPS zoning code violations the way we are, and the implications going forward as well as for past illegal acts? What precedent are you setting in approving these acts?

      What purpose do these rules serve if they can simply be circumvented, and then rewritten with City staff and the violators at the table rewriting that code?

      How does providing retroactive immunity to violators, in defiance of the existing State land use laws (goal post rules) differ from having no rules?

      Metro is responsible for compelling local jurisdictions to comply with statutory planning schedules and does not. This planning task requires their involvement. Must we remind them too of their responsibilities to act on behalf of the citizens?

      Remember; it’s about the land. Kids and neighborhoods are simply collateral damage.


  4. Thanks, Mark. As I read SB 336 it seems to be much more about managing the problems of growth (e.g., if your school facilities plan doesn’t show where you’re going to educate the kids, you can’t build more houses) than it does with the issues around declining student population that we face in PPS.

    I think we’re striving towards the same thing, which is a way that PPS and the City can have an ongoing dialog about school facilities changes.

    I think that’s more likely to be achieved by a mutual agreement between the two governments during the Portland Plan process, as opposed to meeting a one-time requirement of the legislature. Of course we still need to complete the legislative requirement!

    What kind of ongoing process would you like to see?

  5. I don’t see it that way.

    I want the City and PPS / PPR to follow the laws as written. All parties connected to this issue know what they are and are acting illegally. The harms to citizens and neighborhoods are real and tangible.

    What I don’t want to see are new rules and laws created to provide immunity for intentionally breaking the exiting ones at tax payer expense, then creating a process that costs taxpayers even more to condone this behavior. Worse yet is that your Planning Committee won’t stand behind those rules and laws, and we pay even more when they are challenged.

    You sound like your mind is made up, and you approve of this sort of behavior. This sort of thinking perpetuates more of the same. That too is the problem.

  6. […] Schools and Land Use – A History in Documents « PDX Planning Commissioner pdxplanningcommissioner.com/2009/11/01/schools-and-land-use-a-history-in-documents – view page – cached We have a bit of a paradox – schools are a key piece of urban infrastructure. They are tremendous generators of social capital, often serving as the heart of a neighborhood. And they have… Read moreWe have a bit of a paradox – schools are a key piece of urban infrastructure. They are tremendous generators of social capital, often serving as the heart of a neighborhood. And they have significant impacts on transportation, generating hundreds (in the case of some high schools, probably thousands) of trips per day. I think everyone who listens to traffic reports on the radio knows that when school is out, our streets and freeways are less congested. Read less […]

  7. Mark, we make laws and regulations to drive outcomes. I’m asking your for the third time now what the outcome is that you hope to result from this process? You have yet to answer that question.

    Planning Commission is NOT an enforcement agency. Our job is to recommend constructive policy for the City. If you can tell me what you’re trying to accomplish, then I may be able to do something productive if I’m in agreement that’s it’s a good policy.

    I’m interesting in good process driving good results. I understand that you don’t think there has been good process. But you have to fill in the results part of the equation for me as well.

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