Archive for April, 2010


Meeting Summary 4/27/10

April 27, 2010

6:00pm – Mayor Adams visited with the Commission to discuss his plan to create a new Planning and Sustainability Commission. The idea is to have the current Planning Commissioners and the City-appointed members of the Sustainable Development Commission be appointed to the new Commission and complete the duration of their current terms, forming a new Commission of 11 or 13 members. The County would form a new sustainability commission (previously the commission was a joint City-County body).

The goal is to have this implemented around August and this structure would carry us through the Portland Plan period, after which it would be revisited and fine-tuned.

[break from 6:15 to 6:30]

6:30-9:30pm – Tree Plan

We were again joined by the Forestry Commission. Based on feedback from prior meetings and from other bureaus that the proposed regulations were too complex, staff presented streamlined versions of the development situation section of the proposal that were in general accepted by both commissions. The cost of the proposal is also reduced by potentially looking at spot checks rather than inspections in 100% of cases.


Coming Up on April 27th

April 24, 2010

Official Agenda

6:00pm – Mayor Adams will discuss a new Planning and Sustainability Commission

When Mayor Adams took office last year he combined the Bureau of Planning and the Office of Sustainable Development to create the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. But each prior bureau had its own commission and they have continued to exist separately until now. Further complicating the situation, the Sustainable Development Commission also included members from the County.

I expect that we’ll hear that the new Commission will be formed by expanding our current Planning Commission membership from nine (of which one seat is vacant) to 11 or 13 and fill the new slots with members moving over from the Sustainable Development Commission. The members of the Sustainable Development Commission that I’ve spoken to seem to be comfortable with this – they like the idea that the mission of their commission is now being “mainstreamed”.

6:30pm – Tree Plan Work Session

For the third time, we’ll meet jointly with the Forestry Commission to work on the tree plan, which streamlines regulation for trees within the City in one new code chapter to help accomplish the goal of growing our tree canopy from 26% to 33% of the area of the City (and provide a number of improve ecosystem benefits, including reducing the need for future capital investments in storm water management).

Key issues I’ll be focusing on are:

  • Do we really need to require permits for cutting (and replacement) of private trees (e.g., in YOUR backyard), or could an education and encouragement program get us the same benefits in a friendlier way at lower costs?
  • Do we need the additional staff the plan currently calls for? If so, how do we pay for them? It seems unlikely they would be a high priority for General Fund funding (the forestry program is under Parks, which is a General Fund bureau). If the real benefit here is in ecosystem services and storm water management, wouldn’t the Bureau of Environmental Services be a more likely funding source for this program? But my first choice would be to find a way to re-deploy existing staff differently to make the program work.

Respectfully, Superintendent, I Disagree

April 19, 2010

Back in January, we recommended a change in conditional use triggers for school grade changes, settling on a standard that would require conditional use review when adding lower grades to a middle school, but NOT when adding middle-school grades to an elementary school. The logic of this was that when adding younger students (as young as kindergarten) to an environment previously occupied by teens and pre-teens, a review of transportation safety issues was important. Our review was prompted by zoning complaints driven from the K-8 conversion process, which the Bureau of Development Services felt it could not effectively process against the old code standards which were based on the junior-high  model of grades rather than the more current middle-school model. Planning Commission was asked to review and recommend changes to the code.

Apparently Superintendent Carole Smith of Portland Public Schools has some issues with our recommendation. In a letter received late last week by City Council and Planning Commission she takes our recommendation to task. I’d like to take the opportunity to respond to Superintendent Smith’s points here. The issue will be at City Council this Thursday (4/22, 3pm time certain).

To get everyone on the same page, here are the relevant documents:

My first issue is in the Superintendent’s statement of current zoning regulations:

As has been documented in the work of the Schools and Parks Conditional Use Code Refinement Project, PPS has been using the State of Oregon’s definition of elementary schools (grades K-8) and high school (grades 9-12) in our grade level change process. As the City’s Zoning Code does not define what grades constitute a school level, PPS did not seek a conditional use review when grade level changes were made to implement the K-8 conversion as we did not believe this review was required. PPS did not knowingly attempt to circumvent City land use review process.

Saying the zoning code does not define grade levels is not quite accurate. Here’s the existing code (emphasis mine):

Change of school level. Changes from an elementary to a middle or junior high or to a high school, or from a middle or junior high to a high school are reviewed through a Type III procedure. Changes from a high school to a middle or junior high or to an elementary school, or from a middle or junior high to an elementary school are reviewed through a Type II procedure. Changes from a middle to a junior high, or from a junior high to a middle school are allowed by right.

I’m not a land-use lawyer, but I think a reasonable person would read that code and conclude that there are three distinct sets of grades called out and in combining middle schools with younger grades, a review would likely be required. To conclude otherwise seems very convenient. It’s true that the code does not include specific grade ranges (e.g., K-5 or 9-12), but I think the intent is pretty clear.

But my larger concern is with the description of intent of the conditional use criteria and the City’s jurisdiction. From the letter:

My understanding of the City’s zoning code regulations related to schools is that they are largely designed to protect surrounding neighborhoods from the impacts of schools – including the traffic and other activities that schools bring. I am not aware of City conditional use regulations that are designed specifically to protect students within our schools.

The conditional use approval criteria for transportation are (again, emphasis mine):

2. The transportation system is capable of supporting the proposal in addition to the existing uses in the area. Evaluation factors include street capacity, level of service, and other performance measures; access to arterials; connectivity; transit availability; on-street parking impacts; access restrictions; neighborhood impacts; impacts on pedestrian, bicycle, and transit circulation; safety for all modes; and adequate transportation demand management strategies;

I believe this code, and any rational transportation policy, require an interest by the City in the safety of students on their way to and from school! The School District does not control the environment through which children travel to school, and Planning Commission unanimously felt that a conditional use review was a very appropriate way to ensure that the School District and City have a substantive conversation about proposed changes and their impacts.

I would also note that if parents of younger children feel the environment for walking or biking to school is NOT safe, they are likely to drive their young students to school. And the additional traffic so generated would indeed impact the surrounding neighborhood.

I’m not alone in my view on this, Portland Bureau of Transportation staff have confirmed to us the importance of these issues.

I’m convinced that the City has a compelling interest in these issues on both fronts: the safety of students on the way to and from school, and the impacts on surrounding neighborhoods.

The Superintendent goes on to suggest that fully funding the Safe Routes to Schools program for all schools would adequately deal with these issues. I couldn’t agree more that this program should be fully funded for every school, but that is not the case today and I don’t believe that it is sufficient by itself or replaces thoughtful review as young students are added to a new environment.

Finally, the Superintendent goes to some pains to be clear that the zoning code is not an appropriate venue for debate of school programming choices. I completely agree. While we heard a lot of testimony from citizens concerned about school changes on the basis of equity, speaking as one Commissioner, let me be clear that my motivation was focused on transportation safety for the students, not trying to drive educational decisions.

I hope concerned parents and other citizens will share their views on this subject at City Council this Thursday.


Meeting Summary 4/13/10

April 13, 2010

We spent about 90 minutes on the Milwaukie Light Rail project and heard testimony about the opportunity to leverage new FTA rules on including bicycle infrastructure in transit projects and concerns that $30M of the capital budget for this project would be funded by dollars that could otherwise be applied to operations. We forwarded the Conceptual Design Report to City Council highlighting these issues and a number of others identified by staff and the Design Commission, including the need for “quiet zone” treatments so that neither freight trains or LRT vehicles will need to sound their horns at crossings and specific connectivity issues at some stations.

This was followed by 2 and half hours spent on the tree plan, with a lot of discussion about when and how to regulate trees in the development process toward the goal of increasing tree canopy, but not much in the way of decisions yet. We have two more work sessions scheduled on this topic and the public record has been held open until at least the next meeting.


Coming Up on April 13th

April 8, 2010

Official Agenda

Two topics coming up on Tuesday:

12:30pm Portland Milwaukie Light Rail Project Conceptual Design Report
Action: Hearing / Recommendation

I expect that we’ll hear a number of comments on urban design issues at different stations along the alignment.

I’ll be looking to highlight a couple of issues:

  • Does the finance plan impact future operations by converting funds from operating to capital?
  • Are there opportunities to leverage a likely increase in the Federal Transit Administrations definition of the catchment area for bike and ped projects near stations to help build out elements of the City bicycle plan?

At the conclusion of the hearing we’ll be making our recommendation to City Council. This is likely the last time Planning Commission will weigh in on this project, so don’t miss the opportunity to give us your thoughts.

1:30pm Citywide Tree Policy Review and Regulatory Improvement Project
Action: Continued Hearing / Work Session

We’ll be joined again by the Forestry Commission for a joint meeting.

We will continue the tree plan public hearing from last meeting, then hear staff’s thoughts on comments received to date. We have two work sessions reserved at future meetings to process this before we make a recommendation to City Council. If you didn’t get a chance to testify last month, this is your opportunity!