Agenda of the planning commission in Portland on October 28, 2008

  1. Request for Street Vacation : R/W #7001, Alley in Block 5, Albina Homestead Addition; Only Qs and As was held on this agenda without a presentation
  2. River Plan / North Reach Proposed Plan; This is a comprehensive multi-objective plan for the land along the Willamette River, which is facing great challenges such as being piled up contaminations, growing demands and needs for riverfront parks and recreational facilities and for access to the river from neighborhood more easily. Realizing this plan would make the river the city’s most valuable economic, environmental, and social asset for Portlanders.
  3. Schools Zoning Issue Update, Short-Term Work Plan; I’ll elaborate the issue later.
  4. Regulatory Improvement Code Amendment Project 4 (RICAP 4); This project is to replace or delete parts of the languages from the zoning code regarding Division Street Main Street Retail Size Limitation, Comprehensive Plan Map Amendments for Industrial and Employment Designations, and Title 17 Public Improvement Code.

The most important issue of the meeting to me

I adopted the Schools Zoning Issue as the most important issue of the meeting. Portland is recognized as one of the most livable cities, and many people come to live in the city every year. Because of that, the city conditions, trends, economics, and demographics have constantly shifted, so the city must adapt to these changes flexibly and immediately.

However, the current zoning code that affects schools and parks has very complex thresholds that possibly trigger unexpected conditional use reviews. Because of such unclear and inflexible thresholds, in many cases, current policies and regulations have not kept up with the changing needs of the city. As a result, not only a number of zoning violation complaints have raised but also it can be harmful to health for people in Portland, especially to healthy development of children. Therefore, this agenda should be addressed urgently.

The outcome from the meeting

There were larger-than-expected renounces of the agenda on the commission. After Eric Engstrom, Principal Planner, Policy and Code Division proposed his work program that are planning to be completed in short term and emphasized that the zoning code needs to be changed to address immediate code enforcement issues related to schools and associated open spaces. After that, nearly 10 testimonies testified issues that they are facing related to this agenda.

Various opinions were exchanged and many concerns related to this issue were raised. Representatives from related organizations which promote to create more open spaces such as Portland Parks and Recreation tended to support what the planner said because changing the code would make their objects easier to achieve. In contrast, people living near a park or a school tended to disagree to the planner’s proposal because realizing the plan would be harmful impact to them in the aspect of concerns from noise, safety, and so on. From a side of commissioners, there were some feedbacks. They recognized the importance of policy flexibility, but they also advised the planner to consider the plan as a long-term-project because code changes would be a big project.

Even though it seems to be about ready to cry uncle, I think this outcome can be very big forward movement. Of course, it would be very hard to overcome this kind of conflicts among people, but a broad range of concerns of this issue was raised and shared by both public and the government only in this occasion. This is an essential part of democratic politics. Therefore, it can be said that this meeting worked effectively.

Regarding the Proceedings

Usually, the Planning Commission hearing consists of the following parts. First, after the presiding officer calls an agenda of the day, the Planning Bureau Project Team has a presentation of a summary of a plan to nine commissioners appointed by mayor and confirmed by City Council. Next, being called from the presiding officer, public testifiers who submitted a testimony card speak their issues into the microphone. Then, the commissioners may question testifiers after testimony. Finally, the Planning Commission discusses the issue to reach a decision or recommendation as far as time permits.

There are some points that I considered as ‘remarkable’ on the proceedings. First of all, planners who belong to the Planning Bureau Project Team have to appeal to Public at a planning commission to realize their plan. They speak to nine commissioners at the same side as public testifiers. This style of approach would be able to lead to form a partnership between planners and public.

Also, citizens can participate in Politics that affect directly them and attempt to overcome conflicts among them by themselves. Commission members are elected from citizens so that they can be also considered as public. During the meeting, one testifier strongly complained about lack of the time to give her testimony. Actually, there was not enough time to give time so that the commissioners attempted to lay her speech over the next time. Because she had had an appointment with the planner to give her 30-minutes-speech, she continued to protest against the attempt. As a result, the commission was thrown into confusion partly. However, some in the side of public tried to overcome the confusion by themselves. That is also the responsibility that the public should take as a role of citizen participation. This happening made me remind the fact.

Absolutely, final decision is made by the city council. However, the proceedings of this commission would be remarkable as a vital part of citizen participation.

Their impact on planning in the city

People can easily know about contents of a planning commission. The contents are usually broadcast not only on TV but also on the web repeatedly without change. All people in Portland possibly know and share issues that were discussed on the commission as their collective concerns. Citizen participation is an essential part of Politics so that it must require inclusion of citizens and sharing information among them. Therefore, this commission can be a crucial impact on planning in the city.

A political system of my hometown, Hiratsuka, Kanagawa, Japan, doesn’t offer an opportunity to participate Politics to citizens very much. Disclose record of a commission is limited and even a significant policy that directly affects citizens often goes into effect before they can get a chance to know about the policy. Therefore, the commission in Portland plays a vital role to democratic politics and that role can generate a positive impact on planning in the city.