The Issues

THE ISSUES

Note: Archived from this site’s earlier life servicing my campaign for Forest Grove City Council.  This was my platform during the campaign.

Stop Forest Grove from becoming a bedroom community

Forest Grove is on the path to becoming a bedroom community of Hillsboro.  Virtually all new development in Forest Grove during the past two decades has been residential, and this trend has intensified in the past five years.  The city’s current plans for the land brought into the Urban Growth Boundary on the north end of the city entails a continuation of this status quo.  While expanding the residential tax base may look like an easy way to fill up the city’s coffers–especially with the prevalence of “skinny houses” in many newer developments around town–it does not improve the quality of life for existing residents, especially as the infrastructure serving residents new and old hasn’t been upgraded to compensate.

In the meanwhile, the city’s commercial and industrial sectors have been characterized by the proverbial “one step forward, two steps back” pattern, and there are some big holes in the retail market.  Consider that Forest Grove, with a population of approximately 22,000 people and growing, has only a single grocery store (Safeway)–fewer than what the city had in the 1990s.  Cities of comparable size in the local region, including McMinnville (approx. pop.  32,000) and Newberg (approx. pop. 22,000) have a much broader mix of services and industries.

It is a central pillar of my campaign to move Forest Grove away from the paradigm in which it acts as a poorly-connected appendage of Hillsboro, toward one where it functions as a full-service town that balances economic vitality and rural character, more akin to McMinnville and Newberg.

In order for Forest Grove to move in this direction, however, a number of heavily intertwined land use and transportation issues must be tackled.

  • Improve roadway connectivity, particularly east-west connectivity.  People outside Forest Grove, including business owners who might otherwise be enticed to locate here by our lower land and utility costs, find our city to be difficult to reach.  The only direct east-west connection through Forest Grove is Oregon Highway 8, which gets to be quite congested during afternoon peak hours.  At present, the only alternative in town is to crisscross a maze of residential streets–many of which are actually designated as collectors in the city’s transportation plan.  To get to and from other parts of Washington County, one must either brave Highway 8, travel a non-trivial distance north to reach US Highway 26, or traverse another maze of inadequate rural roads (i.e. Wren Road to the north) to reach places that would be difficult to reach via the numbered highways.  Simply put, the road network doesn’t reflect present-day traffic patterns, and this is hampering Forest Grove’s vitality.  A large part of why McMinnville and Newberg have had more success with commercial development has to do with the fact that Highway 99W passes through them, and getting better roadway connectivity into Forest Grove has the potential to improve our situation.  This particular issue will require coordination with other regional stakeholders (namely, Washington County) to address, and thus, a firm understanding of the issues on this front.
  • More commercial and industrial zoning.  If Forest Grove is to be be something more than a moribund bedroom community, rather than covering most of the undeveloped land in our city with residential zoning, we need to rezone some of this land.  The current trajectory of Forest Grove’s expansion is primarily on the north end of town, along David Hill, Thatcher, and Purdin Roads, to the west of Highway 47.  Given all this growth in this area, it seems only logical that, rather than filling this land with residents that will simply leave town for their shopping and employment, that we should put some commercial zoning here.  With this undeveloped land, especially along the east end of the David Hill Road extension, there is potential to create larger non-residential parcels to bring in things Forest Grove lacks (i.e. another grocery store), mitigating retail leakage.
  • Ensuring developers are accountable for proper infrastructure.  This has been a problem county-wide for many years, and the “poster child” for this particular issue has been the situation with the “skinny house” developments along 26th Avenue.  26th connects these developments with Sunset Drive to the west, and is a narrow residential street with no sidewalks (reflecting its semi-rural origins), and by virtue of being under Washington County control, cannot be improved by the city.  We should not be allowing large, higher density developments like this without proper infrastructure, and I will fight to ensure that this type of thing does not happen again in Forest Grove, holding developers responsible for necessary improvements.
  • Figuring out a comprehensive solution for Highway 47.  The stretch of Oregon Highway 47 through Forest Grove and the immediate vicinity has been a major issue for some time now, due to safety issues and the increasing conflicts between regional mobility and local access.  The two flashpoints of this stretch are the NW Verboort Road/NW Purdin Road intersection just north of the city (and next to land that the city’s comprehensive plan designates for potential future urban reserves) and SW Fern Hill Road/Maple Street intersection in the city’s southern extent (which, per the comprehensive plan, is adjacent to the Taylor Way urban reserve area, planned for “intensive development”).  As someone who uses both intersections with some regularity, I believe the issues are mostly due to high traffic volumes along the highway, coupled with visibility issues.  I support signalizing both of these intersections to provide an immediate improvement, and then working with the county and ODOT to come up with a longer-term solution, entailing a more significant investment in improving this vital corridor.  I do not support the installation of roundabouts along Highway 47, due to the high cost, considerable freight traffic volume, and the fact that ODOT and (to a lesser extent) the county have demonstrated a lack of understanding about area traffic patterns.

Fiscal Responsibility and Transparency

  • Ensure utility funds are directed toward continued low rates and reliable service.   Forest Grove’s municipal utilities are one of its greatest assets.  Our electricity rates are among the lowest in the Portland metro area, and we need to ensure they stay that way.  Diverting this money toward expenses that are, at best, tangentially related, is questionable and adds an unnecessary layer of opaqueness to city budgeting, and I believe it should be strenuously avoided.
  • Being a voice of caution on redevelopment schemes.  The city’s purchase of the Times-Litho property was a risky proposition, and nearly two years after its purchase, it still sits.  There is still no clear consensus on what to do with it.  The property had another potential buyer waiting in the wings when the city bought it.  Rather than being on the city’s tax rolls–which it was even as it sat unused–it has now become a liability to the city, as evidenced by the fact that the city recently removed the house on the property, due to concerns regarding squatters and vagrants.  I believe that we should look to get the property back into private hands again and minimize financial risk.  Additionally, the new Urban Renewal District is also a risky proposition, and for as many renewal successes as there have been (i.e. Portland’s Pearl District), there have been significant flops as well (i.e. Portland’s South Waterfront District), and the Tax Increment Financing system used in urban renewal can lead to degradation of public services, while developers profit at the expense of taxpayers.  California banned this tool in 2011, and I believe we should be very careful on this front.

Updated 09/09/2014