Cascade Policy Institute Urges a NO Vote on Measure 26-203 Voters should reject Metro’s tax increase and
These Aren’t The Parks You Think They Are
Money spent to close down active parks
Most Off-Limits to People and Dogs
Land locked up that you can’t find
Increases Housing Costs
Decreased Access For Low-Income and Minorities
Another half a billion dollar tax scheme to spend on a wasteful land grab
What is Measure 26-203
VOTE NO ON 26-203: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
Metro taxpayers have already spent $363 million under 1995 and 2006 bond measures to acquire more than 14,000 acres. Last year, Metro spent 25% of the bond money on administration.
Now, at $475 million, Metro is asking for more money than both of these measures combined to buy even more land. Enough is enough.
Metro says the measure won’t raise taxes. But, if voters reject 26-203, the average homeowner will see their property taxes drop by about $48 a year.
VOTE NO ON METRO’S LAND GRAB
Almost 80% of Metro’s past acquisitions have been outside the Urban Growth Boundary. These purchases have nothing to do with protecting natural areas from development. Many of these parcels are zoned farm or forest land and there are no plans to expand the UGB in that direction. Instead, Metro is taking much-needed farm and forest land out of productive usage.
Inside the UGB, Metro has acquired nearly 1,000 acres of land zoned for residential development. While the region suffers from a housing affordability and homelessness crisis, Metro’s natural areas program is taking away land that is needed to deliver more housing.
VOTE NO ON SLUSH FUNDS
You won’t see it in Metro’s ballot title or explanatory statement, but the measure sets aside $50 million for “advancing large-scale community visions.” Leaders of the Urban Greenspaces Institute and 1,000 Friends of Oregon have referred to the visioning money as a “slush fund.” Metro Resolution No. 19-4988, Engagement Summary, 06/06/2019.
VOTE NO ON BROKEN PROMISES
Metro’s 1995 ballot title promised to provide areas for “walking, picnicking, and other outdoor recreation.” More than 85% of Metro’s land purchased under early bonds is off-limits to the public. Metro has ignored input from minority communities in favor of focusing on “passive recreation” preferred by the more privileged. Metro is the only parks provider in the region that prohibits dogs.
VOTE NO ON 26-203
Why Measure 26-203 Is A VERY Bad Idea.
Metro already has more land than it can manage. The focus for the next decade should be on making current lands available for public use.
Last year Metro spent nearly 25% of all bond expenditures on “administration.” For the past five years, Metro has failed to meet its commitment to keep administrative costs below 10%.
Of the 24 target areas identified in Measure 26-203, 14 are located outside the UGB. Metro claims that it has to buy up more land to save it from development, but most properties purchased to date were never threatened because they are outside the UGB.
Metro is the only parks manager in the entire tri-county region that won’t allow dogs, even if leashed.
The primary reason for Measure 26-203 is to prevent property tax rates from dropping. They are asking for the money first based on current tax rates, and then figuring out how to spend it all.
Less than 12% of land acquired with previous bond measures is accessible to the public.
Most of Metro’s acquisitions do not appear on Metro’s parks and nature maps. They are hidden from the public.
Measure 26-203 has a $50 million slush fund for “complex community projects.”
Metro’s costly mission creep. In 2017, it got into the hotel business when construction began on a $225 million hotel. Last year it got into the housing business with a $650 million affordable housing bond. Next year, Metro is planning for a $XXX billion bond for transportation projects. Measure 26-203 adds another $475 million on top of all that.
Even supporters of Measure 26-203 criticize Metro’s parks and nature program, stating much of Metro’s acquisitions “exist as places on a map but not places you can actually go.”
Metro has made it clear that many of the parcels purchased since 1995 will never be open for use. In fact, if you try to find a list of all properties bought by Metro with bond money, you won’t be able to. A Metro lawyer told Cascade staff in a meeting this summer that they don’t want the public to know where the park land is because they don’t want the public to visit it.
The truth about Measure 26-203 makes all the difference. It’s important to end this corruption.
Measure 26-203 is Metro’s $475 million bond measure for the acquisition and restoration of parks and natural areas. It is the latest in nearly two decades of property tax measures to fund Metro’s parks and nature program. Measure 26-203’s $475 million request is larger than the two previous Metro natural areas bonds combined, which were $135.6 million dollars in 1995 and $227.4 million dollars in 2006.
The last bond measure will expire soon. If the region’s voters reject Measure 26-203, property taxes will drop by about $60 million a year. So, yes, Measure 26-203 will raise your taxes.
Metro is the regional government for the Portland metropolitan area. It manages the region’s urban growth boundary (UGB). Through decades of mission creep, Metro also manages the Oregon Zoo, Oregon Convention Center, as well as the region’s garbage and recycling. In 1995, Metro got in to the parks business, in 2017 it got into the hotel business when construction began on a $225 million hotel, and last year it got into the housing business with a $650 million affordable housing bond.
Why is Metro asking for more money when the region has already passed two open space bond measures since 1995?
Metro has no way to objectively answer the question, “How much land is enough?" When a Metro Councilor asked this very question at a closed door meeting in July 2017, the Chief Operating Officer said, “The debt service on our 2006 bonds is expiring. If we bring out another bond measure before 2020 and use the same property tax rate of $.19 per thousand of assessed value, we can tell voters that this will not raise their taxes."
Thus, it appears that the primary reason Metro is requesting approval of this bond now is to take advantage of the current property tax assessment of $0.19 per $1,000 of assessed value before it expires.
Why did Metro pick a bond total of $475 million, which is much larger than the two previous measures?
Because the agency wants to maintain the current property tax rate of of $0.19 per $1,000 of assessed value dedicated to the parks and nature program. This method of budgeting is the opposite of how traditional budgeting works, in which an organization sets priorities and then figures out how much it will cost. For Metro’s program, they are asking for the money first based on current tax rates, and then figuring out how to spend it all.
Metro’s parks and nature program began as a vision to increase and preserve parks and natural areas in a region facing increased population growth and density. In concept, Metro would encourage many residents to give up their single family housing in favor of apartments and condominiums. While residents would lose their backyards, local governments would offset the loss with more parks to meet and play and offer “nature in neighborhoods.” It was an expensive vision that would require hundreds of millions of dollars.
As the program progressed, the mission moved from providing parks for people to locking land away from the community that paid for it. The 1995 promise to “provide areas for walking, picnicking, and other outdoor recreation” gave way to the 2006 mission to “buy and restore natural areas for the protection of water quality and preservation of fish and wildlife habitat.” Measure 26-203 claims to “protect water quality, fish, wildlife habitat, natural areas.” Parks are to be “maintained” rather than built, expanded, or improved.
Since 1995, Metro has opened only seven nature parks. None of these are regional parks, like the popular Oxbow Regional Park and Blue Lake Regional Park, which have facilities for swimming, boating, hiking, or cookouts with family and friends. In fact, less than 12% of the land acquired with the 1995 and 2006 bond measure money is accessible to the public.
Not really. The first challenge is finding them. Many of Metro’s holding do not appear on any of Metro’s maps of parks and natural areas. For example, Metro owns more than 1,400 acres near the Sandy River, but none of the holding appear on Metro’s maps. Metro spent $7.2 million to acquire land in the Clear Creek natural area. Although Clear Creek was promised to be developed as a regional park, Metro has no plans for development and the site does not appear on Metro’s maps of parks and natural areas.
Once you find on of Metro’s sites, access can be tricky. Metro acquired its Chehalem Ridge site for $10.3 million. The area is located outside Gaston and Forest Grove and nestled in the heart of rural farmland. It is found along a narrow gravel road that winds for miles past numerous farms in the midst of a heavily forested area and is not served by public transit. Many of Metro’s holdings are fenced or gated off.
No. Metro’s parks and natural areas have a strict “no dog” policy–even if the dogs are leashed. In a region where two-thirds of households have pets, Metro’s “no dog” rule is one of its most unpopular policies.
Technically speaking, many of the natural areas are open to the public. More realistically, Metro makes great efforts to discourage public access. For example, a Metro attorney indicated that many of Metro’s lands are not listed on its website specifically to prevent or discourage public access. As noted in the 2019 Voters’ Pamphlet, much of Metro’s acquisitions “exist as places on a map but not places you can actually go.”
The ballot title says the bond money is to protect water quality, fish, and wildlife habitat. But, that’s what Metro promised in its tax measures since 1995. What has Metro done so far?
Metro has promised restoration of natural areas as well as fish and wildlife habitats. But its restoration objectives, efforts, and results have been opaque and uncertain. Metro has provided no measures of changes to water quality or changes in fish and wildlife populations. Thus, Metro’s constituents have no way to measure the extent to which Metro has kept its promises of restoration.
If you don’t know, you’re not alone. Even Metro has called this $50 million a “not well-defined program area.” At one time it was labeled “advancing large-scale community visions.” Before that, Metro called it “urban transformation”–but re-branded after someone said that was a “gross re-branding of gentrification.” Even supporters of Measure 26-203 have described it as a “slush fund.”