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Formerly the home of Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth, the Portland Land Matters blog explores citywide land-use concerns, such as home demolitions, with the belief that development should create an improvement.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Comment tampering takes the cake [updated]

We stand strong despite the shenanigans on all levels.

Like the Stop the Demolition of Portland Homes signs that keep disappearing, public comment isn't safe. Especially when submitted to the city of Portland. Take the recent example of city planners erasing much of what the Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association (BWNA) had to say about changes afoot in the neighborhood.

As a board (and full disclosure: I'm on it) we worked hard last fall to submit comment, as requested by city staff, on changes proposed under the Bureau of Planning's Mixed Use Zones Project. It took us some weeks, and several drafts, but we finally submitted a letter on Nov. 16 that outlined our vision for Northeast Fremont Street, the thoroughfare that serves our neighborhood (and many others).

It happened that our vision differed from the one the city was proposing.

Art at Oregon College of Art & Craft could be interpreted
 as a message for Portlanders from their planners.
Activists have long wondered why city decisions don't reflect the wishes of those living at the ground level, and now we know why. Decision makers aren't learning what we have to say because it is not allowed to get to their eyes and ears.

At the time of writing our comment, some members of our board argued that we shouldn't just criticize the proposals at hand, but should also praise the planners for what we saw that was good and useful in the proposals. Boy, did that backfire.

Planners behind the Mixed Use Zones Project gathered all the public comment received, whether from individuals or city-blessed (we thought) groups like ours, into a single massive document. We were stunned to discover our comment significantly altered; about all that was left was the positive things, but nothing about our concrete suggestions for Fremont, or even what we had learned that would be useful in planning Fremont's future (for example: TriMet planners told us there would be no frequent service for transit along Fremont in the foreseeable future, certainly a factor in planning development there).

Other deletions, as listed by BWNA's land use chair:

• Our stated strong opposition to CM-2 zoning for Northeast Fremont -- GONE

• Our sentence re: the Fremont corridor being poorly served by public transit -- GONE

• Our "gotcha" where we found the planners had changed the wording of CM-2 criteria from well served by frequent transit to just well served by transit -- GONE

• The unsuitability of the infrastructure on Fremont to support high-density development, such as narrowness of the street and other factors – GONE 

• A reference to our having submitted comments in the past but having them basically ignored -- GONE

• A mention that we had in fact worked with our liaison Nan Stark but apparently to no avail -- GONE

This wasn't some sloppy copy-and-paste that left much of our neighborhood's comment on the cutting room floor; this was a paragraph-by-paragraph careful excision of information and well-researched conclusions that ensured a silenced voice in how "we" plan this city.

For all of you who also submitted comment on various proposals related to city planning—whether online, by letter, or in other forms—has your voice been heard? How would you know?

[Update: The response from the Bureau of Planning:

Dear Ms. Strunk and Mr. Bookwalter [the authors of the Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association comment]:

It has come to my attention that the Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association (B-WNA) is concerned that Bureau of Planning and Sustainability staff has “tampered” with comments submitted by the association on the Mixed Use Zones Discussion Draft (http://portlandlandmatters.blogspot.com/2016/01/comment-tampering-takes-cake.html).  Please let me clarify what happened and attempt to address any misunderstandings. 

BPS staff compiled comments from the public, advisory committee (PAC) members, and technical advisors into a spreadsheet, primarily for internal staff review of issues and further analysis.  We have kept the original comments from B-WNA and others in our records as well.  In that compilation process, some comments were summarized for brevity or in some cases to consolidate issues.  However, the intent was to capture the main points of the comments in a summary spreadsheet document.  That spreadsheet was shared with the PAC (and public in attendance) at the meeting on 12-16-15 to give them a sense of the content, range and volume of comments staff received on the Discussion Draft.  We acknowledge that some of the details in the original B-WNA Discussion Draft comments were not fully included in the spreadsheet summary, and I apologize for any misunderstanding this has created. 

In terms of the B-WNA Discussion Draft comments, it is project staff’s understanding that BWNA strongly opposes the CM2 zoning that is being proposed via the output of the MUZ conversion table; B-WNA believes the CM2 zone is not appropriate for a number of reasons (lack of frequent transit and other services, the character of surrounding area, the width of Fremont Street, etc.), and that B-WNA believes that the CM1 zone is a more appropriate zoning choice for this location on NE Fremont.  The B-WNA letter also brings up concerns about changes in the zone characteristics language, and acknowledges issues the B-WNA supports, such as parking requirements for areas that lack frequent transit service, and new rules for height measurements.  

Given the concerns you raise about the summary spreadsheet passed out on 12-16-15 and in order to be as transparent as possible, BPS will post all the MUZ Discussion Draft comments, as submitted, to the BPS Mixed Use Zones web page.  We will also notify the PAC so that they can review the entire set of comments. 

I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the B-WNA comments and concerns further.  Please feel free to contact me directly if you wish to set up a meeting.

Thank you for your ongoing participation in the Comprehensive Plan Update and Mixed Use Zones Project. 

Sincerely,

Barry Manning
Barry Manning Senior Planner
Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
1900 SW 4th Avenue #7100, Portland, OR  97201
503.823.7965 (p) 503.823.7800 (f)
barry.manning@portlandoregon.gov]

A few observations:

• Nothing on the cover of the bureau's document of compiled comment says anything about the content being "edits," "highlights," "summary," "main points," or "consolidation." Even if it did, the surgical editing of the BWNA comment to take out criticism and leave in all the praise speaks for itself.

• The members of the public advisory committee, technical advisors, and planning staff are decision makers, or at least proposal drafters, who would benefit from reviewing unedited comment from stakeholders, such as directly affected and locally knowledgeable neighborhood associations.

• Will anyone go to the website and read all the comment posted there, as now pledged by the bureau? How will we know what other comment is not appearing in its entirety?

• These are not "misunderstandings."

• We stand by the evidence as printed.

The Portland Tribune story further discusses this issue, and includes the original neighborhood comment along with the edits made by city planners.

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