Feb 20, 2007

East County Corridor Study: Politics of Bad Faith

Last week, the Troutdale City Council voted 4-3 to agree to a memorandum of understanding for the East Metro Corridor Study. The study, with an estimated completion time of one year and a cost of $1 million, is being promoted by the East Metro Economic Alliance (EMEA), as a method of determining the best north-south corridor between I-84 and Highway 26.

But has a consensus been reached among East Multnomah County cities? I don't think so. There's a track record of bad faith politics going on in East County regarding transportation corridors.

Let's go back to an article in the January 26, 2007 Outlook, "Mayors agree, briefly, on connector-Four city leaders vote to study long-delayed route from I-84 to Highway 26. Here's an excerpt from that article:

"The issue unexpectedly came up during a Friday, Jan. 5, meeting of local business leaders and politicians. The East Metro Economic Alliance’s land-use committee intended to discuss future growth in Pleasant Valley and Springwater. Instead, the conversation veered toward a needed transportation corridor linking Springwater to Highway 26 and Interstate 84. Springwater, located southeast of Gresham, is slated for high-end residential and green industries. But future industries will need a way to get freight from Springwater to Highway 26 to the south and Interstate 84 to the north.

All three mayors at the economic alliance meeting – Fuller, Fairview Mayor Mike Weatherby and Troutdale Mayor Paul Thalhofer – agreed to request funding to study transportation corridors.

But there was some confusion. Some thought the mayors agreed that 257th was the preferred north-south route. Others thought they agreed to a comprehensive study of all options.

Fuller said he thought the mayors also agreed that if the study selected 257th as the best route, they would move ahead with the recommendation.Hiroshi Morihara, land-use committee chairman, thought the mayors had finally agreed on a route.“The mayors said, ‘No more studies, let’s decide on a route,’ ”said Morihara."

Right off the bat, confusion and not consensus were at the forefront. According to the Outlook article, Gresham's transportation planning manager Ron Papsdorf pointed out the folly of paying for a study that would have a predetermined outcome. So the mayors agreed to a study which would look at multiple alternatives for a transportation corridor- not just 257th but also 207th, 223rd, and 242nd. Now all they had to do was get the approval of the Gresham, Troutdale, Wood Village and Fairview city councils. No sweat, right?

Guess what was included in the draft Memorandum of Understanding that EMEA sent to the City of Gresham?
Here's the relevant excerpt from the January 23, 2007 Gresham City Council meeting minutes:

"Memorandum of Understanding regarding North/South Connector: Mayor Bemis said the East Metro Economic Alliance (EMEA) submitted Exhibit C, which requests Metro fund a study to identify the best connector route. There is a reference in the MOU that agrees the issue needs to be studied, but also states the cities agree that 257th is the preferred connector route. Mayor Bemis said the language indicates the results of the study are already predetermined. Mayor Bemis said has has spoken with Mayor Thalhofer and Mayor Weatherby who have said they will support the MOU if the reference to 257th is removed as a priority and agree a change to the language as follows is acceptable: "The cities recommend that the study include an analysis of 181st, 242nd, 257th from I-84 to an improved interchange at US 26 to be the highest priority".

But wait, the idea of preselecting only ONE corridor still had breath in its body. At the February 8, 2007 East Metro Cities Regional Forum (a joint meeting of the Troutdale, Gresham, Fairview, Wood Village, Sandy, and Damascus city councils), the proposed MOU was discussed. Wood Village Mayor Fuller, Metro Councilor Rod Park and others lobbied hard to get the other cities to agree on an MOU that specified a single route even before the study began. This was difficult to discuss because no one had a copy of the MOU at this meeting!!

I'd had enough of the discussion when I asked Metro Councilor Park if the MOU included a provision that the cities must agree on a single corridor outcome prior to the initiation of the study.. He said that was his understanding.(In fairness to Councilor Park, I'm not sure if he saw a written draft of the MOU). I then stated if that's what the MOU stated, than I couldn't agree to it. It made no sense to spend a million dollars on a study and commit Troutdale to an outcome even before we got the study results.

After more discussion, it was obvious that the various cities didn't agree on whether there should be a study. The other city councils appeared to be just as divided as Troutdale. There was more heat and a miscommunication of facts, and less than anything close to a consensus.

The MOU that eventually came before the Troutdale City Council didn't require an agreement on an outcome before the study was initiated. It basically said Troutdale would agree to a study that would look at multiple routes.

I still voted against the MOU, even though it didn't require a predetermined agreement on a specific route. I voted no because of the lack of consensus in the East Metro region. I voted no because some individuals and groups still tried to sneak in a predetermined route.

This was the opposite of consensus. This was a case of politics of bad faith. The first example was the attempt by one or more mayors at the first discussion of this issue on January 5, 2007 to claim the mayors had agreed that 257th would be THE preferred route, regardless of what the study results showed.

The second example was the inclusion of 257th as the sole route in the draft of the MOU that the East Metro Economic Alliance initially gave the Gresham City Council.

The third example was the lack of a written MOU at the February 8, 2007 East Metro Cities Regional Forum, and assertions by some at that meeting that the MOU stated the cities must agree on an outcome of one corridor BEFORE the study was initiated, which was false..

Even if the $1 million dollars is allocated for the study, and even if the study is completed, we'll be right back where we are today in East County. I fear we'll still be suffering from East Multnomah County's politics of bad faith. We don't need an expensive study to prove that.

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