The spirit is right, but the words are not.
The Nov. 4 ballot Measures 14-15 and 14-16 reflect valid concerns, but voters should mark their ballots “no” in both cases.
They are flawed proposals that undermine public process, albeit with valid motivations for protecting public resources. However, both make suppositions about what will happen regarding development, and circumvent existing processes that should be allowed to monitor and mediate what happens along the river and in the forest.
Measure 14-15 would require voter approval of any residential development of 25 or more units on zoned forest land.
Measure 14-16 would require the City of Hood River to create a policy requiring “part of the Columbia River waterfront to be preserved for public parks.”
Much respect goes to the people behind both citizen initiatives, and the fact that so many voters signed petitions in support of stricter review of forest land development and a more formalized approach to planning waterfront parks. But questions remain:
What will happen in the long-run, when years from now the voters of the entire county are asked to approve a 25-unit housing somewhere in the Upper Valley, and the inevitable voter apathy keeps away all but a select few voters.
It would create NIMBY in reverse: “That’s NOT in my backyard — why bother?”
But Measure 14-16 would have just that effect, and lead to repeated and costly public elections as well as legal challenges. Individual development applications are quasi-judicial, a process guided by strict guidelines.
Similarly, Measure 14-15 would precipitate legal challenges for “legal takings” if Port or private land are down-zoned.
And as for preserving part of the waterfront for public parks, plenty of park space already exists, and the Port and its developer, William Smith, have made it clear that recreation areas will be set aside in the area between the Hook and the Boat Basin under a mixed-use plan.
Are the ballot measures, particularly the city one, fair to all residents of the county? The Port of Hood River takes in all of the county, except Cascade Locks, yet only Hood River residents get to vote.
This is unfair in the particular case, and sets a bad precedent overall. It comes a little too close to Dr. Seuss’s story of the Star-Belly Sneetches who excluded the rights of the Star-less Sneetches on a not-so-fictional beach.
Does the county taxpayer who lives across the street from the city resident have any less interest in what happens on the waterfront, just because of a few yards’ different geography?
Measure 14-16 seems to circumvent not only the public planning process but also hinders the rejuvenated spirit of cooperation between the city and port in the protracted process of developing a waterfront that protects recreation resources while also fostering economic growth.
Another problem with the wording of 14-16 is that it appears to hinder existing businesses by restricting any change in their operations. If Luhr-Jensen switches from lures to lutes, they could not continue in their existing building.
If a company that manufactures widgets wants to lease the Expo Center and offers 150 jobs at $12 an hour plus benefits, that building would have to be removed because the operations would change from its current use for conventions and office space.
The two measures are both about something more than buildings and parks: they are about how we make decisions. It is important to ask: How will these proposals improve the way our community makes decisions about developing — or not developing — private or public lands?
The answer is that, while the issues are well-taken, the measures do not improve that process. It is a mistake to confuse enhancement and embellishment.
The real question put forth with these ballot measures is: do we revamp a system in response to current events, or do we base our decisions on an established process that, while hardly perfect, remains a reliable safeguard for good land use? The fact is, a matrix of land use procedures is in place already. Our elected officials, and their appointees, should be trusted to ensure those procedures do as they are intended: monitor the effects of development and ensure they are carried out toward the public good.
The issue before us this Nov. 4 is about process, and how we as a community chart the course of our collective choices.
Voters should say no to Measures 14-15 and 14-16. As worded, the proposals could do more harm than good.