Another Voice: Hood River planning: don’t leave folks on the other side of the gate

Thank you, Hood River officials, for your planning efforts and your intelligence as you hear from residents and work through the diverse concerns and questions that have arisen around the Westside Plan. It is not easy work, and I greatly appreciate you for doing it.

The 2015 approved and adopted Housing Strategy Report identified the need for more multifamily units and affordable options, and the Westside Concept Plan addresses that need creatively, mixing it intentionally with planning for transportation, parks, natural resources, infrastructure and financing.

I am no longer a resident of the city, but I worked there for over 30 years and remain very interested and devoted to its healthy future. Also, as a rural resident of the county, my family, friends and neighbors are much affected by what happens in the city.

Whether my neighbors and their children are ever able to purchase a home or rent an apartment in Hood River — close to their work, schools, or other family members — depends on the accessibility and affordability of housing there.

‘I utterly respect earnest protectiveness of our unique environment and community here. I love this place. But it has its shortcomings.’

My husband and I lived for a few years in the 1980s in a lovely Hood River neighborhood. Next door was a family of parents and schoolchildren who had all been born here. They regarded us as outsiders because were relative newcomers to the region. I reflect now that this family probably wouldn’t be able to afford their home there if they were house-hunting today. What this says to me is that new arrivals and new wealth have, indeed, displaced people for whom this area has always been home. It was beginning then, but has greatly accelerated since. You understand this and are addressing that phenomenon in your work to implement the Housing Strategy.

I have known a number of farmworkers who settled their families here, had their children born and educated here, and with hard work and sacrifice saved their money and went from farm labor cabins and single-wide trailers to apartments and homes in the area. This was in the 1990s, when their progress and well-deserved upward mobility were feasible, indeed very much part of the American landscape. I don’t see this as often anymore. Instead, I frequently hear that the young college-educated children of such families (and others) who want to remain here (this is their home!) — people with emerging leadership and so much value to offer — are moving away, solely because they can’t afford to live here.

I find it a bit sad that many of those who have come to the region later, who have found their little piece of paradise (as I have heard it described), claim it as their own and resist change. They themselves are the change, at least for those who grew up here in the 1980s, 1990s, and before. Do we not owe consideration to our brothers, sisters, elders who helped to create and maintain the beautiful small town and region that we’ve adopted?

And by the same token, do we not owe consideration and welcome to those who are still to come in the future, as we ourselves came, for jobs, beauty, community, extended family? Are others less worthy of sharing this space? I can’t see an ethical rationale for that. What’s incumbent on us is to make it an inclusive and more welcoming, affordable place for everyone already here, and to plan realistically for the fact that many more will come … that population growth here is inevitable.

I utterly respect earnest protectiveness of our unique environment and community here. I love this place. But it has its shortcomings. It could become much better, especially for those who aren’t seen or appreciated by those with wealth, or by those who “got in” at a good time and don’t realize how many were — and still are — stuck on the other side of the gate.

How Hood River looks is important to me. But every lovely place I’ve ever lived in “looks” different today. In the final analysis, what’s most important is the community of people that we create, support and maintain. People who work here need to be able to live here. People living elsewhere whose relatives are here need the option to move to be near them (stepdaughters are what brought me here in 1984).

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about a cliché that young girls (in particular) like to write in one another’s yearbooks or autograph books: “Stay as sweet as you are.” We all smile when our daughters share those messages, because we know that girls grow up and no one stays quite as sweet as they were, say, in fourth grade. Growing up is messy and complicated. It’s full of change. Similarly, Hood River, like every great place that gets profiled in magazines, has growth ahead. This growth will be complicated and full of change. I daresay some of my neighbors who were born here in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s might tell those who came later that the sweetness of Hood River was spoiled for them. For me, the particular sweetness of Hood River in the 1980s and 1990s would have been lovely to preserve. But things do change. And Hood River remains sweet, including in some new and wonderful ways.

Forecasting and planning are our tools to prepare for change and growth. With them, we can make this is a welcoming and precious place for each generation, with options for living that keep us diverse — indeed make us more diverse, not less. Similarly, attractive cities that haven’t planned well have ended up being rich enclaves, where gardeners, hotel, retail and restaurant staff (for example) — even teachers, nurses, government and nonprofit employees — have to commute long distances to get to work. We can do better than that.

So I’m passionate about good planning. I’ve been lobbying officials for quite a while about sidewalks in Odell, about the proposed Westside Park, about health care infrastructure, about support of schools, about the needs of elders and caregivers. I’ll keep doing so. That’s civic engagement, and I applaud all those who engage, even when we disagree with each other.

For my part, I won’t back away from supporting affordable housing, inclusivity, and the best thinking and efforts of our elected officials and their staff as Hood River prepares for the growth ahead. This leads me to appreciate and support your Westside Concept Plan, and I hope you will proceed with refining and implementing it. Thank you for your leadership in this endeavor.

Tina Castañares lives in Odell. This is excerpted from a June 24 letter submitted as public input to the City of Hood River.

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