In my four years at the Hood River News, I covered many contentious issues for the newspaper, often surrounding land use in the Gorge.
Barrett Park. Nichols Boat Basin. The Walmart expansion. DeeTour.
Over the past two years, I’ve watched the Lot 700/Morrison Park affordable housing fiasco unfold as a private citizen no longer involved with the paper, and I have to say, out of every land use squabble I covered, this was the ugliest. At least for that part, I am glad it is over.
That ugliness often came from the “Hood River Parks” Facebook page (no relation to Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District, or HRVPRD), which was/is against the development and often bent the truth and made personal attacks on both citizens and public officials.
The page is mainly run by former Hood River City Council candidate Jim Klaas, whose email is listed as the contact for the page. Shared content and comments over the past year or two from “Hood River Parks” have included: A photo of Mid-Columbia Housing Authority (MCHA) Executive Director Joel Madsen with devil horns and a tail drawn on, railing against the city government as socialists, sharing a photo that depicted them collectively as a clown, referring to MCHA as a “(expletive deleted) developer,” and my personal favorite, referring to those who work in the recreation industry and also have trouble affording housing as making “seasonal lifestyle choices.”
Also, I noticed a poster at Morrison Park that referred to select city council members as “Once-lers” (the antagonists in the Dr. Seuss classic, The Lorax) for their support of the project.
This, all the while painting a public housing authority and Mayor Paul Blackburn as ruthless developers hell-bent on profit, which, if you know Paul even a little bit, is a laughable assertion.
But even if Klaas/HR Parks were above the fray, this would still be ugly. The war waged against this affordable housing project smacked of NIMBYism and entitlement. The people who have money and time can often fight these things. MCHA finally had to pull out.
Look, I get it. Parks are important. I like parks too. I was one of the many hundreds, if not thousands of people who helped rebuild the Children’s Park last summer. But Hood River doesn’t have a park problem. We essentially live in a giant park (the Gorge). There are roughly a dozen parks within city limits. There is literally a park directly across the street from Morrison Park (the Rotary Skate Park), and one that sees far more use. We are far more well off than so many other places.
Hood River does, however, have a huge affordable housing problem.
Take a look on Zillow and you’ll see that home prices have nearly doubled in the past several years. Hood River is now one of the most expensive places to live in the state. It does not have that much vacant land within the UGB.
Lot 700 was a good, if imperfect, option. It was land the city already owned, and had in fact land banked for affordable housing for decades. Back in 2005, HRVPRD signed an agreement with the city before building the disc golf park with the understanding that the land could be taken back for affordable housing. And in the affordable housing plan, roughly half of the 5-acre parcel was to remain green space — apparently not enough.
But instead of building housing for vulnerable members of our community, other members of the community saw fit to kill the development in favor of an underutilized park built for a niche sport, make personal attacks, put forth a ludicrous ballot initiative and offer unrealistic solutions.
I’m sure some people thought they were doing the right thing. “Protect Our Parks” sounds good on the surface, doesn’t it? But those who supported it just ended up hurting people in this community who can’t afford a place to live. And I hope those individuals who said they supported affordable housing, just not at Morrison Park, pay more than lip service. Because of you, it’s a bigger problem now more than ever.