Header graphic for print
Real Property & Development Review

Why You Should Get to Know the Portland Plan

Posted in Land Use

As originally published in the Daily Journal of Commerce

The Portland Plan is coming, and people who recall the River Plan, which the city of Portland enacted last year, will find this one familiar. Like the River Plan, this new plan has been developed through a bottom-up planning process. This involved several years of community meetings and public outreach, resulting in more than 20,000 comments from residents and businesses.

And like the River Plan, which has been appealed to Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals and the Oregon Court of Appeals, the Portland Plan may have a negative impact on the family-wage jobs in the working harbor.

The Portland Plan will be adopted by City Council and used to guide the city’s land-use decision-making process over the next 25 years. Many of the policies adopted in the Portland Plan will eventually find their way into the city’s adopted comprehensive plan and zoning code, so now is the time to positively influence those decisions.

The Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission has already held two hearings on the draft plan this month, and will hold another today, at 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave., conference room 2500, from 5:30 to 9 p.m.

One of the guiding principles of the Portland Plan is advancement of social equity. To its credit, the plan recognizes that one of the key strategies needed to achieve this goal is creation of well-paying, family-wage jobs. In doing so, the plan tries to tailor specific strategies to “geographic districts that have distinct issues.”

In the Gateway neighborhood, for example, the plan proposes a special funding strategy to create an education center, based on a partnership between several local school districts, Portland Community College, Portland State University and the city. The education center will help provide students with better workforce skills and better access to family-wage jobs.

Like the River Plan, however, the Portland Plan could threaten the thousands of family-wage jobs in the working harbor. Much of the area is devoted to river-dependent industrial businesses, including heavy manufacturing and freight distribution facilities critical to the rest of the region’s economy and unable to move elsewhere.

The plan proposes to focus business development on only five industry clusters, including “advanced” manufacturing (which is not defined), athletic and outdoor equipment, clean technology, software, and research and commercialization.

By the city’s own measure, the harbor accounts for approximately 40,000 well-paying jobs and 900 private-sector businesses – approximately one out of eight jobs in the metro region. But it appears that most of the existing industries in the harbor will not be recognized and supported by specific policies in the Portland Plan. This is either an oversight or a policy choice that needs to be corrected.

In the end, the success of the Portland Plan will largely depend on the resources available to implement it. Without significant growth in family-wage jobs and per capita income, the city’s equity goals will largely become an exercise in trying to do more with less.

With that said, the Portland Plan acknowledges that the path forward requires the city to work smarter, be more practical and be more ready to take on difficult conversations. One of the keys to achieving this is for the city to more fully engage the business community, including the working harbor.

For purposes of the Portland Plan, it is important for the city to have a laser-like focus on job creation, education, infrastructure and the support of existing area businesses, because these are the critical investments that make job growth and equity possible. Now is the time for people in the business and industrial community to offer their views of the Portland Plan.