Reflections from Cascade Anderson Geller

The following are some reflections on the Planning Group’s work to date, and remaining tasks, from Cascade Anderson Geller. Cascade has been an instrumental part of our process from the beginning, and has done much of the research that has guided our work. She asked me to post this here, as she will be away for much of the summer. -Pete F.

I was sorry to have to miss the meeting on June 2.  Unfortunately, I will be missing other meetings due to my out of town schedule during the spring and summer when my busiest work season blooms like the many beautiful flowers.  I appreciate being able to read through the notes and the volumes of emails.  I would like to take this opportunity to speak to the planning group as i will be missing meetings over the next couple of months.

I understand that the timeline is ever looming, but thorough process and good planning is the best assurance of achieving true cost savings and good design.  I come back to what parks director Zari Santer charged the group with:  to develop a maintenance facility that will carry the city forward another 50 years.  This is indeed a charge that deserves careful consideration and wide conversations.

I have some comments and questions in regards to the:

Sounding Board

Although I can appreciate the desire for a small group to bounce ideas off of, I think it is imperative that the dialog within this group be posted to entire planning group, or at least those who would like to be included.  Please include my email in this group.  Also, all of the information that the architects are utilizing in their design process, and that is being shared with the sounding board, should be made easily available to the entire planning group.

Shouldn’t we should stick with the self-selecting manner in which all of the committees have been formed?  Seeing that this group will be active throughout the summer, more people rather than less, is better as there will likely be a fluctuation in numbers due to scheduling conflicts that are simply unavoidable during the summer vacation months.

General Questions re Project

We should strive for accuracy and some of the dates of the buildings in the facility plan are incorrect and should be corrected for the architect and our records.  The general statement in the architects overview said that the newest building dated to the 1950’s, or something to that effect.  There is a building dating to the 1980’s, I believe, and the greenhouse complex dates to the 1990’s.  I can help with these corrections.

Besides the chosen design, what will the product of our planning group be?  What will be included and what will it look like?

In the chosen design, will one transportation option be offered?  Have all of the legal transportation options available for the site been included in the transportation memo/designs generated from our group?  Do these include the “do nothing” option?

How are space allocations for the various activities at the Yard going to be assigned?

The memo generated from our project, regarding land use and zoning issues, does not specifically lay out perspectives on the current determination of accessory use.  Can we get a draft review of how this determination relates to the project without filing for a use determination with Planning/BDS?

I read through the notes of the June 2 meeting and had these comments/questions:

Dawn Smallman had an addition to the May 19 meeting.  I might add to that, that Tom McGuire specifically mentioned that if City Nature/Urban Forestry would be servicing street trees, or other trees not within a park, then the accessory use zoning designation would not be applicable.

In relationship to Urban Forestry, here’s a cut and paste from the site group report:

Q: If Urban Forestry was moved to the Yard, how many trucks would that be for City Nature?
A: 58 trucks (14 vehicles there now – would be 44 more vehicles). This is something to explore in the design process – could this all work/fit?

It would be good to have a clear list of all of the vehicles that Parks is considering having at the Yard.  At one of the final site group meetings, Bob a Yard manager, who was filling in for Eileen, volunteered to create a list of all of the vehicles, both regular and over-sized, currently at the Yard and their space needs, including whether they need covered space.  Was this report completed?  If so, can we get the report?  If it wasn’t completed, when will it be?  I think that the issue of the number of vehicles sited at the Yard is of broad interest.  It should also be noted that Urban Forestry is on call 24 hours a day.  When the Water Bureau was considering co-locating with Parks at the Yard, the issue of night noise was one of the concerns that emerged.  I don’t know if this has been discussed as of yet.

Is the Park Board/PPR still meeting to discuss development of a large parks district that could include other municipalities/jurisdictions?  If so, how would this affect maintenance needs/Yard/Nursery?

Land Ownership

Can we review the issue of land ownership and how this relates to the maintenance yard/nursery?  I had requested that we get the opportunity to review the Memorandum of Understanding or Agreement (MOU/MOA) that Parks has, or will be, developing with the Water Bureau.  The Water Bureau has claimed the acreage of Mt. Tabor Park in their portfolio.  This is another issue of broad interest and should be included in this update to the Mt. Tabor Park master plan.   As of yet, I don’t think that we have discussed this issue and I don’t think we have seen the MOU/MOA between the two bureaus.  The issue of bureau ownership is very important for a variety of issues, not the least being the differences in the way fiscal management differs between a general fund bureau (parks) to a revenue fund bureau (water).

Horticulture Services Issues/Discussion Group

From the many emails, I see that the horticulture discussion is ongoing and that a new group may be in the works for this topic.  For this group to be a satisfactory discussion for this important topic, the work of this group needs to be relevant to, and archived with, the Mt. Tabor Park Yard/Nursery project.Can you tell me how this group will interact and inform the architecture design process?

As everyone might remember, many people wanted a horticulture committee to be offered when the original sub-groups were being formed.   I see that this remains a contentious topic, as it has been since some of us learned in 2006 that horticulture had been radically down-sized a few years ago.

I can see from remarks that some people may feel that the bureau should have the right to make such policy decisions, as downsizing/outsourcing what is left of horticultural services, without public scrutiny.  The same was said by some in regards to disposal of park (public) property.  In fact, public property can be sold with very little public notice – declared surplus on one agenda and sold on another.  Public process is primarily insured during a zoning change which can be accomplished after the sale is final.  I don’t think that the public likes this idea, though most are unaware of how easy it is to sell public property if the political winds and will are so inclined.  Public review of the disposition of this property brought us to the place where we are now.  It could be seen as an extension of the public voice when the last parks levy was passed when the public spoke to their concern about park maintenance.  This group helps get to the heart of maintenance issues by helping to design a new maintenance facility.  The fact that Parks was going to sell this facility, without a replacement site, and with documentation that the place was irreplaceable for location, size and usefulness, is an indication that the public needs to be involved to help the bureau in their decision-making processes.  The level of public involvement generated by this group shows that the public does care, even about seemingly mundane issues.

Parks director, Zari Santner, has asked us to help design a facility that will carry Parks forward 50 more years.  This group should review any design through this lens of longevity.  To design a facility that will only accommodate horticulture services and plant propagation and production at the current levels, cut drastically in the past few years, is doing our city a disservice, especially since this property, with its favorable aspect and geology, is best utilized for urban agriculture.

The Central Maintenance Yard at Mt. Tabor Park grew out of the horticulture activities that started there 100 years ago by a master horticulturist from the Olmsted firm and then was carried on for another four decades by his assistant turned superintendent.  Portland’s historic parks show this continuity of service in their regal design.  More than 32,000 street and park trees were propagated nearly 100 years ago in the nursery at Mt. Tabor Park.  Our Urban Forestry department inherited their charge from this property.  Portland is known as for its outstanding horticultural attractions from the Rose, Japanese, Chinese, Leach Botanical and other gardens, as well as Hoyt Arboretum and the lesser known street tree arboretum at Delta Park.  Now is a good time to build community interest and support for horticultural services.  Our city and state are emphasizing, and building into nearly every conversation, the importance of sustainability.  Our heirloom plants, including genetically specific natives, are important, irreplaceable assets, as is the expertise of our horticultural staff.  There is support for these types of issues in our region.

The policy decision to down-size horticulture was done quietly, and in fact the budget committee was asked not to share the information outside of the committee.  It was also done without proof of a cost benefit.  In fact, studies undertaken by Parks showed that there was a cost benefit to maintaining various horticulture activities, and in fact continuing to grow these contracts could provide revenue through the many interbureau and intraagency contracts that Parks once serviced.  Not long ago, considerably funding was allocated to build state of the art greenhouses, obtain a new boiler and lay out a state of the art irrigation system for the tree-growing area on the long blocks.  These facts have contributed to the controversy that has been brewing about horticulture services within the planning group.  Primarily, concern about horticulture services are related to concern about the beauty, viability and sustainability of our noted parks system, not to mention the reputation of Portland’s attention to quality of life features that drives our current real estate boom.

Disturbingly, correspondence between Parks managers shows that a primary consideration for the down-sizing was to aid the private sector nurseries who wanted these public contracts.  Clearly the trend is to privatize and outsource public services and resources and Parks is no different than other bureaus and agencies in this regard.  The cover story of the current Portland Tribune, for example, discusses the privatization of public parking meters.  There is a balance to be maintained between public and private ownership.  Private business interests have strong representation in public political arenas.  The public is less served.  This was clearly pointed out to me by top tier Parks management early in the discovery process about the Yard/Nursery when the person said that they hear regularly and loudly from the private sector and that it is very important for the public to get strongly engaged in issues.

There are also labor issues that complicate the decision to outsource horticultural services.  Not long ago, Parks outsourced its “stores” to a NAPA, but this contract was terminated in part due to continual visible pressure from labor.

Other issues that should dovetail with the horticulture discussion include:

  • Bureau of Environmental Services horticultural service contracts and relationship between Parks and BES in this regard
  • Urban Agriculture/Green Thumb site at SE 60th and Duke co-owned by Parks (13 acres?)
  • Parks agreements with business associations and others for horticultural displays in downtown and other locales
  • Contract/agreement specifics with private nurseries

At this link, you can read the Park Board minutes from San Diego.  Portland has been copying some of San Diego’s policies and I have occasionally been visiting a few of their municipal websites.  I recently found this dialog that you may find of interest about community and park board members’ concerns for park horticulture and outsourcing.  Some of the park board members are saying the same thing that community members are in our discussions.

San Diego Park Board minutes, April 2007

Cities like Seattle, tried more outsourcing of their horticultural services, but built back their own facilities when concerns about costs and quality emerged.  Portland should not repeat what others have found unsatisfactory.

Throughout mediation, horticultural services was an issue that maintained high interest.  Many that migrated from the mediation team to the planning group expected to be able to include the topic of horticulture services in the design process.  To have the topic flare up like this could only be expected.

The discussion and subsequent revisiting of the horticulture downsizing is not something that we can expect to resolve, but it is something that we should wrestle with and set the stage for support with the upcoming levy.  Members of the planning group are interested, as are many community members who become aware of this issue.  Members of the mediation team were expecting that this topic would be on the table for discussion.  It is good that a group to discuss this topic is in the planning stages.

Urban Forestry

There seems to be concern about Urban Forestry moving to the Yard/Nursery.  I would suggest that members of the planning group visit Parks website and click on the link that takes you to Delta Park in the list of parks.  There you will find a delightful map of the urban forest/street tree arboretum established there.  Some 84 species of trees have been laid out in an arboretum for people to visit and meet a potential tree for their property.  This is a wonderful idea and I was wondering if we could tour this facility.  I have not heard anything about a street-tree arboretum being a potential for the nursery/long block site, but that seems like a compatible use that should be explored.  Dave McAllister, could you tell us what you have planned for the arboretum at Delta Park?

In closing, the issue of the Yard/Nursery is tied to a much larger change in Portland Parks and Recreation’s policies.  It is easy to see how difficult it is for this bureau to manage all of the push and pulls it gets from all sides of the public and private spectrum.  As Portland’s largest public property owner, outside of the public school system, it has a large portfolio of real estate and great responsibility to the citizens of every neighborhood.  Parks, and its services, are very much the face and the heart and the soul of the city.  As a general fund bureau, it is the poor relative to public safety bureaus who take top priority when the dollars are doled out.  In the same budget cycle that horticulture services were cut, Parks was entertaining the selling of community centers and other assets.  Since then other policy decisions, that should have been vetted with the community, have continued.  Instead of discussing these potential drastic measures with the public that it so depends on for its generosity, the bureau has chosen to move forward without adequate public process.  A recent Auditor’s report discussed Parks less than satisfactory public involvement policy.  According to our mediation process, this planning group was to represent a new relationship with the public.

I know that it has been burdensome for some of the participants on the planning group to hash through things brought up by the remaining mediation process members.  At times, the conversation may seem harsh, critical and unfair.  Every person brings a different perspective on this process.  Those that went through the mediation add a distinct value to the group, even though it may slow things down and create some tension.  The driving force is a deep love of, and concern for, not only grand Mt. Tabor Park, but our city’s entire park system.

Thanks very much for reading this and being part of the planning group for the Mt. Tabor Master Plan Update.  I look forward to hearing back on some of the questions and comments I have discussed.

Cascade Anderson Geller


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