June 22, 2024

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From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Planning Commission may have violated its own bylaws for the last 20 years

6 min read
Oregon Planning Goal 1 asks each city to explain how it will evaluate its citizen involvement program. The state said that it will accept Eugene's Goal 1 letter in 2023---a letter that the Citizen Involvement Advisory Committee was supposed to review in 2004.

State says Eugene, many Oregon cities overlooked evaluation program

by John Quetzalcoatl Murray

Better late than never.  The city of Eugene will be allowed to submit required paperwork that is nearly 20 years late. A state committee in 2004 was supposed to review Eugene’s rationale in making the Planning Commission its citizen involvement committee.

But a spokesperson for the state says they never reviewed the letter. It’s not in the state’s records. She said Eugene couldn’t find it in their records either.

The letter is supposed to explain the “mechanism to be used for an evaluation of the citizen involvement program.” From the Department of Land Conservation and Development, Sadie Carney:

[00:00:33] Sadie Carney, Oregon DLCD: So we have been in contact with the City of Eugene. They don’t seem to have anything on file either.

[00:00:40] Legal staff that we have on hand, we reviewed the language in Goal 1 and came to the conclusion that because there is no timeline established, that it would be fine for the city of Eugene to submit something today that said, ‘You know, in 2004, we made this change.’ Because neither of us seem to have that letter in our possession.

[00:01:06] And part of the reason that we came to that conclusion is, we actually have other letters that follow that form in our possession. So we have cities that have written us letters that say, ‘Oh, my gosh, we haven’t used the CCI (Committee for Citizen Involvement) for 20 years. Here’s your letter.’

[00:01:23] I think it’s such a frequently overlooked element and it’s such a unique element in our program. There’s no place else where we ask cities to submit a letter. Everything else kind of follows a more formalized submission process and a hearings process that it adheres to.

[00:01:42] And also in my dive through our historic records, there is very old correspondence among DLCD staff members. There was a debate on whether or not the Citizen Involvement Advisory Committee (CIAC) had any opportunity to provide feedback at a local level after a plan was adopted, because much of Goal 1 is written with that initial acknowledgement process in mind.

[00:02:10] And then they said, ‘Well, yeah, there’s a letter,’ and then DLCD staff, sort of in conversation amongst themselves, says, ‘But how would that even work?’ Because back then, as now (though things differed in the time in between), the CIC had quarterly meetings.

And if the city were to, for example, submit a letter to the CIC when they submitted their post- acknowledgement plan amendment, adjusting their Goal 1 plan, that would very likely have a first hearing and a second hearing and be adopted at a local level before the CIC (citizen involvement committee) even really had a chance to consider the letter.

And so I think there was a time that they said, ‘Okay, well, if we get the letter, then we’ll just send it to our CIC members and just assume that if nobody says anything, there’s no objection.’

[00:03:08] John Q: The timing may be related to a transition from metro planning. It was at the time that the city started Envision Eugene.

[00:03:16] Sadie Carney, Oregon DLCD: Based on the timing, as I understand it, from what took place around 2004, that was the legislative split between the city of Eugene and the city of Springfield. And I think if they were undergoing something that was more or less like a periodic review, it might have seemed like, ‘Well, gosh, we have been—’

[00:03:39] And there may have been an email to staff that was not saved. And we do consider that an email communication would suffice. It doesn’t need to be a physical letter, though sometimes it has been. But because they had so much communication with staff as they were revamping and reworking and taking pieces of the existing comprehensive plan and kind of, sort of, like, smushing it into a new Eugene Comprehensive Plan and a new Springfield Comprehensive Plan and taking themselves out of this Metro Plan model and into separate jurisdictional comprehensive plans.

[00:04:18] I think it either got filed elsewhere or overlooked, just because there was so much communication with DLCD staff during that time…

[00:04:27] They’re willing to write a letter now.

[00:04:30] John Q: We asked what might happen if a government program ran for 20 years without an evaluation.

[00:04:36] Sadie Carney, Oregon DLCD: I suppose there could be unintended and negative outcomes. I mean, my experience is that the city of Eugene really does a pretty superlative job with community engagement. And I think, each one of their PAPAs (Plan Amendments) that they submit has a Goal 1 analysis kind of embedded within it.

[00:04:59] I’ve read scholarly articles and actually I just attended a conference last week on equitable community engagement, and a lot of best practices nowadays are pointing to more and better ways of elevating those underrepresented voices.

[00:05:18] It’s very, very difficult to get those people to the table to elevate their voices. I mean, even when we, in recent past, have compensated people for their participation and invested staff time and hours into preparing them for meetings and making sure that they understand the materials, our after-action reports tell us: ‘Well, you did it. You got me to the table, but my voice wasn’t elevated. I wasn’t heard in the process.’

[00:05:51] And part of that is probably, there’s a lot of technicality to it. And so people’s real lived experience gets lost in the interaction between administrative rule and statute and local implementation.

[00:06:06] John Q: Sadie shared one of the highlights from a public participation conference in Seattle.

[00:06:11] Sadie Carney, Oregon DLCD: One of the coolest workshops that I was able to attend was a professional game designer who had worked for Nintendo and had developed games as a way of engaging people in helping to address / solve / contribute to / have input on different land-use planning challenges.

[00:06:37] And one of the things they said is, ‘If you have a game that everyone can understand the rules, then really everyone is an equal player suddenly.

[00:06:49] And you don’t have these outsized voices in the room and people can contribute—because games often, right, you’re taking turns or you’re trading or depending on what type of game it is.

[00:07:01] It was like, How could we at DLCD create toolkits that were so broadly applicable, that helped solve some of planning challenges that we are handing to local governments?  Some is at the direction of the legislature (like the middle housing stuff), but is there a way that we can think of these ‘toolkits’ in a different way that makes everybody a player, makes everybody’s turn count, makes everybody’s input have an outcome at the end of the game?

[00:07:34] And a lot of it is how to respectfully engage people that have not traditionally been at the table, how to respect their time, how to respect their lived experience and expertise, how to compensate them, how to contract for that, all that kind of stuff, a little bit more of the nitty-gritty and less of the theoretical.

And it’s hard, you know. It’s a lot of very slow and deliberate long-term relationship building that needs to take place.

[00:08:07] John Q: The state of Oregon confirms: Eugene’s Planning Commission may have failed to follow its own bylaws for the last 20 years, as program evaluation slipped through the cracks.

[00:08:17] Twenty years later, the city will explain how it will evaluate a key program meant to ensure there’s enough housing for all income levels. We know it’s important, based on what they called it: Goal 1.

Goal 1 states: “If the governing body wishes to…assign such responsibilities to a planning commission, a letter shall be submitted to the Land Conservation and Development Commission for the state Citizen Involvement Advisory Committee’s review and recommendation stating the rationale for selecting this option, as well as indicating the mechanism to be used for an evaluation of the citizen involvement program.” 

Bylaws list among the Planning Commission purpose and objectives: “To serve as the committee for citizen involvement as described in Statewide Planning Goal 1, responsible for assisting the city council with the development of a program that promotes and enhances citizen involvement in land-use planning, assisting in the implementation of the citizen involvement program, and evaluating the process being used for citizen involvement.”

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