Voters will be asked in November to take a look around them and decide if they want to improve their natural environment: parks, greenspaces, water, fish and wildlife.
Ballot Measure 26-80, known as the 2006 Natural Areas Bond Measure, would issue $227.4 million in general obligation bonds. Those bonds would preserve targeted natural areas in the region; protect and restore watersheds for improved water quality; protect streams, fish and wildlife; and increase the presence of nature in neighborhoods.
The estimated cost of the bonds is $19 cents per $1,000 of assessed value; the average homeowner would pay about $2.50 to $2.92 per month or $30 to $35 a year.
Among the measure's goals, supporters say, is to bring parks and greenspaces closer to those who don't have easy access to existing parks.
Although some residents may say the Portland metro area appears to have a lot of parks and natural areas — and the city does rank fairly well with other cities of its size nationally — the organizations supporting the bond measure, including the Coalition for a Livable Future and the Audubon Society of Portland, say it's just not so. And they have the research to prove their case.
"Like it or not, there are going to be another million people moving into the area," said Mike Houck, director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute at Portland State University and a member of the Coalition for a Livable Future. "We're already park deficient; in some areas we're behind already. We've got to move forward."
Houck said research completed just this year shows that Portland is "park deficient in virtually every neighborhood in Portland," particularly in East Multnomah County's Argay, Cully and Centennial neighborhoods.
An extension of the bond measure proposed by the Metro Council and approved by voters in 1995, the new bond measure would increase the number of parks and greenspaces in those east county areas, as well as improve the wildlife habitat and water quality in the Columbia Slough in North Portland and extend the Willamette Greenway along the north peninsula.
The $227.4 million would provide:
• $168.4 million for Metro to purchase, in 27 targeted areas, regionally significant river and stream corridors, headwaters, wildlife areas and other natural areas and trail corridors.
• $44 million to be distributed to 28 cities, counties and local park districts in the Metro district to buy and restore specific natural areas, trail corridors and fish and wildlife habitat. Neighborhood parks and capital improvement projects also would be paid for with these funds.
• $15 million for a Nature in Neighborhoods Capital Grants Program for schools, neighborhood associations, community groups and other nonprofit organizations to improve local neighborhood parks, add to greenspaces and natural areas and to enhance water quality. The grants will be awarded competitively and must be matched by in-kind services or outside funding that equals twice as much as the grant amount. Projects proposed for low-income neighborhoods will be given special consideration, especially if they still ensure that the communities will remain affordable for existing residents.
"In our attempt to address inequities in access to nature for low-income communities, we must ensure that we prevent displacement of people in these communities," Jill Fuglister, the coalition's executive director said in a letter to the Metro Council. "By including these provisions, the bond measure would be a significant step in advancing regional equity in our planning efforts."
The bond measure is one of the "first opportunities" to consider the equity issues that arose in the recent Regional Equity Atlas project written by the Coalition for a Liveable Future and Portland State University's Population Research Center.
The Coalition for a Livable Future unites 80 diverse organizations and hundreds of individuals to promote healthy and sustainable communities. The coalition worked with Metro and other jurisdictions to develop the bond measure.
Completed earlier this year, the Regional Equity Atlas studied how accessible local parks were for the population in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Clark counties. The coalition's definition of "access" was how many people lived within one-quarter mile of a park or public greenspace and how many acres per capita were available across the region.
The study determined that the lack of access to a park corresponds to the percentage of people of color in a neighborhood and to a neighborhood's poverty level. In Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties, 61 percent of neighborhoods with below-average access to a park have an above-average percentage of people of color, according to the study. Of the neighborhoods with the worst access to nature, 65.8 percent have an above average percentage of people of color, while only 7.6 percent of neighborhoods with the best access to nature have an above-average percentage of people of color, the study determined.
The results are similar when considering poverty level. Of the neighborhoods within a longer distance than one-quarter mile to nature, 71 percent have above average poverty; of the neighborhoods with the worst access to parks, 70 percent have above-average poverty.
Neighborhoods with poor access to parks that have high poverty levels and or high averages of people of color populations extend from North and Northeast Portland, to Southeast Portland east of Interstate 205 and to West Gresham, the study said.
Specific neighborhoods listed in the study include portions of Portsmouth, King, Humboldt and Cully in North and Northeast Portland; Mill Park, Montavilla, Parkrose, Hazelwood, Centennial and Powelhurst-Gilbert in East Portland; and Rockwood in Gresham.
The study also listed the Ardenwald neighborhood in Clackamas County and the Vose community in Washington County as having poor access to nature and high poverty or relatively more people of color.
But access to nature is "more than neighborhood access," said Jim Labbe, urban conservationist for the Audubon Society of Portland, which is a member of the Coalition for a Livable Future. "Access to larger regional parks is important, too, because they provide so many different things," Labbe said.
The bond measure sets a precedent, he added.
"It refers to parks and nature-deficient areas. It addresses not just access but the income of neighborhoods by setting aside $15 million for neighborhood grants."
Zari Santner, director of the Portland Parks and Recreation, called the Nature in Neighborhoods portion of the ballot measure a "fabulous addition" that will enable communities to raise money for parks and greenspaces.
The city will share in the regional distribution to buy land — with the cooperation of willing sellers — along Johnson Creek, the Columbia Slough and Multnomah Channel to improve wildlife habitat and water quality. It also will receive $17 million to acquire parkland in the Argay, Cully and Centennial neighborhoods and other areas. As for parks in inner North and Northeast Portland, Santner said she didn't think more parkland was needed.
"Because it's an older area, it's pretty well covered," she said. "People can pretty well find a park within a half-mile."