Local leader to help shape ‘Portland Plan’
By Lee Perlman, photo by Mark Washington
Andre Baugh faces an interesting but daunting task in the effort to plan for Portland’s future. A saving grace is that he has an array of talented help behind him.
Last year the city combined the Portland Planning Commission and the Sustainability Commission to form the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission. Earlier this year, Baugh, a longtime member of the Planning Commission, became its new chair.
The new board is comprised of 11 members, and it includes people with backgrounds that transcend land use planning and zoning. Among them are Parkrose School Superintendent Karen Fischer-Gray; public health officer Dr. Gary Oxman; Portland’s best-known environmentalist Mike Houck; bike and rail transit advocate Chris Smith; and Lai-Lani Ovalles and Irma Valdez of the Native American and Latino communities, respectively.
It is fitting that the group’s interests are so broad because it will come in handy with their chief assignment: helping shape the Portland Plan. This document will set policies governing public action and private development, and this in turn will set the stage for updating the zoning and other regulations of the 1980 Portland Comprehensive Plan.
The Portland Plan will also venture more deeply into areas such as education, recreation and health than previous land use plans have gone.
“I feel very good about being selected as the new chair,” Baugh told the Portland Observer. “I’m relatively new there, I came on in 2008, and some of the other members have been there a long time.”
Born in North Dakota, Baugh’s family moved to Oregon when he was two, and lived in several cities. He graduated from Astoria High School and the University of Oregon, earning a degree in Political Science. He has lived in Portland since 1991.
The Planning and Sustainability Commission’s first assignment on formulating the Portland Plan is “extremely important,” Baugh says. “We’re planning for the next 25 years. There’s no need to go further than the census to know that change is coming. This city will look different, and we have to plan for it. Our neighborhoods will change whether we want them to or not, but how do we preserve opportunities for the people who are there? It’s hard work and messy, and I don’t know one single tool to do it.”
Preliminary goals on the Portland Plan include calls for economic prosperity (both by businesses and individual households), a functioning education system, and healthy, connected neighborhoods.
Over-riding all of the work is the concept of equity.
The equity goal, Baugh says, does not just mean providing for the poor or for disadvantaged minorities. It means that everyone has access to opportunities necessary to satisfy essential needs, advance their well-being and achieve their full potential. Or, as Baugh says, “How are we providing opportunities for growth for all of our residents?”
Equity also means ensuring that all neighborhoods, regardless of location or economic status, have access to basic services.
“For neighborhoods that haven’t had as much development in the past, we want to preserve the businesses that are there and foster growth, and provide opportunities for people in those neighborhoods to become entrepreneurs,” he said. “Downtown is very important, but we also need healthy neighborhoods. There we start with small businesses, which are 80 percent of all our businesses.”
Baugh brings credentials of his own to the issue of equity. He was among those who called the Portland Development Commission to task for failing to provide opportunities for women and minority contractors and construction workers.
More recently, as a consultant, he was the principal author of a diversity study which assessed the city’s performance in this area.
“In the overall scheme of things PDC has done well,” Baugh says. “They have the opportunity to do more. Have they made progress? Yes. Could they do more? There are opportunities.”
Baugh also has expertise to contribute in the realm of transportation; he formerly served as a City of Portland transportation planner, and was project manager on the redesign of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“We need to figure out how people, wherever they live, get to jobs and other services,” he says. “One size doesn’t fit all neighborhoods.”
The Planning Commission has been a respected sounding board and regulator on land use decisions, but appeals and even greater decision-making power rests with City Council, and sometimes the Council has pushed the point.
Recently the Commission recommended that Portland Public Schools be required to go through complex land review processes to change grade levels at schools. Mayor Sam Adams took the unusual step of ordering the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to submit recommendations more to the school district’s liking, effectively pulling an end run around the Planning Commission.
Baugh says he is not bothered by such treatment.
“Council is the final authority,” he says. “They’re elected, we’re appointed. Clearly we want to bet it right, but we understand it’s their right to say, ‘We think it could be done differently.’ We could do a better job of explaining our decisions to Council, how we got there. But we’re not 100 percent right.”
In the Portland Plan, to make everything fit, Baugh says, “We need to hear from a lot of people, including those who don’t normally show up for processes such as this, and make sure we listen to everyone and consider their viewpoints. Hopefully, we’ll come up with a complex answer.”