Next Monday, October 23, the Salem City Council is set to vote on whether to approve the Strategic Plan that it's been working on for about a year.
Still, I give the City of Salem and its consultants credit for page 1, "Plan on a Page." The only problem is, on that page there's little to be enthused about -- since this is where the most high-level abstract stuff is described: Mission, Values, Goals.
I heartily agree with how the Salem Breakfast on Bikes blogger looks upon this part of the Strategic Plan.
Who doesn't want a "proactive and forward-thinking" city? Is anyone going to argue against a "fair, equitable, and safe" city?
If this big process has value, the big goals should limn a clear area of difference. It should be easy to discern areas in which the City's policy is changing, was wrong, resulted in failure or unwanted outcomes. The Plan should answer the question: What is different now? A good strategic plan would make clear at least some of the renunciations and emphases in the vision. It seems like you ought to be able to read the values in the plan, formulate their opposite or attach a different valence, and be able to say that we made an actual choice to be this and not that.
Maybe you will have a very different reading of it all, but at this point, the process seems more shapeless than it should be. It seems like you ought to be able to read the provisional goals and come away with a strong sense of ambition and purpose. But all in all the recommendations seem pretty generic and anodyne, driven more for broad popularity than for real discernment.
I don't think it is going to help the City make the hard choices between competing values and competing valuable goods.
Here's the Vision, Mission, and Values part of the Plan on a Page.
There's nothing here that fires me up. Rather, it puts me to sleep.
It's purely bureaucrat-speak, words that say nothing because they're intended to appeal to everybody. As the Breakfast on Bikes blogger said, the Vision, Mission, and Goals don't make any difference because there's no difference implied in them.
Meaning, you can't disagree with what's said given that these words could apply to any city in the country. There's nothing here that makes me think, "Yes, Salem can be different and better than other cities!"
So let's move on to the Goals in the Plan on a Page.
These are a bit more specific, but not much.
The Goals also are full of bureaucrat-speak, and largely talk about the need to plan more. And my writer mind wishes there was a consistent grammatical style, since some of the Goals start with a verb (which implies action) and others just sit there as incomplete sentences.
I mean, why not say "Develop a public transportation system that meets community needs"? I realize the City of Salem doesn't control the Cherriots bus system, but the Strategic Plan really should be a plan for all of Salem, not just City departments.
When I got to page 3, I finally saw where the real meat (or tofu, since I'm a vegetarian) of the Strategic Plan lies: in the Actions.
So the Policy Agenda for the City Council includes high-priority actions in the Strategic Plan. These haven't been clearly identified yet, so I suspect there will be a lot of discussion and debate about the 2018 Policy Agenda come next January.
This screenshot is taken from a consultants' report in the materials for Monday's City Council meeting. It shows which actions were given the highest priorities at a September 2017 Council work session.
The yellow dots identifying the highest priority total eight, if my counting is correct, with nine being the number of members on the City Council. "Climate Action Plan" got three yellow dots, the most of any action. But that action also got two red dots, indicating a concern.
So I guess this explains why the top actions at the September work session were different from the top actions identified by an online survey of seven city council members, as described in a staff report.
With seven responses, the top strategies through this exercise were: (1) partner to establish a sobering and recovery center; (2) explore the possibility of bringing high speed internet to Salem; (3) explore alternative building codes for adaptive re-use of older buildings; and (4) develop a robust City asset management program. Each of these proposed actions were ranked as a top priority by at least three of seven respondents.
Well, "Climate Action Plan" also got three top priority votes when there were eight of nine council members present at the work session.
Since our federal government is taking a pass on reducing greenhouse gas emissions under Trump's unenlightened presidency, this makes it more important for state and local governments to step up and do what Washington, D.C. isn't doing -- save our planet for human habitation.
Here's a few other observations about the Strategic Plan.
-- Page 5 notes that the City doesn't have an overarching vision for how Salem will grow. For me, this is the second most important action the City Council needs to take, with a Climate Action Plan being #1. Fortunately, page 9 calls for a "citywide visioning process to determine the community's goals and priorities for future growth and development." Excellent!
-- The only mention of a 3rd Bridge is on page 15, which accurately notes that residents are split on whether a third bridge across the Willamette is needed. Fortunately, a majority of City Council members appear to be opposed to a 3rd Bridge, which I like to call a billion dollar boondoggle.
-- On page 19 there's a photo that I at first thought was an example of bad road design, because it looks so horrendous. Then I realized the photo shows the "improvements" at the intersection of Wallace and Glen Creek Roads in West Salem. This is a great example of what we don't want in Salem, streets that are highly autocentric and difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to use.
-- Lastly, page 21 calls for a Climate Action Plan that prioritizes reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. A community-wide greenhouse gas inventory is part of this action/objective. Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to tell whether the Climate Action Plan is succeeding.