Well, that didn't take long. At 11:30 am yesterday, City of Salem officials sent out an email about the start of an effort to update the Salem Area Comprehensive Plan.
A mere 19 minutes later, at 11:49 am, Michael Slater wrote a post on a Facebook page where Salem City Council issues are discussed that critiqued the Our Salem Stakeholder Advisory Committee, which a City of Salem web page describing the planning effort says "will be providing guidance to staff."
The City has released the members of the advisory group that will assist staff on "technical" issues related to Our Salem, the first stage in an update to the comprehensive plan, whose goals are to:
1. Review existing plans to identify City goals and priorities
2. Choose measures to evaluate the city
3. Conduct a greenhouse gas inventory to determine the community’s impact on the environment
4. Create and evaluate scenarios to illustrate how Salem could grow.
There are, to my knowledge, no renters, bike commuters, natural resources or open space advocates, young people, or affordable housing advocates involved.
Also, if this is a technical advisory group, why are five of the people listed elected officials (and two are appointed by the City Council)?
At least Geoffrey James and Linda Wallmark are on the committee.
I agree with Slater. There's good reasons to be critical of the makeup of this committee, regardless of what it is supposed to do -- and that isn't at all clear at the moment.
First, I've come to dislike the whole idea of a "stakeholder."
That word assumes that some people and organizations in the Salem area have more of a stake in how our city grows and develops than other people and organizations. In short, "stakeholder" is an elitist, narrow-minded concept. It would be more honest to call this committee something like, "Our Salem Selected Special Interests Committee."
Second, as Slater noted, why should two Salem City Council members be advising City of Salem staff on how to update a plan that, I assume, will be reviewed and approved by the City Council at some point?
And I'm also assuming that Marion County, Polk County, and the City of Keizer also will be weighing in on the Salem Area Comprehensive Plan update. So why are officials from these entities taking up three spots on the committee?
The makeup of the committee does seem unduly political. I'm including the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce CEO in that category, since the Chamber has been a highly politicized organization (not so much recently, admittedly).
In January 2017 I wrote a blog post, "Few City of Salem 'stakeholders' are ordinary citizens." This was in regard to the City's Strategic Planning Process, of which the Comprehensive Plan update is an outgrowth. Excerpts:
Ah, yes, that wonderfully perplexing term, stakeholder. The dictionary has a couple of definitions that make sense in this context: one that has a stake in an enterprise; one who is involved in or affected by a course of action.
So seemingly every Salem resident and property owner, along with every person who works in or regularly visits Salem, is a stakeholder in the City's strategic planning process.
One would think that this would be an opportunity for City officials to hear from people who usually don't have much of a voice in civic affairs.
Well, anyone who thinks like that would be wrong.
...I'm bothered by the mostly insular "good old boy/girl" approach to choosing these community stakeholders. Like I said, everybody in Salem has a stake in how our city grows, evolves, changes, addresses its problems.
Asking members of the Powers That Be strategic planning questions is almost certainly going to lead to answers pointing to a continuation of their privileged position. Yet this is what City officials have done.
The current makeup of the Our Salem Stakeholder Advisory Committee does have some good choices. But City officials and the consultants they are working with should seriously consider making some changes to the committee members.
It just seems like there are too many card-carrying members of the Powers That Be club on the committee, and not enough people with a special passion and expertise in making Salem a more livable community for everybody, not just the already privileged.
UPDATE: I just noticed that the Breakfast on Bikes blogger also wrote about this issue today in "Comprehensive Plan Update Already Prompts Head Scratching." He finds the composition of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee to be puzzling, just as Michael Slater and I did. The Keizer Mayor, Cathy Clark, and global warming denier Sam Brentano (Marion County Commissioner) are mentioned without using their names:
Over on FB there is already a conversation about this, so there's not much new here to say. But maybe just to amplify concerns that the project already looks compromised from the start?
- If it's "our Salem," why is there a Mayor from another city that is frequently dismissive of Salem, indeed whose municipal origin story and self-identity is all about "not-Salem"? That's not "ours" that's negation!
- If the project is supposed to include a greenhouse gas assessment, why is a prominent denialist on the committee?
Sure there's a need to have diversity and some debate on the committee. But is this set up with the right diversity and for the right debates?
The committee's composition looks like something designed for gridlock and the status quo. It doesn't look very productive.
Then the Breakfast on Bikes blogger theorizes about why, at least in part, the committee members were chosen:
But its composition looks like it might be intended to produce something extra. One way of looking at the odd composition is to note the number of people who also sit on the SKATS Policy Committee, who have for several years resisted any kind of greenhouse gas assessment or scenario planning. Is this "Our Salem" process actually a way to do what SKATS has refused to do? There may be some subtext or other maneuvering going on here.
It also seems worth noticing that while this committee just appeared fully formed as announced, the committee for the Crosswalk Committee will have a process and recruitment.
[T]he City will seek community input and participation from Salem’s 18 neighborhood associations in a Project Advisory Committee to help develop a Safer Crossings Program.
Why didn't Our Salem have a similar announcement and solicitation?
Thank you, Brian, for offering this commentary. The concerns you raise are valid. The make-up of the Advisory committee is certainly of concern. But unlike the decade old third bridge crossing committee which was populated with bureaucrats who superseded the community perspective this committee offers a spectrum of community representatives. The results of that boondoggle are a third bridge stalemate.
Certainly including political representatives beyond the boundaries of Salem is a wise choice. Certainly including representatives of the development community is an appropriate decision. You may not agree with the breath of the group but each of them is a coherent player in the future of Salem. Should the areas of Salem which will see future development (South and West Salem) be more fully represented? Yes! Should the Latina/o community be more represented? Yes! However, in the end the recommendations of this community are vital to the future of Salem. A Salem that actually implements both its Comprehensive Plan and the ordinances that implement that plan.
Posted by: E.M. | September 22, 2018 at 06:17 PM
Sam Brentano also represents the, in one form or another, the interests of the solid waste industry.
Posted by: Kyle Elwood | September 22, 2018 at 11:52 PM
There is an existing land use planning group that has been in existence for 28 years, and that is the Salem Land Use Network. For a couple of decades they met at city hall with city staff support, until the budget cuts of 10 years ago that ended that support. LUN is the Land Use Chairs (or representatives) of the 18 Neighborhood Associations in Salem. They still meet monthly, and they discuss land use in Salem and mutual concerns. LUN has met with the Director of Community development and has been briefed on the proposed Salem Area Comprehensive Plan update. Unfortunately, the City has assembled a group dominated by the Chamber, Homebuilders, and Real Estate, with only a couple of neighborhood representatives. Let's hope that the enlightened members of this committee can keep the focus on Smart Growth and resist the temptation to develop policies that have the effect of endangering or expanding the urban growth boundary. I believe that the group should start their work by viewing the video of Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns speaking in Salem on this challenging topic. https://vimeo.com/185985263
Posted by: Geoffrey James | September 23, 2018 at 09:40 AM