Envision a Party for Eugene’s Growth Boundary Decision

Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz invited 70 citizens to begin a process called Envision Eugene in 2010. Building on years of work that had already been done by the Eugene Comprehensive Lands Assessment, the city set a high goal. Not only would the city revise its urban growth boundary, but it hoped to change how the community handles the hottest of hot button issues.

For at least 20 years, only one issue could always fire up all sectors of our population — growth. At first, the issue was whether it can be avoided. Once it became clear that the answer was no, we steered into a cul-de-sac of “why not?” The scenery stopped changing, so we moved the controversy onto an open road. What sort of growth is coming, and how will we choose to respond?

The city smartly focused on two expansion areas near the airport for industrial and commercial growth. The airport is on track to surpass one million passengers for the first time this year. It’s becoming a regional hub that will attract investment and employment opportunities for decades to come. The city shrewdly leveraged this expansion, reserving land for a new school and an expanded park in the city’s northwest corner.

Schools, parks, jobs — making more space for more of those was easy. Housing was a different story.

The city will rely primarily on infill for all new housing that will be required in the near future. This decision brought the tangibles of inevitable growth into focus. Who is coming, how soon will they arrive, and where will be put them? The Home Builders Association has challenged some of the city’s assumptions and conclusions. Both sides will make oral arguments to Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals in December. The process that has taken a full decade is reaching its resolution.

Ruiz was clear from the start that the Envision Eugene process was always meant to shift more than land use policies. He hoped we would learn new ways to handle local controversies. How do we “give ground” to one another?

Ruiz hired facilitator Bob Chadwick to suggest some new ground rules. Whenever any change is contemplated, it’s natural for humans to feel fear first. “How must I protect myself?” But it’s also possible to answer that internal voice with another: “What is the best outcome I can imagine?” The second question makes more room for common ground.

He demonstrated at the first meeting how our battles succeed first — he would say only — in perpetuating themselves. “Giving ground” to the other side can be in fact what’s necessary to release the interwoven tensions that trap both sides inside a controversy. And once the controversy becomes an end in itself, no outcome will resolve those tensions.

Chadwick passed away in 2015, but in his spirit, I’m focused on best outcomes. When will be the best time for a party about Envision Eugene?

Maybe that time has already passed — when the Lane County Board of Commissioners in August agreed with Eugene City Council on the proposed boundary changes. Maybe now is the right time, after Oregon’s Land Conservation and Development Commission recently approved the changes. Or maybe the party must wait until LUBA rules on the Home Builders Association’s objections.

I hope the party doesn’t wait, because our celebration should not be framed in the context of winners and losers. That’s not how we should seek to understand one another.

I’d rather celebrate our differences and revel in the rigor our state requires. Oregon’s painstaking land use process keeps Oregon special. Residents, students, employers and builders have — or will soon have — a roadmap of the decades ahead.

Let’s throw a party for everyone involved, as soon as possible. Whatever the final outcome, it’s coming soon and the process has served us well.

We should hold the party on the edge of town, in a hall that straddles the urban growth boundary. Arrange the room with all the seating on the urban side of the facility. But make sure it’s an easy and pleasant walk to the other side, where there will be plenty of food available.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs