Metro Appoints a Transportation Funding Task Force. But is it Enough?

By Samuel Diaz, Director of Community Engagement, 1000 Friends of Oregon

1000 Friends of Oregon is proud to be a member of the Getting There Together Coalition, a diverse coalition championing a fair and transparent process to develop a regional transportation measure in the greater Metro area. This is part 1 of a 3-part series.

In 2015, I left my position at 1000 Friends of Oregon to gain the perspective of a government agency by joining California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr.’s Administration as an Executive Fellow and then as a Senior Intergovernmental Program Analyst. In 2017, I joined a conservation philanthropy serving the American West to understand public policy and movement building from a different vantage point.

As I return to my post at 1000 Friends of Oregon, I have the privilege to work with Oregonians to advocate for a fair, inclusive, and transparent process to develop the regional ballot measures in the greater Metro region. Metro, the regional government agency, is preparing two regional ballot measures: a 2019 Parks and Nature Bond and a 2020 Transportation Measure.

On February 15, 2019, Metro appointed members to a thirty-five member Transportation Funding Task Force to help shape the 2020 transportation measure. The Task Force will help Metro Council answer the following questions:

  • The Metro Council has identified objectives and outcomes that the measure should advance. Are there additional objectives and outcomes that should be considered?

  • What metrics should be used to measure our impact?
  • The Metro Council has identified candidate corridors that could be considered for investment. Are there other places that the Metro Council should also consider?
  • Based on identified objectives and outcomes, what criteria should the Metro Council use to prioritize these corridors and potential investments for inclusion in a regional investment measure?
  • What programs to support this vision should the Metro Council consider for an investment measure?
  • What revenue mechanisms should the Metro Council consider for these investments?
  • What accountability and oversight measures should the Metro Council consider?

I am excited to see the process underway with so many community and public agency leaders. At the same time, I want to better understand how Metro Council, staff and, now, the Task Force, can create a fair, inclusive, and transparent process to develop the regional ballot measures. In my research, organizing, and advocacy, I draw upon important lessons from the results of ballot measures in California.

An Inclusive Process to Create an Equitable Ballot Measure: California’s Proposition 68 and Proposition 5

In 2018, Californians voted on two statewide bond measures to fund parks and water: Proposition 68 and Proposition 3. Proposition 68 (parks) asked voters in June 2018 to approve approximately $4 billion in bond funding. Proposition 3 (water) asked voters in November 2018 to approve approximately $8.9 billion in bond funding. Because one succeeded and one failed, this article examines the context and conditions. Namely, how were these ballot measures created?

—Proposition 68 —

Proposition 68 was originally created as Senate Bill 5 (SB 5), championed by Senate Pro Tem Kevin De León in the California 2017-2018 legislative session. Senate Bill 5 proposed to authorize approximately $4 billion in general obligation bonds for “state and local parks, environmental protection projects, water infrastructure projects, and flood protection projects.” SB 5, like all other legislation, was posted online for everyone to read the bill language. Californians voiced their concerns, questions, and improvements with elected officials and staff. In the public hearings, people were able to have a direct dialogue about the bill language. A broader and more diverse set of stakeholder organizations and California residents weighed in on the bill’s language. As a result, Senate Bill 5 included dynamic priorities: safe drinking water, climate resiliency, equitable access to parks and California’s beautiful coastline, and Native American Indian parks, trails, and centers. In fall 2017, the California Legislature passed and Governor Brown signed SB 5 and the bill was referred to the June 2018 ballot as Proposition 68 for voter approval.

Because Proposition 68 was created through a fair and transparent process, a broad and diverse coalition of stakeholder organizations saw their priorities in the bond. They were able to create a strong and compelling publication education and voter engagement campaign leading up to the June vote. The campaign and the bond’s priorities inspired voters to approve the bond 57.29% to 42.41% on June 8, 2018.

—Proposition 3—

Proposition 3 was created by Gerald Meral, a former water policy advisor to Governor Jerry Brown. Proposition 3 asked Californians to authorize approximately $8.9 billion in general obligation bonds for “watershed land preservation and restoration, water supply treatment, fish and wildlife habitat, preservation and restoration, water facility upgrades, groundwater treatment, and flood protection.” If Californians approved Proposition 3, taxpayers would pay back the bond plus interest, amounting to $17.3 billion over 40 years. Unlike Proposition 68, Proposition 3 was created through private conversations, assessing the needs of key interests throughout the state. And, as a result, Meral garnered more than $1.75 million from business groups and farmers, “many of them seeking canal improvements,” and approximately $1 million from environmental groups, “attracted by the measure’s promise of billions for habitat restoration .” In a state grappling with drought and wildfire, Californians voted down the ballot measure 50.65% to 49.35%.

—Lessons for Portland Metro—

As the Metro Council, staff, and the Task Force develop the regional ballot measure, the primary attention should focus on creating and upholding a fair, inclusive, and transparent process in order to create a dynamic, equitable ballot measure. The Task Force’s first action should be to develop recommendations to accomplish this outcome. As part of implementing these recommendations, the Metro Council should adopt ground rules or community agreements to ensure that all parties adhere to a fair, inclusive, and transparent process. At a minimum, the ground rules should:

  • Direct Metro Councilors, staff, and Task Force members to avoid all private conversations that could undermine this fair, inclusive and transparent process in creating the ballot measure.
  • Require Metro to post any updates to the measure language for all interested stakeholders to read and propose improvements.
  • Provide opportunities for all interested stakeholders to propose improvements to the measure language early, continuously, and often.
  • Require a process that provides ample time for community-based and community-focused organizations to inform, organize, and amplify the voices of their members.

Emulating the successful statewide ballot measure in California, Metro could create the ballot measure akin to a bill in the legislature: share the ballot measure language early and often so everyone can read it and offer improvements through meetings subject to public notice and comment. If Metro accomplishes creating and upholding a fair, inclusive, and transparent process, the ballot measure will inspire stakeholder organizations to develop a robust public education and voter engagement campaign and build trust with voters in the Metro region.

Without answers to these critical questions around governance and effective safeguards to prevent the creation of a ballot measure that represents the interests of a few, history requires us to answer that creating a Task Force is not, by itself, enough.

Subscribe to the Getting There Together Coalition for the next installments of this three-part series as we track Metro’s transportation measure meet with community members,, and research ways to ensure that voters can have confidence Metro to create a fair, inclusive, and transparent process.

1.Morain, Dan. What $8.9 billion water bond would buy. Palo Alto Online. July, 17, 2018. https://paloaltoonline.com/news/2018/07/17/what-89-billion-water-bond-would-buy