• Allan Classen

You knew before you asked

Editor's Turn

Greg Madden has as many opinions about the future of the Guilds Lake Industrial Area as anyone. As president of Madden Fabrication, a company founded by his father in 1988, he has championed the industrial sanctuary as a place where real estate speculation and more lucrative land uses, such as commercial and residential, have no business.

Yet he did not take the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s survey on the future of the swath of land between Northwest Vaughn and Nicolai streets, where a proposed streetcar line is seen as transforming the area into a hub for creative office space and possibly even residential towers.

He simply could not force himself to answer the online questionnaire. He tried, but the survey provided no options that fit his conviction that no changes in zoning or land-use policy are needed.

The “enhanced industrial” scenario, one of three proposed scenarios for the area, came closest to his position. “But that implied you are improving the industrial area,” he told Project Manager Barry Manning of BPS, and nothing Madden saw looked like improvement.

“I didn’t take it for that reason,” Madden said. “‘Do nothing’ has never been highlighted as an option.”

Sixty-nine people from Northwest Portland completed the questionnaire on the Montgomery Park to Hollywood (MP2H) streetcar route and associated land-use changes.

The most ambitious zoning scenario, which includes housing, got the most support—not surprising given the slant of the questions.

For example, one question asked: “Do you think a major transit investment (such as streetcar or bus rapid transit) could support and be compatible with the Mixed Use scenario?”

It would be hard to say that transit is incompatible with any conceivable type of development, so what does an affirmative answer tell you?

Madden was not the only one to distrust the fairness of the survey.

“Will anyone consider the slanted questions?” Northwest District Association board member Mike Stonebreaker asked of Manning. “There was a bias in the phrasing. If you have a flawed survey, you’re going to get flawed data. So then how can you rely on it?”

Perhaps another survey with properly vetted questions? That’s not in the works, said Manning, who merely promised that misgivings about the survey will be kept in mind as the planning process moves forward.

How can the public be confident of that when every assumption in the survey has been reflected across two years of city fast-tracking the same end? The fact that the city is going through the MP2H planning exercise at all owes primarily to the squawk raised over rewriting land-use and transportation policy without a formal or comprehensive study of broader consequences.

The questionnaire came close to being a “push poll,” a series of questions designed to guide the taker toward a desired conclusion rather than to measure prior opinion. If not deserving that label, it was at least reflective of an attempt to justify the boldest option, coincidentally the one that will make the most money for landowners in the study area. Also, the one most threatening to industrial workers and economic equity.

Does that mean that the mixed-use scenario, with its suggested 20-plus-story towers, would be bad for the city or local workers? That’s a harder question, and it depends on one’s social values and economic theories. But when an opinion survey is engineered toward a desired outcome, it implies that the result would not prevail in a fair contest.

No one gets what they want every time, certainly not in a public process involving many stakeholders. But is it too much to ask that those in charge demonstrate good faith and a willingness to correct their mistakes?


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