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Housing, transportation, water supply top Washington County agenda

Originally posted in the Portland Tribune by Peter Wong 4/12/17

Washington County faces big challenges in housing, transportation and water supply.

But Chairman Andy Duyck, who has been on the county board for more than two decades, says the county goes into 2017 with a strong economic base to meet them.

Duyck spoke Tuesday, April 11, at a Westside Economic Alliance breakfast in what will be his next to last state of the county address. He closed by saying he would not seek re-election when his second four-year term as chairman ends next year.

Despite his extended discussion of several issues, Duyck said the state of Washington County's economy is strong.

"In the past 12 months, we have added more than 1,000 new employers, and put more than 8,000 people to work in both public and private sectors," he said. "Our earnings today will total more than $53 million."

Oregon's second most populous county added 10,000 in the past year — and its unemployment rate dropped in February to 3.2 percent, second only to Benton County's 3 percent.

The breakfast took place in Hillsboro at the Ronler Acres campus of Intel, which has invested $40 billion in four campuses since the California company came to Washington County in 1974. It is the county's largest property taxpayer, and with 19,300 full-time employees, Oregon's largest private employer.

"We are grateful to have Intel inside Washington County," Duyck said.

Intel, Nike and eight other Oregon companies with a presence in Washington County account for 5,700 U.S. patents from 2011 through 2015.

"The creative talents and bright ideas coming from Washington County help make our region a world leader for innovation," Duyck said.

Scoggins Dam work

But Duyck spoke at length about key issues facing the county: Water, transportation and housing.

The latter two have drawn more public attention, but Duyck said: "Now more than ever, our need to expand and protect our primary water supply behind Scoggins Dam continues to be our top priority."

Congress in late 2015 gave new authority to the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam in western Washington County, to make seismic improvements and increase the capacity of Hagg Lake.

Scoggins Dam is one of three by the bureau in Oregon — the others are in Southern Oregon — considered at high risk of failure if there is a severe earthquake off the Pacific coast. Options are to raise the existing earthen dam or build a new concrete dam a mile downstream.

Duyck said the issue drew national attention earlier this year, when heavy rains and melting snow threatened to breach the Oroville Dam, a state-built earthen dam in California.

Duyck will lead a county delegation later in April to Washington, D.C., to discuss recommendations with bureau officials and Oregon's congressional delegation

"In each of these meetings, our message along the way will be the same as I leave with each of you now: Doing nothing is not an option," Duyck said.

 

Traffic and road conditions

Duyck added his voice to a chorus of local and regional officials and business leaders calling on the Oregon Legislature to pass major funding for transportation projects this session.

"We all want congestion relief on Highway 217, but that's not enough," he said. "We have to make transportation investments that offer multimodal choices and systemwide benefits across local government boundaries."

Duyck did identify Highway 217, a heavily traveled route between Tigard, Beaverton and Cedar Hills, as one of the Portland region's top three bottlenecks. Regional funding also will be sought for these projects, but a discussion will take place after the 2017 legislative session.

Duyck also said the legislation must deal with future public transit, connections between neighborhoods — and maintenance needs of existing roads.

"After the cold, wet winter we have endured in western Oregon, you don't have to look hard or travel very far to see that we have significant work to do," he said.

Housing availability

While Duyck called for state legislative action on transportation, he criticized what the Legislature has done so far on rental housing.

"Popular demands for inclusionary zoning, a ban on no-cause evictions, imposing rent controls and declaring tenant rights won't begin to get at the root of the problem," he said.

"In my view, the most effective way to provide affordable housing is to increase the supply of housing in all types and price points. There is simply not enough housing to go around."

The Legislature last year repealed a ban on inclusionary zoning, which would require developers to set aside a share of new rental housing for below-market rents. But cities and counties have discretion over inclusionary zoning.

The House has passed a bill to ban no-cause evictions and repeal a ban on rent controls, but the Senate has not yet taken it up.

About 40 percent rent in Washington County.

Washington County generates more jobs than has housing available for workers.

Duyck spoke at length about lower-cost housing projects planned in several communities."We will continue to direct more resources than ever before to deliver the housing we need," he said. "We will continue to look for market-based ways we can help the private sector to create more housing of all types."