Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Letter to Nick Fish snags meeting for FLP

The steering committee for Friends of Lents Park emailed to Commissioner Nick Fish and associates a letter outlining the position of FLP members regarding the 25-year Master Plan process for Lents Park. It represents FLP's public comment as a group on the second stage of the process. This does not replace comment forms that our members have filled out as individuals.

In this letter (see below), we have attempted to summarize the main points on which we have heard overwhelming agreement from all the FLP members we've talked to. This document is not meant to express everything everybody wants to say. By all means feel free to contact Commissioner Fish directly with anything you might want to add. You can reach him at 503-823-3589 or

We have already heard back that Commissioner Fish's people want to meet with us. The steering committee is putting together quickly a delegation for this meeting, so some of you will be getting phone calls. If you want to volunteer for the delegation, please call Kathleen at 503-756-2786.

September 15, 2010
To: Commissioner Nick Fish Director Zari Santner, Portland Parks & Recreation Lents Park Master Plan Project Advisory Committee
From: Friends of Lents Park Steering Committee: Barbara Bader (Interim Member) Diane Camelli Kathleen Juergens de Ponce
Re: Lents Park Master Plan Public Comment on Concept Plan Alternatives

The Friends of Lents Park submits the following as public comment on the “Concept A, B and C” maps for the Lents Park Master Plan. Although our members have submitted individual comment forms, we believe it is appropriate to speak collectively on more fundamental issues of process and assumptions which the City's comment form is not designed to address.
These positions are based on three weeks of intensive engagement with our own membership and the surrounding community since the release of the three concept maps, including four public meetings and hundreds of contacts by phone, e-mail and in person. Our members and the community have overwhelmingly told us:
1. There is a fundamental lack of confidence in the entire Master Plan process, caused by seriously inadequate public involvement on the front end. We were never asked what we want for our park, but have had proposals for dramatic change simply thrown at us.
2. The City needs to slow down its Master Plan process and reopen it to open-ended public comment, even if this means we do not get a final Master Plan in place by January 2011.
3. Future planning processes should start with the understanding that this park is much-beloved in its current configuration, particularly the mature trees. There should be a presumption in favor of maintaining and renovating existing park features in their current locations, with those who would propose significant changes having “burden of proof” to show these changes are supported by the community. The City needs to ask us if we want changes and what those changes might be, not simply engage us in the “how” of rearranging our park.

Friends of Lents Park, founded in May 2009, is the only stakeholder group in the Lents Park Master Plan process whose mission focuses only on the park. Our mission states:
“We seek to preserve, maintain and enhance Lents Park as Open Space in its entirety, for the enjoyment of future generations. We support the neighborhood and surrounding community in all uses of the park that are consistent with this mission.
Our group includes seniors and youth, long-time residents and recent immigrants, and participants in virtually every activity that takes place in the park. Although no one group can claim to speak for Lents, a diverse neighborhood of over 20,000, of all stakeholder groups we represent by far the broadest cross-section of people who use and love the park.
As Commissioner Fish will recall, Friends of Lents Park members helped start up this Master Plan process, following the defeat of the Beavers stadium proposal. Many of us had high hopes that this plan would be a vehicle to reverse years of neglect of our park and help us achieve the repairs and improvements we have wanted for years. Instead, our members are feeling betrayed and angry. Rather than a process which engages us as partners, the City's Master Plan is starting to feel like “the Beavers all over again” - another threat to our park which we must organize and fight.
Inadequate public involvement has caused a lack of confidence in the process
The City's three concept maps all contain dramatic changes that the neighborhood never asked for, some of which are so preposterous that they leave us scratching our heads wondering where these ideas came from. Over and over, we have heard our members complain that the City never asked them what they wanted for the park before drawing up these maps.
The City's first round of public involvement was supposed to accomplish this objective, but it was seriously inadequate. A survey was done, but it was left open for only a week and was filled out by only 132 people. A single open house was held in the park, with the attendees at this one event comprising almost all survey respondents.
The survey should have include more pertinent questions. Do you like the park the way it is? Does the park meet your needs the way it is? What changes would be necessary for this park to do a better job of meeting your needs?
The City's Project Advisory Committee (PAC) had no input and was denied access to the survey prior to the open house. Although a few improvements were made in this second round of public comment, we remain frustrated that our representatives had little meaningful input into the process.
Walker Macy, the city's contractor, has drafted three “concept alternative” maps for the park – and most of the changes in them seem to have been proposed on the contractor's own initiative, just to see how these ideas would be received. Our members have been outraged to

learn that $75,000 of our local urban renewal funds went to draw up these maps, especially since funds have been so scarce for other aspects of public involvement.
We believe that the 330 comment forms that have just been received, once they are tabulated and analyzed, will send a powerful message that the community believes the concept maps do not represent what it wants for Lents Park over the next 25 years.
Reopen and slow down The Master Plan process
Now that public comment has closed on the three “concept alternative” maps, we understand the next step to be that Walker Macy will generate one “preferred concept” map. There will then be another open house and round of public comment before the Master Plan is finalized in January 2011. Friends of Lents Park opposes moving on to these steps until there has been the opportunity for more open-ended community dialog about the park.
There are several reasons why our members feel it is inappropriate to proceed to a “preferred concept” map. First, all three “concept alternatives” are so flawed (particularly regarding tree removal) that we have no confidence in any combination of their elements. Second, it has become clear during public comment on the concept maps that some of the principal ideas being discussed in the community are not even reflected on the concept maps or in the City's comment form. These ideas should be given a place in the process.
In particular, we understand that community leader and PAC member Cora Potter has been actively lobbying for a new concept that would move at least some sports fields out of the park entirely, and re-purpose at least part of the park's central area as botanical gardens. In a straw poll taken at our most recent meeting, almost 1/3 of our members felt at least some of these ideas merited more consideration, but 100% of our members felt that they needed more information about these proposals and/or more time to think about it. We feel strongly that ideas such as Ms. Potter's deserve a fair hearing within the context of a City-sponsored public involvement process.
It is not written in stone that Lents Park needs a new Master Plan by January 2011. In fact, there will be no money to make the changes until there's a new parks bond – 2012 at the earliest. In our recent straw poll, 100% voted that meaningful community input on the park's future is more important than having a Master Plan in place by January. This is a 25-year plan. Let's take the time to get it right.
Our neighborhood resources are being used for the process, so we should have the final say in how they are spent. Make line item budget details available to the PAC, including unspent funds under Walker Macy's contract, and let the PAC help decide how these resources can be best allocated.
Presumption should be in favor of keeping the park as it is
Friends of Lents Park has received much feedback from our members that, given what they know from the process so far, they like the park the way it is. In particular, our members feel very strongly about preservation of the park's existing mature trees.

Our members are angry that this position is being ignored.
This does not mean our members are against any changes to the park. Rather, this is a question of fundamental assumptions. The City and Walker Macy seem to assume that dramatic changes are coming. Our members want any planning process to start with the love this community feels for Lents Park, and proceed carefully from there. Any proposal for significant change should meet a “burden of proof” that it is supported by the community. It's not enough to choose a plan by default because people failed to object.
If the final “vote” on the concept maps turns out to be “no” on most aspects of all three maps – and we believe this is a very likely outcome – the City and Walker Macy should, in the short term, repair and renovate the park in its current configuration. Then, slow down the 25-year planning process and roll out a meaningful public involvement plan. The community has been asking for this for years. It is also the most fiscally prudent option in the current economy.

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