Metro has created a potentially useful and interesting tool with it's Opt In Panel. This group of just over 8000 volunteers is periodically contacted by Metro to answer questions about issues related to the work Metro does in the region. Often the questions are related to livability as well as land use and transportation.
I've been participating in the Opt In Panel since last spring. It has been my hope that Metro would weigh the Panel's answers heavily when making decisions.
So far, I've been dubious that this is the case. After answering a number of survey questions related to growth, land use, the Urban & Rural reserves and transportation, I've not seen Metro councilors move in the direction that the bulk of survey responses indicated.
In November, Metro sent an email to Opt In Panelists thanking us for "literally helping shape the future of our region." They also gave themselves a healthy pat on the back:
After listening to you and thousands of other people across our region, the Metro Council recently voted to limit the expansion of our urban growth boundary to less than one percent of its current size, even though some were asking for a much larger expansion.
Metro considered many factors. One of the most important was whether or not our existing cities and counties could afford to provide water, parks, schools, roads, police, fire and other important services. Another was whether or not property owners supported having their land brought into our urban growth boundary.
But more importantly, ,b>Metro also listened to you and the thousands of other people who shared their views in the September Opt In survey about our UGB. Metro heard loud and clear that most people in our region wanted a small UGB expansion, if any. Accordingly, the proposals submitted to Metro were scaled back.
1,985 acres of land brought into the Urban Growth Boundary in Washington County would seem to stretch any reasonable definition of "small UGB expansion". The 50 year urban reserves for Washington County total 13,817 acres. Sucking up almost 2000 acres in the first 5 years would seem to lend credence to that stretch.
In December, the Opt In Panel was again asked to complete an survey. This time, the questions themselves raised eyebrows. As reported by Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland, questions were "poorly phrased" and created "false dichotomies". Some survey questions in particular seemed to pit doing what's good for the environment against economic improvement. One asked people to choose between a good economic future for our children or a good environment for them to live in.
Jim Middaugh, communications director for Metro defends the survey. "We're attempting to provoke a bit and help decision makers get a sense of where different segments of the population are on these things." On Twitter, he responded directly to criticisms by saying that the "Forced choice" the survey presents is a "technique to get at underlying values." And he added that, "Metro gets that things aren't black and white."
"We're trying to see how people are leaning... If you put a grey zone in there, it's not as informative."
There are options in the survey allowing people to choose "Neither" or "Don't know" and to leave their own comments (and Middaugh said they'll publish all the comments they receive); but the phrasing and choices show a troubling perspective at Metro. I hope they're careful with what they extrapolate from this survey.
Given how Metro seemed to ignore or disregard previous surveys from panelists asking for density and less development on high value farmland, it's a little odd that now we're seeing survey questions like the ones that Maus describes. Could Metro be caving a bit to conservative pressure to get different outcomes from the opt-in survey?
What do you think?