Author’s note: When I wrote this chapter, the budget of $465,000 for the Mt. Tabor Master Plan Update was in jeopardy of being axed. Shortly after finishing my project, the full budget was approved (I will make note of this in my final chapter)

A key reason this process has a significant chance at succeeding within the limited timeframe is because of the substantial funding it received from City Council. When the resolution was presented to Council in September 2007, PPR requested a budget of $465,000 to complete the work. A third of the budget was pledged from the bureau itself, and with its unanimous approval, Council resolved to fund the rest.

The amount would cover every line item on the budget, from the salaries of the project managers and the contract with the facilitators, to the production of the architectural RFP and funding for the community events. With the immense amount of work to be done in a limited amount of time, the money would afford us the opportunity to meet unimaginable deadlines.

With every step of the process mapped out and interdependent on the coordination of several other steps, it would be impossible to complete our task with a fraction of the budget. We had made this case to the City, but political realities would once again sweep in changes.

In April, four months into the process, PPR received the “Mayor’s Proposed Budget” that cut the funding for the update of the Mt. Tabor Master Plan in half. Working with limited funds, funding for other City priorities left us $200,000 short.

Though deflated, we were not defeated. The budget cut was from the proposed budget, and would be open to public comment for nearly a month, with the final budget to be approved by City Council in mid-May. As a collective group, we quickly drafted a letter to all members of City Council:

We the Planning Group for the Mt. Tabor Yard and Nursery have become aware that the recently released Mayor’s proposed budget does not include the full funding previously committed by you last fall as outlined in council resolution #36539 dated September 26, 2007. The Mayor’s proposed budget is $200k short of your previous funding commitment. It is imperative that the project funding be fully restored.

The community and Parks staff have been diligently working together since last year, with community members contributing hundreds of volunteer hours on the City’s behalf.

As per your direction, we are moving very quickly towards the development of a schematic plan which will enable the city to develop a funding proposal for implementation.

We have been meeting as both a large group and in smaller groups to research previous studies, consult with staff at the yard, define the issues to address, and hire technical experts. We are currently in the process of hiring an architectural firm to lead the development of the schematic plan – final interviews were held on May 5th.

The staff and union representatives at the yard and involved with the nursery are on board, enthusiastic and optimistic that this schematic plan will resolve their increasingly deteriorating working conditions. Yard staff members are active volunteer members of the Planning Group and have been instrumental in engaging their peers in discussions about the future of the yard and nursery.

We are dismayed that in addition to the hundreds of volunteer hours we are giving to the city, we find ourselves having to use more of our time to remind you of your commitment to fully fund this project (MTCY&NPG, personal communication, May 5, 2008).

Additionally, union leadership and members met individually with commissioners and their staffs on behalf of those employed at the Yard to express support for the process from the employees.

Individuals were encouraged to send in their own comments to Council stressing that the project must be done in full, that planning group members have given a tremendous amount of volunteer time to this effort, and that momentum and optimism has us moving forward with a model community engagement plan. I personally sent the following:

In 2000, when the City and neighbors first released an extensive master plan for Mt Tabor, they agreed on the following vision:

“…Portland Parks and Recreation works closely and cooperatively with the community in its management of the park. Decisions about proposed changes in park use are in keeping with the Master Plan vision and goals. Proposed changes to uses in the park are considered and evaluated in light of their impacts on the character and condition of the park, other park users, and the surrounding neighborhood.”

Since its release, issues like capping the reservoirs and selling the maintenance yard has kept citizens out of the decisions and direction of Mt Tabor Park and has proven to be contentious every time.

This process has established citizens, employees and government as equitable stakeholders, opening up avenues of communication that have historically been closed. Additionally, it serves as a model of partnership that will have city-wide implications. Limiting the funding for this planning process throws all that potential away.

I hope that the City adheres to the vision for Mt Tabor that was agreed upon nearly 10 years ago and lets us finish this important task together (Yelton, personal communication, May 8, 2008).

From the preliminary work we had done, it appeared that we had strong support from two of the commissioners and had little reason to think that the third commissioner and the mayor were unsympathetic to our cause. Knowing that their priorities might be elsewhere, however, it was important to express the urgency of our situation to them.

At the close of this writing, the outcome of our hurried effort to once again convince the City of the importance of our effort is unknown. A vote on the proposed budget was scheduled for May 14, 2008, but Council ended up not finalizing the budget, deciding to reconvene on the matter on June 4, 2008. This would essentially leave the planning group in limbo for another three weeks, but we would proceed as planned because of important deadlines scheduled (contract negotiations with the architecture firm to be presented to Council for ratification on May 21st and a community outreach event on May 31st).