Updating Mt. Tabor’s Master Plan

By Pete Forsyth

Published October 2, 2007

Last week, the Portland City Council approved a resolution to devote $465,000 to an update to the Mt. Tabor Master Plan. The resolution funds a process that will ensure that Portland’s exceptional parks, which benefit us in many intangible ways, remain worthy of our high regard.

I was treated to a tour of Mt. Tabor’s nursery and maintenance yard this summer. The workers of Portland Parks & Recreation make the most of minimal facilities as they breathe life into our parks.

I learned that PP&R employs one of the only workers in the country approved to do warranty repairs on Toro mowing equipment. Yet this modest man, with more than 30 years on the job, performs most of his work outside, shielded from the rain by only a small awning. The yard’s carpentry shop, responsible for moving large pieces of lumber as it maintains park equipment for the entire city, has only 8-foot ceilings and lacks a loading dock. Karen Trappen, a carpenter at the yard, won a national Public Employee of the Year award last month, selected over 5,000 other Northwest laborers.

There are broken and boarded windows, rusted gutters and buckling walls, and fences largely inadequate for keeping thieves off the premises. A greenhouse recently expanded lies largely unused. Horticultural workers, with extensive knowledge of how to keep plants thriving in PP&R’s various locations, have been laid off in favor of outsourced contracts.

The thought of reducing or relocating these vital facilities would simply never occur to me. If our workers can produce so much beauty and sustain such an active parks system out of these dilapidated facilities, the last thing we should do is throw a monkey wrench in the system, absent any overwhelming and compelling reason to do so.

Then again, I’m not a college coveting city property, or a supplier seeking lucrative horticultural or maintenance contracts at taxpayer expense. Last year, Warner Pacific College aggressively pursued purchase of much of the land housing the maintenance and horticultural facilities. Napa Auto Parts won a contract to take over warehouse services in 2004. But the program was aborted soon after when promised cost savings did not materialize.

Such private businesses have long had the ear of city officials, but it’s only in the last year that residents have come to understand the extensive changes being contemplated in our parks system and begun to advocate for the public interest.

As Commissioner Randy Leonard emphasized at last week’s City Council hearing, there is no sane reason to expend public resources deliberating whether or not the yard should continue as a maintenance and horticultural facility. The question here is not what to do with a piece of property with some local appeal, but whether and how we will sustain Portland’s parks in the years and decades to come.

The high price tag of the present resolution reflects an escalating state of emergency that results when basic workplace maintenance goes by the wayside. This facility — a cornerstone of our well-beloved parks system — deserves an upgrade that will ensure effective parks maintenance for generations to come. The resolution approved by the City Council will ensure that community values and concern for fiscal responsibility, not narrow corporate interests, drive the process.

Pete Forsyth, a South Tabor resident, was a participant in the PP&R mediation and was a member of the steering committee that produced the resolution.

Originally published at blog.oregonlive.com.