But here's the thing. We already have a bunch of advisory and even quasi-judicial boards, and it has seemed difficult for them really to lead.
- The Citizens Advisory Traffic Commission doesn't even have a meeting posted for 2014 (but I believe they have met at least once this year) and in the last decade seems to have met on average about 4 times a year. It is a badly underused resource, fairly neglected by the City.
- The Historic Landmarks Commission does a great job policing vinyl windows, new garage doors, and wireless antennae on historic buildings, but is seemingly helpless on actually preserving buildings that owners are trying to demolish. Even when the HLC takes a principled stand, Council feels free to disregard the stand and enact its own veto.
- The Planning Commission is more difficult to nutshell, but it seems relevant that it wasn't able to maintain the integrity of the Fairview Master Plan in a proposed refinement plan for a third development at Fairview.
- The Public Art Commission looks a little too clubby and insidery, and it tends towards institutionalizing and decorating our ornamental emptinesses.
- There are also temporary committees, like the "Stakeholder Advisory Committees" for Bike and Walk Salem, for the Downtown Mobility Study, the North Broadway Parking study. You will think of others. The committees seem to start with vision, but between the necessary politics of compromise and unnecessary weight given to objections based on maintaining the status quo, the final recommendations always seem so pallid, so watered down. And sustaining funded action on them a near impossibility.
- Of the commissions we've followed here, the ones that have seemed most effective are the boards advising on the Urban Renewal Areas: The Downtown Advisory Board, West Salem Redevelopment Advisory Board, and North Gateway Redevelopment Advisory Board. They've got real budgets and get to help develop real projects. But I don't know if anyone would say they were strikingly effective.
But in general, as a group the Boards and Commissions don't look like they actually are very powerful or very effective. As institutions and by the city ordinances that establish and govern them, they don't look like they are meant to be very powerful or effective. For the volunteer members without staff resources of their own, it is not always easy to develop alternatives to or detailed critique of the staff-driven agenda. Sometimes the committees just rubber-stamp; sometimes they give the illusion and "blessing" of debate, dissent, and deliberation; in all cases they seem like they are meant to sand down and tame any distinction and vision so it's smooth and easy.
|August 2014 vacancies|
This is why it has not seemed useful here to advocate for a Bicycle Advisory Committee. Would one help us get a full family-friendly bikeway any faster? Or would it just provide more greenwash and cover, the soothing reassurance of "process"?
If you've been reading BikePortland lately, you'll see even Portland isn't living the dream right now:
- "Something has Gone Wrong in Portland"
- The political process is like "whack-a-mole" to grind down support
- The BTA isn't adequate and more assertive activism is necessary
- Portland's Bicycle Advisory Committee needs new blood
Maybe you have a different analysis of it all. (Certainty's not possible!)
And it's true that the "the proposed advisory committee would have less clout than the old environmental commission. The advisory committee could only make recommendations, not issue decisions." Its proponents don't argue for much in the way of real power or influence.
Still, I really wonder if an effective solution to our dilatory interests in environmentalism and sustainability really is another committee.