Regional Problem Solving - "RPS"
January 2012 Update
The Greater Bear Creek Regional Problem Solving, or "RPS," plan will guide how and where Jackson County (particularly the Bear Creek area, which includes the most populated parts of the county between Ashland and Eagle Point) accommodates a projected doubling of the population over the next 50 years. The creation of the plan was nearly a decade-long process and just recently concluded at the local level when the Jackson County Board of County Commissioners approved the plan last November.
While the concept of regional planning is something our organization supports, we became involved in the RPS process due to the many concerning aspects of this particular plan. One of our biggest concerns was that the plan proposed to urbanize about 8,500 acres of rural land, 7,000 of which is farmland (and of that, about 1,200 acres is Class I&2 irrigated soils - some of the very best farmland we have left). Considering that the RPS plan grew out of an early effort to determine how best to preserve our region's agricultural land (click here to learn about this effort, called "Our Region"), the amount of agricultural land that the plan would convert for residential/commercial uses is far too high. Another related concern is that the plan proposed only modest increases in urban densities. The proposed densities would be too low to support even a minimal level of public transportion in the region.
Our position has been that if the RPS plan increased its urban densities to a reasonable level, it would not only ensure the viability of a public transit system in the future, but would simultaneously conserve our region's precious farmland.
Throughout the public hearings process in 2010 and 2011, Rogue Advocates and our collaborative partner 1000 Friends of Oregon worked to spread the word about the public hearings and to get citizens across the region to come voice their concerns about the plan. Both of our organizations as well as many concerned citizens (including many farmers) came the the hearings and spoke out against the problems with the RPS plan.
The good news is that some positive changes were made to the plan, and we can safely say it is a better plan because of those many people who participated in the hearings process. Some of the positive changes are that:
- Less farmland is included for urbanization (and one highly contentious piece of high-value agricultural land was removed from the plan);
- An "Agricultural Task Force" will be created to determine the effect of the RPS plan on agriculture, and to identify ways that any negative effects can be mitigated;
- Urban densities were raised to a level to support at least a minimal transit service; and
- Commitments to concentrate development along transportation corridors and to do "mixed use" development were added.
The bad news is that these changes fail to go far enough to make this an acceptable plan for growth in our region over the next 50 years. Where the plan still falls short is that:
- Only about 100 acres of farmland has been removed from the urbanization plan, and one piece of high-value farmland will still be urbanized, despite strong objections from neighbors;
- Although an Agricultural Task Force will be created to study mitigation measures for farmland loss, the Farmland Conservation Program that Rogue Advocates proposed for inclusion in the plan was not adopted. This program would have mitigated for the loss of farmland that is inherent in the plan by ensuring permanent protection for other quality farmland in our region;
- While urban density commitments will increase, they will increase only to a level to support a minimal level of transit - such a long-term plan should be progressive and contemplate high levels of transportation options besides the car; and
- Medford's density commitment is the lowest in the region, and as the regional hub, it should have the highest density of any participating cities.
Fortunately there is still time to weigh in on the RPS plan and to try and deal with these remaining concerns. The plan still has to have state approval, and comments can be sent to the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC), which will be the next body to review the plan, until January 18, 2012. For information about how to comment and details about the approval process, click here. For more information about the RPS plan, see 1000 Friends of Oregon's webpage on the RPS plan here.
Pictured: Rogue Advocates and 1000 Friends of Oregon helped spread the word about the RPS hearings through tabling at farmers markets and other community events around the region in 2010 and 2011. Community involvement helped make improvements to the RPS plan.
See also other (now historical) articles about RPS:
Sierra Club (See March, April, July/Aug. 2010 newsletters)
To learn more or to volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.