Douglas County would no longer be responsible for computing local population forecasts consulted in land-use planning if legislators pass a bill under consideration in the Oregon House.
Population forecasting has become contentious because it often pits groups advocating limited growth against those that want to encourage development. Both sides may dispute the calculations. Under HB 2253, the task for figuring population estimates would fall on the Population Research Center at Portland State University.
Since 1954, the research center has provided annual population estimates to counties and cities. It works closely with the U.S. Census Bureau.
The bill, which was introduced at the request of Gov. John Kitzhaber on behalf of the state Department of Land Conservation and Development, specifies that the forecasts supplied by Portland State could not be challenged in later land-use decisions.
Both of the county’s population forecasts completed during the last 12 years were appealed to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, where they bounced back and forth.
“Because it was so technical, LUBA looked at it and said you need to tweak this and that. They remanded it. We did it. They remanded it. We did it,” county Planning Director Keith Cubic said.
Tom Hawksworth, president of Sane and Orderly Development, a homeowners group in the unincorporated Charter Oaks neighborhood outside the Roseburg city limits, said his biggest concern is whether the proposed new system would give people a meaningful opportunity to object to population projections. Under the bill, Portland State would release preliminary population growth estimates. There would then be a period to allow people a chance to comment. Researchers would then take those comments into consideration before issuing final projections.
“We liked the Portland State numbers. They seemed to be more accurate,” said Hawksworth, whose group in the past has challenged the population projections issued by the county and by the city of Roseburg. “Our concern is whether those comments would be taken seriously or whether they’d look at them, but it wouldn’t make any difference in their final report.”
Craig Beebe, spokesman for the land use group 1000 Friends of Oregon, which supports the bill, said his organization is confident the Population Research Center will take people’s views into account.
“We definitely wouldn’t support a bill that we feel would limit public participation,” Grimes said.
In a letter to the House Land Use Committee, which is considering the bill, Mary Kyle McCurdy, policy director for 1000 Friends, wrote that population forecasts have not been completed regularly in many areas of the state. Shifting that responsibility to Portland State should relieve local governments of the financial burden and ensure regular, accurate projections are available, she wrote.
Brian Davis, community development director for the city of Roseburg, served on the Governor’s Urban Growth Advisory Committee, a 30-member group that developed the bill. The group consisted of local, county and state officials, representatives of homebuilders, agriculture groups, land use attorneys and land conservation groups.
“I’m cautiously optimistic about it. I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Davis said.
One concern Davis has is that historically Portland State has predicted greater growth in areas that have shown previous gains. It’s been harder for their researchers to provide more robust projections for areas with stagnant past growth.
The bill is also supported by 1000 Friends of Oregon, which was also involved in drawing up the legislation.
Passage of the bill, Davis and Cubic said, would simplify the process and save local governments thousands of dollars.
“Portland State will give us a number. We will integrate it into our countywide planning and it will be a base piece of information that can’t be appealed,” Cubic said. “We don’t have to justify the science or the technology behind it. They are recognized for that.”
The bill would also require more frequent population estimate updates. The county has been preparing updates every 10 years, with appeals dragging them out longer, Cubic said. Under the bill, Portland State would be mandated to provide new estimates every four years.
“If, in fact, Portland State underestimates and during the four-year period some things happen that should be considered, there’s a quicker turnaround,” Cubic said. “We’re not stuck with a 10- or 20-year forecast.”
The bill would also eliminate the population estimates configured by the state Office of Economic Analysis, against which the county plans have been measured rather than the Portland State numbers. Those estimates, which Cubic said have consistently underestimated population growth, have been used by the governor, the Legislature and state agencies for planning purposes.
“They estimate low and they have a built-in bias in their system to push the population toward the urban and metro areas,” Cubic said.
Cubic said if the change is made, he will be better able to utilize his staff. One of his planners spent about 10 percent of his time overall working on population forecasts.
On Wednesday, the county Board of Commissioners voted to postpone approval of the most recent tweaks to the county population forecast, which predicts an average growth rate of 1.16 percent through 2030. Commissioners will wait to see if the House bill passes before taking further action.
After the Sane and Orderly objections to the city of Roseburg’s forecast, the city revised its annual growth rate prediction downward from 1.72 percent to 1.2 percent in the city limits and to 1 percent in the urban growth boundary.
You can reach reporter John Sowell at 541-957-4209 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.