Editors Note: OPINION AND OP-ED Ahead- We are publishing the comments of area residents this week after attending the October 17th, 2023 Hillsboro City Council Meeting. Several people filed in and testified against Ordinance No. 6461, which we covered last weekend. This ordinance was passed with little fanfare. While most households in Hillsboro, Oregon, and beyond are trying to figure out what to cut from their monthly budgets to afford gas, food, and, rising utilities, the City Council went on a spending spree. Only 1 City Councilor, Kipperlyn Sinclair, had the guts to ask questions or for a debate on this new Ordinance, which will allow the Hillsboro Economic Development staff to spend up to $370,000,000 playing developer on the North Tualatin Plains between Evergreen Road and Highway 26. Sinclair was more or less silenced and voted NO when the vote came. This money will be borrowed at high-interest rates by our City and spent on consultants, new roads, and sewers on farmlands in North Hillsboro. This will prepare them for corporations who will come and receive Millions in tax benefits. Then, the property taxes that will come will pay back these City debts, while schools, police, fire, and roads will go without their share of the revenue for years. This is the classic “Steal from Peter to Pay Paul” move. And would you believe most of this land is not in the City of Hillsboro? Yes, folks- our City Leaders are developing our farmlands to get more jobs, so your housing costs, property taxes, and utilities will rise in price again and again – and there is no end in sight. This recent group at City Hall has this pervasive attitude that no one but Hillsboro should get jobs and that we can never get enough. But hey, that same group sat by and zoned and encouraged over 300 acres to turn into Data Centers that only now do we all realize look like Siberian Prisons and suck up all our power and water.
This first letter is powerful, yet no one seemed to listen at the decision-makers’ table. There was not even one comment or mention of these salient points. We encourage you all to read this and reflect on where we are headed as a city. These tougher times are difficult for us to imagine spending a lot of money- let alone a staggering number like this.
RE: Testimony on City of Hillsboro Ordinance No. 6461
Mayor Calloway, Councilors of the City of Hillsboro, Oregon
My name is Nellie McAdams, and I come before you as an individual. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today in opposition to ordinance No 6461, which would formally amend and expand the North Hillsboro Industrial Renewal Area. You might ask why I’m testifying against the annexation of land that has been set aside for future urban use.
The reason is that the need and public benefit of this annexation are not proven and do not outweigh the consequences to farmland, the environment, and sound economics. Hillsboro has grown exponentially since Intel first arrived in 1984, but I ask you: to what end, will it ever be enough, and what are the opportunity costs?
The city does not need the tech industry to provide more jobs for its current residents – its unemployment rate is 2.9%, less than the historically low federal rate of 3.8%. What your residents do need is affordable housing, but there is a shortage in the city, and very little if any naturally occurring affordable housing in the recent developments like South Hillsboro. Section 8 vouchers are not enough.
Infrastructure and political will are what’s needed for housing, not cheap new land, which only increases the developers’ margin. Metro forecasts a need for 290,000 units over the next 20 years, but the region currently has enough buildable land for at least 320,000 units (a 30,000
unit surplus), and that was calculated before HB 2001 made it easier to build infill. Yet Hillsboro has not made meaningful efforts to stimulate affordable housing production inside its boundaries, like adjusting its System Development Charges or permitting fees, and following
other recommendations from ECONorthwest.
Of course, Hillsboro wants more tax revenue, but any revenue deficits are likely due to prior poor decisions in how to grow and what companies to invite in. The staff report does not mention data centers, but these are very likely to be built in the Urban Reserve expansion area. According to The Oregonian, in the spring of last year, data centers occupied more than 300 acres of industrial land in the city. Data centers are among the state’s biggest energy consumers and largest tax break recipients, collecting incentives worth more than $180 million last year. And after a blip in construction jobs, the average data center provides relatively low-wage employment for only 5 to 30 people.
By making unstrategic investments in incremental expansions into large properties that had been reserved for industrial land, the city makes it difficult to site large projects there in the future – or it just makes it conveniently inevitable that the City will request rural reserves to fill
another baseless need. Urban Reserve or not, the City still must show a need to expand, and energy and water-sucking industries that provide few, low-paying jobs is a poor trade-off for some of the best farmland in the world, migratory corridors, and carbon sequestration of these soils that would be lost forever in an expansion.
In the 5 years between 2012 and 2017, Washington County lost over 30,000 acres from agricultural production. That’s a 23% loss in one county, compared to a 2% loss in the state – suggesting that Washington County is ground zero for farmland loss in Oregon and a
huge threat to the County’s next largest industry – agriculture. Agriculture is soil dependent, but tech requires surface area, and increasingly little of that since it has been steadily increasing its efficiencies on its existing footprint. Tech does not need land to thrive, and Hillsboro does not
need data centers where some of the world’s last and best-remaining farmland is.
Add to these concerns, the fact that Intel wants to double its already extremely high air emissions, and I am at a loss for understanding who benefits from these expansions except the developers who are in and out, and the companies who receive tax breaks in exchange for using tremendous amounts of energy and water, polluting our air, and paving our farmland.
My request of the City is to pause this and other expansions and conduct a truly independent, comprehensive economic and environmental study with citizen oversight of not only this decision but the City’s expansion patterns, before annexing any additional land into the UGB. This should include the net benefits of industrial development, including data centers, the ways the city could promote affordable and workforce housing, and the environmental consequences of industrial land and the city’s low-density housing patterns inside and outside the city.
Thank you for your time and consideration,