Our City

SESNA Position on “Our Salem” Stakeholder Advisory Committee

At the September 25, 2018 SESNA Board meeting, SESNA approved a statement of concern and formal recommendation to Mayor and Council regarding the stakeholder advisory committee for the “Our Salem” comprehensive plan update process.

The text of the letter can be found  below. A pdf of the document is available for download here. The current stakeholder advisory committee list is available here.

Why does this matter?

The Comprehensive Plan is the high-level document that guides how Salem grows and develops. The Comprehensive Plan sets the tone. Do we want smart growth? Or do we want more single-family subdivisions, strip malls, and auto-oriented development?

The Stakeholder Advisory Committee is tasked with helping decide how “success” will be measured. A broadly representative committee will have different ideas of what success looks like, and this will change how it is measured.

Defining “success” determines the direction of the entire plan, and will directly shape how Salem develops over the next generation.

Mayor Bennett and Esteemed Councilors:

The South East Salem Neighborhood Association would like to thank the City of Salem for beginning outreach for the next update to Salem’s Comprehensive Plan, “Our Salem”. We look forward to working with Eunice Kim on this important project as Salem plans for its future!

We’ve reviewed the website and the recently-released stakeholder advisory committee (SAC) list, and have some concerns. The SAC is tasked with guiding staff in evaluating existing plans, choosing measures by which to evaluate the city, and more. This is the foundation for the comprehensive plan update and will set the ultimate direction. We believe that the group providing this important guidance needs to be representative of the community.

The SAC includes 15 people, each of whom is clearly committed to Salem’s future. However, we are concerned with how the committee was selected and how well those chosen are able to accurately reflect the entire community’s needs and interests. We are not aware of a public process through which the committee members were nominated, vetted, and selected, or what criteria were used to vet the members.

SESNA has some recommendations for enhancing the committee to better represent the community.

Overview of the Existing Committee:

Of the 15 stakeholders, five are elected officials, including two Salem City Councilors. Three more stakeholders sit on the Salem Planning Commission, appointees of the City Council.

As a result, fully one-third of the stakeholders are effectively representing the Salem City Council. Given the Council’s role in final decision-making, this seems inappropriate to us. The decision-makers cannot also be the “ground-up” proposers of content.

A total of eight members, more than half of the SAC, are either elected officials or appointed to positions by elected officials.

The SAC includes representation from the business community via the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce. The President of the Salem Planning Commission also represents the Home Builders Association of Marion and Polk Counties, an organization primarily focused on single-family residential development and which lobbies on behalf of this sector. While both of these entities are important stakeholders, we believe that limiting scope to these two organizations provides only a narrow view into the needs of the business and development communities.

Three neighborhood association land-use chairs are on the committee. This is welcome representation of neighborhood associations, but is not likely to be adequate representation of our community as a whole.

We appreciate that the City is seeking to engage Salem’s Latino community, which comprises roughly 22% of Salem’s population. While we commend the City on its creative choice of a social organization, Enlace Cross-Cultural Community Development Project, we do not believe that this one resource is adequate to ensure community representation in reviewing existing plans and choosing measures for City evaluation.

We’re glad to see transit (Cherriots) and environmental concerns (Salem 350) represented.

Recommendations for Enhancement:

We understand that simply adding more seats to the SAC will result in an unwieldy, oversized group. So, we recommend changing some of the membership.

We do not believe that the City Council and its appointees should comprise ⅓ of the SAC representation. We recommend removing both City Councilors and the two Planning Commission members who are officially representing the Planning Commission. We also recommend removing the Mayor of the City of Keizer. All of these entities will have ample opportunity to shape the Plan in their elected or appointed roles.

We recommend filling those five seats differently and potentially adding one or two more seats to more effectively represent the community.

Business Community: The Salem Area Chamber of Commerce effectively represents established businesses in the region. We suggest expanding this view by adding a representative from MERIT, the Latino Business Alliance, or another independent non-profit organization focused on assisting emerging and small businesses, understanding their unique needs. New small businesses create living wage jobs in Salem. Providing a place at the table is one way to show these risk-taking entrepreneurs that we want them to make a home here.

Underserved Communities: There is limited representation for lower-income and other underserved or marginalized communities. We recommend representatives such as:

  • A transit-dependent community member
  • An independent non-profit provider of affordable housing, such as Farmworker Housing Development Corporation
  • A representative or client of a tenants’ organization
  • A parks, cycling, and open space advocate
  • An advocate for the homeless
  • A representative of a community non-profit, such as Mano a Mano
  • A real estate developer or private-sector planner who has experience with mixed-use development, multifamily or commercial infill, redevelopment, and/or transit-oriented development.

SESNA is pleased to see the City of Salem working to include more of the community in decision-making processes, and we believe that additional steps such as we have recommended above will result in a comprehensive plan that truly represents “Our Salem.”