Monday, July 10, 2006

Government by the people and for the people (again)

We often hear from conservatives that government doesn't work. Ronald Reagan was elected President by carrying that idea on his back.

I've often wondered why we allow people who don't believe in government to become government leaders. How can these people work within the confines of something that they don't think works?

Like private industry, government doesn't work in every aspect of every sector. There's always room for improvement. But here is just one example of government firing on all cylinders:

Intel's Ronler Acres campus or to dinner at Orenco Station, but those areas were urban wastelands as recently as 15 years ago. That they aren't today is a tribute to persistence, imagination and the intelligent application of government's kit of tools.

This reflection is triggered this month by two things: the imminent transfer to the city of Hillsboro of the last parcels in the Ronler Acres urban renewal district; and the impending retirement of David Lawrence, the civil servant who did more than anyone to engineer the district's turnaround.

In 1989, we published an editorial that encouraged Hillsboro to move forward with the proposed regional urban renewal project. The plan for the city's Ronler Acres parcel, we suggested, would undo years of neglect that had left the platted-but-undeveloped subdivision as a "weed-infested, trash-collecting" eyesore.

At the time, Ronler Acres was a nearly hopeless tangle of fragmented ownership. When the subdivision was platted at the end of the 1950s, developers sold most of the 850 lots to speculators and would-be homeowners. But land-use rules changed, a couple of development efforts evaporated and by 1989, development at the site amounted to one house and one duplex. Where houses were imagined, weeds grew.

Meanwhile, Oregon was gathering steam as a destination state for some major technology manufacturers, then in an arms race to build semiconductors most efficiently. Fujitsu, NEC and Epson were among the companies that built plants in the Silicon Forest during the period.

Ronler Acres was an obvious hole in the industrial landscape -- a very rough diamond that lay out of reach of potential users. Hillsboro asked Lawrence, its newly re-hired economic development director, to fix it.

Lawrence wrote the Ronler Acres Urban Renewal Plan, a multifaceted program intended to consolidate ownership within the 1,200-plus-acre district, promote economic development and create a useful infrastructure of roads and utilities. It relied on a blend of grants, notes, tax-increment bonds, land sales and the threat of condemnation. It took years of persistence, but as anybody can see today, it worked.

In a letter about Lawrence's work on Ronler Acres, Harvey Rogers, a lawyer with Preston Gates Ellis, wrote that "David dodged bullets, romanced the stone-faced into grinning, hurdled lawyers and worked harder and lasted longer than the Energizer Bunny."

Anchored by Intel Corp.'s decision to invest in a major new manufacturing plant and series of support buildings on the site, Ronler Acres has become one of Oregon's premiere examples of successful urban renewal.

An Oregon government worker used the government to renew an area and helped to create jobs.

If only stories like this made the front page instead of being buried in the editorial section.