Camas must plan the entire city

The last election shook Camas. Good. Let’s move forward.

The City needs to figure out how to hear its citizens. The Community Aquatic Center’s process failed. Camas deserves transparency for overall growth issues.

Start with the North Shore: We’re asked to take a survey incorrectly framing Camas’ overall growth issue. The state’s Growth Management Act (GMA) requires, without disagreement, Camas accept its statewide growth share. The GMA does not say where growth must occur. North Shore development based on Camas’ 2035 plan may no longer be appropriate. Changes require North Shore planning be paused. North Shore planning treats urban development as a foregone conclusion. It is not.

Citizens are presented with a North Shore survey I won’t participate in. Here is why.

The survey begins with: “The existing zoning would allow a mix of employment, retail and residential uses. The City is required by state law to plan for anticipated growth, and development will occur with or without planning.” No. North Shore’s substantial growth premise is questionable. Vancouver-styled development may not be appropriate and necessary.

To repeat: The GMA does not say where growth must occur. Camas’ growth could occur downtown or in Grass Valley, as but two options. The GMA is not an “excuse” to justify North Shore development.

The North Shore is geographically isolated. The primary entrance from downtown is Everett Street (Highway 500.) The Community Aquatic Center’s debacle put focus on Everett Street. Unlike Vancouver, Highway 500 will never be a freeway or major artery. North Shore development may dump substantial traffic on inadequate roads.

Traffic has fluid-like qualities. Like water encountering obstacles, traffic finds the path of least resistance. Will neighborhoods like Crown Park be sacrificed for North Shore development?

Suppose the City was successful and the 2,500 jobs lost from the Camas paper mill were replaced in North Shore:

o 1,875 of those workers would not live in Camas (per website);

o Many commute trips take Everett Street; and

o Traffic seriously impacts neighborhoods like Crown Park.

Camas has other options. Downtown is our pride and joy. It needs a major employment center. But there’s an impediment: Camas 2035 shows the entire mill site as zoned for heavy industrial use. Camas 2035 was published before pulping operations were shut down and operations reduced to one paper line. Camas 2035 provides no discussion of the mill being the nucleus of a modern riverfront: Housing, high technology, and the many other aspects of our region’s new economy, including working class jobs. Camas 2035 puts the mill site off limits for redevelopment.

Camas 2035 needs an “overlay” providing future alternatives for excess property and beyond should the mill’s operations change. This prevents decline of shuttered properties. This overlay signals to Georgia-Pacific a marketable roadmap and also guides environmental cleanup.

Transportation modeling should occur to see whether urban North Shore and repurposed portions of the mill would require major road improvements (e.g. making Everett Street a modern, four-lane road). Think of what that means. Development of North Shore alone might require this. These questions must be answered so Camas can have a transparent North Shore process.

Most of my adult life was spent as the United States Navy’s liaison to the state of California. I worked on the cleanup/reuse of a large naval shipyard in the heart of San Francisco. I saw many mistakes. I saw what happens when old industrial buildings sit idle for decades absent a plan. I’ve seen the resulting downward spiral. Please don’t let this happen in Camas.

The Community Aquatic Center’s process oversimplified a complex issue. Let’s do the North Shore better.

This will take a team effort. I’m not a NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) suggesting no North Shore development. Development scale needs coordination with a future downtown Camas that considers a repurposed mill property. A plan keeping Camas centered on a vibrant downtown might meet GMA requirements.

Working with all stakeholders, including Georgia-Pacific, I’ve asked the Port to start with the 27-acre lab site. Requiring minimal cleanup, a significant downtown expansion begins with existing infrastructure that is walking distance to downtown. Bellingham, Washington provides a good model.

Camas exists because the mill was always giving. I’ve heard so many stories in my short time here about this nature of the mill.

The City pretends the mill won’t change, yet change is already here. We have to admit it. Significant portions of the mill can evolve if given the chance and continue to take care of this town and people. An overlay will provide multiple levels of opportunity.

This is a time for leadership and vision. There are many ready to roll up our sleeves and do the planning Camas needs. Let’s get started.

Randal Friedman served for 32 years as California Government Affairs Manager for the United States Navy Region Southwest, which includes the largest naval complex in the Pacific. He was the liaison for the executive and legislative branches of California and represented the U.S. Navy on numerous advisory boards. Friedman also worked for several California agencies, including the California Coastal Commission and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. He studied economics and environmental planning at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He and his wife, Debbie, live in Camas’ Forest Home neighborhood, where they are restoring a hillside and recently built a solar canopy.