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Planning and Sustainability Commission says goodbye to quintessential public servants

News Article
Commissioners Shultz, Smith and Houck depart after serving almost 30 years collectively.

After many years of dedicated service to the City of Portland and the community, three veteran Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) members have taken their leave. Last month, former Chair Katherine Schultz, former Vice Chair Chris Smith and Commissioner Mike Houck said farewell to their volunteer work on the PSC, which they leave to the remaining commissioners and three new members who were appointed for terms starting June 1.

Said Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Director Andrea Durbin in tribute, “All three of you have provided invaluable insights and contributions to some of Portland’s biggest, most aspirational, long-term plans: the Portland Plan, the 2035 Comprehensive Plan and Central City 2035 Plan, West Hayden Island, Residential Infill Project, Better Housing by Design, Design Overlay Zone Amendments, river plans, adding a sixth quadrant to Portland, and various housing strategies.”

Indeed, each of them has made major contributions to the Commission and the community.

Chris Smith — Transportation

As one of the longest-serving PSC members, Smith has been an effective bike and low-carbon transportation advocate, making sure the City prioritizes multi-modal needs, accessibility and safety issues. Smith also helped the Commission prioritize and focus on the City’s climate action goals and efforts. He served on countless advisory committees and groups as the PSC representative, most recently representing the Commission on work for the West Portland Town Center Plan. Smith is also distinguished for his attendance record: never missed a meeting in his 11 years of service.

Mike Houck — Natural Resources

Like Smith, Houck is the longest-serving PSC member since the Commission was formed in October 2010. He has been a voice for integrating nature in the city and for protecting rivers, forests and wildlife in the Portland region. As the author of “Wild in the City,” the founder of the Urban Greenspaces Institute, and the person who did some of the earliest natural resource inventories for the Columbia and the Willamette rivers, Houck has been an environmental leader for 40 years. As such, he has educated the Commission and the community about the importance and benefits of protecting nature and that protecting it is a critical part of making our city livable and resilient, especially in the face of climate change.

Katherine Schultz — Design and Zoning

Schultz started her public service at the City’s Design Commission before she joined the PSC. She brought invaluable experience with regard to design and zoning requirements, which improved numerous PSC recommendations to City Council. As a practicing architect, Schultz’s  perspective was informed by implementation, ensuring the PSC’s proposals are practical and workable. She helped guide the commission to focus on people, ensuring the City’s decisions about the built environment will make Portland a better place for all to live, work, and play. Her leadership as the PSC Chair from 2016-19 and collaborative, inclusive approach was key to facilitating constructive dialogue and ensuring a robust and transparent public process. And her contributions as a mentor were invaluable.

Said Portland’s Chief Planner Joe Zehnder, who worked closely with them all during their tenure, “It was my great pleasure and privilege to work with Kat, Chris and Mike on so many groundbreaking and influential land use projects. The work and the community are better because of their insights and advocacy for the greater public good.”

Since its inception, the Planning and Sustainability Commission has generally met twice a month for two to sometimes six hours each meeting. That’s roughly 240 meetings and 1,000 hours for each commissioner (give or take a couple hundred) of volunteer time – just for full PSC meetings, not counting officer briefings, other advisory committee work, and preparation time. And with about 10 public hearings each year, they heard and read testimony from thousands of Portlanders.

Sometimes the hearings would get boisterous, even contentious, over issues such as displacement, fossil fuel terminals, residential infill and sheltering the houseless. But through it all, these departing PSC leaders modeled civility and constructive civic discourse. And 10, 20, 30 years from now, we can continue to be grateful for their contributions and guidance as the long-range plans they helped shape come to life on our streets, in our neighborhoods, parks, rivers and streams, and in every quadrant of the city, including downtown.  


Eden Dabbs

City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability