If you’ve lived in Oak Grove for any amount of time you know Eleanore Hunter or at least her name. The former chairwoman of the Oak Grove Community Council accomplished much in that role and is still passionate about Oak Grove’s future. She graciously answered a few questions we threw at her recently, ranging from where Oak Grove is headed, her accomplishments and future goals, and the collaborative community growing here.
Can you tell me a little history about the Oak Grove Community Council (OGCC)? Why was it created?
The Oak Grove Community Council was created by Clackamas County in response to an Oregon State mandate to have citizen participation in land use planning. Only Washington and Clackamas Counties created CPO’s – or Citizen Planning Organizations – to fulfill this mandate, other Counties did other things. The Oak Grove Community Council is the CPO for this area. Washington County has 12 CPO’s, Clackamas County has 32 active ones, and the OGCC is by far the most active and the most attended.
Does the organization have a “direct line” to the commissioners? Or any influence?
We do have a direct line to the Commissioner’s – all citizens of the County do. The OGCC is clearly recognized as the voice for the citizens in Oak Grove, and we are able to influence certain things. One main consideration is that Oak Grove is a more urban area than most other CPO’s and the issues and needs for this area often differ from the issues and needs of other CPOs. We all must abide by the same laws and codes – zoning, nuisance enforcement, etc., within often very different circumstances.
Oak Grovers feel like they have no voice – is that voice OGCC?
I can certainly understand why many people in the area don’t feel that they have a voice – most people in the area have no idea that the CPO even exists – it is a constant desire for the board and members to let more neighbors know about the CPO and the great things that are taking place in the area. The OGCC is the main voice for the area – no doubt about it.
What issues are hot right now?
Two things are really hot right now – the coming of the Orange Line to the corner of Park Ave and McLoughlin – which will serve as a transportation hub, linking Light-Rail, Bus, Auto, Bike, and Pedestrians. I am so excited by the potential this link to the greater Metro region will bring to our community – multi-modal transportation is key for the health, well-being and vitality of any residential and commercial area. It feels to me that this area was put on ‘pause’ sometime in the mid 50’s and Light Rail will be the catalyst to revitalize our local economics and vitality.
The second thing that is really hot right now is the McLoughlin Area Plan (MAP) – a community-lead plan that has engaged over 600 residents of the area. We are now in Phase III, actualizing the Projects and Programs that were identified by community members in Phase II according to the Vision, Values and Guiding Principles of Phase I.
There is fantastic potential for people to get involved in hands-on projects that are taking place throughout the community – streetscape improvements to McLoughlin Blvd., environmental enhancement projects, design issues, social connections and economic vitality. Many of the projects and programs are interlinked, and my fellow committee members are working to create partnerships and relationships with a wide variety of governmental agencies, non-profits, citizens…you name it. MAP has the greatest opportunity for true physical improvement for our area.
Why are there so many strip clubs and car lots in Oak Grove?
Actually there are only a few working strip clubs, but it looks like more due to the signs that are still up.
As to the car lots, the cluster of auto dealers in Gladstone make this area the second largest in the state. The largest being over on Canyon Road. The location of ‘dealer clusters’ are regulated, so the auto emphasis will be with us for some time. But – there is no reason that there cannot be a greater diversity – and a more family orientation of businesses – along McLoughlin Blvd.
One thing lacking in our community is a community center or breakfast joint or brewpub. Why is this? Would OGers embrace this?
I think having a community center would make a big difference for this community. This area is unincorporated governmentally, and I feel that it is also unincorporated both emotionally and psychologically as well – there is no corpus, no body, no center. Where is the center? The corner of Oak Grove Blvd and McLoughlin? We need to have community gathering places, places for people to come together and enjoy a sense of community. When I look at the demographics and the economic profiles for the community, I come to the conclusion that what we need to support a vibrant, local economy is more people.
Some might not like that idea, and want to maintain the same population levels that we currently have. I say this community deserves better than what one sees on McLoughlin Blvd. This community is considered “underparked” by both Metro and the North Clackamas Parks and Recreation Dept. Where are the places for young mothers and their children to gather? Where are the places for grandparents to take their grandkids to enjoy an afternoon? Where are the places for teens to be constructive and participatory? We can do so much better for this community.
What were some of the accomplishments under your helm?
There were two goals that I set for myself while I was Chair of the Oak Grove Community Council – 1) get so many people involved that just a few people couldn’t ‘run’ the area, as had been done in the past and 2) make sure that every governmental, environmental, human service, business group, every agency, department, committee, group knew about Oak Grove and what we are creating and stimulating and reviving here. I feel pretty good about having accomplished those two goals – now I want more and more residents of the Oak Grove area to know about the Community Council and the McLoughlin Area Plan so they too can participate in the revitalization and be proud of this great place.
What role will you play now?
Currently I am serving as the Vice-Chair of the Oak Grove Community Council and as Chair of the Community Connections Committee of MAP-IT – the McLoughlin Area Plan Implementation Team, or Phase III of MAP.
When did you move to Oak Grove? Why did you choose it?
I moved to Oak Grove at the very end of 1998. I had little knowledge of this area, and was looking elsewhere. A friend mentioned a friend who had a place here who had to move, she had a vague idea where, so I came down to look for the house, couldn’t find it, and saw one that I really liked, pulled in the driveway and that was the house my friend was talking about! I figured the house wanted me to live here as much as I did.
What changes have you seen since moving here?
I see more strip joints turn into used car lots. I see more vacancies and more temporary businesses on McLoughlin – the kind of businesses that have little to no connection with the community. I see one elementary school about to shut down. I see an increase in the people who need food assistance.
I also see hundreds of people turning out to help plan a future for their community. I see people show up month after month to community meetings to advocate for improvements for the community. I see dedicated staff people working their hearts out to help make improvements. I see collaboration and respect and greater understanding between neighbors with differing values. I see incremental steps being taken all around this area that are beginning to add up, that are starting to tip the scales towards pride and vigor and well-being. I see the end of the isolation the old guard worked so hard to enforce. I see better times ahead.
What makes Oak Grove special?
We are located in an amazing place, and with some care and attention, we can keep this place amazing. The trees. The larger lots. The quiet side streets with no sidewalks. Friends come to visit and remark on how much it feels like the country here – how close to PDX and yet so quiet, so lush. We are on the brink of change, and we can be a model for how to do things consciously, with future generations in mind, or we can ignore the swirl of world forces around us and continue on the path of isolation, exclusion, and 1950’s thinking to our detriment and perhaps peril.
What’s the potential of Oak Grove?
Beyond enormous. We can keep the small neighborhood feeling, we can keep the unique features that make this place so beautiful and desirable and unique. Just imagine having what are called ‘activity clusters’ along McLoughlin at the major intersections of Park, Courtney, Oak Grove, Concord and Roethe – and stopping the unrelenting strip mall quality McLoughlin currently has. Think of this area being focused on people and not automobiles! Imagine McLoughlin Blvd. actually living up to that name. Tree lined! Contiguous sidewalks! Cafes! Housing! As the Blue Heron site in Oregon City is re-developed, everything between there and the Park Ave light rail line is going to become more and more attractive. We can do this – it is not unknown. There are proven ways to revitalize communities like Oak Grove – for families, businesses, all aspects of our community.
How do we encourage younger families to move here?
Young families (like the rest of us!) need a few basic things – affordable homes, easy transit to jobs, close recreation opportunities, good schools with strong community involvement, and a sense of safety and belonging. Getting the Orange Line to come to the northern tip of our community is one of the greatest things that could happen to encourage younger people to return to our community. We must become more pedestrian and bike accessible – the Trolley Trail is a fantastic addition. We must have more family friendly businesses on the Blvd and along the side streets at the major intersections. We must have updated cafes, restaurants, brew-pubs, and nightlife to entice younger people to return. But most of all, let’s really appreciate the great housing stock and neighborhoods, the mature trees and quiet that everyone values.
So, tell me about your garden. What are you growing?
I have become a rose freak, I must admit. Creating more areas of native habitat for both plants and animals and deeply enjoying the way they dance together. The asparagus and artichokes have exceed my expectations, the tomatoes, kale, basil, squash, carrots, beets, cauliflower, broccoli and cucumbers are all hearty and delightful. Wondering if the Brussels sprouts will actually sprout. The hedgerow is filling in well and the birds and raccoons are loving it. But the roses have opened my heart to a new level, I am humbled by their variety, colors and scent – oh my, their scent!