Image for Remembering Land-Use Defender Bob Stacey
Already a legendary figure in Oregon land-use and transit-oriented development, Bob Stacey was elected to the Metro Council in 2012 representing inner Portland neighborhoods. Shortly after his election, Stacey was diagnosed with brain tumors. He continued to serve for nine years before resigning because of his health in 2021. He died at age 72 last week.

Stacey Championed Farmland Protection, Smart Growth and Transit

Attorney Bob Stacey played an outsized role in developing Oregon’s transportation and pioneering land-use systems. Along the way, he blocked the Rajneeshees from building a city on farmland, promoted expanded roles for public transit and championed greater density to avoid urban sprawl. Stacey died at age 72 after an extended battle with meningioma.

Stacey, who attended Reed College and took his law degree from the University of Oregon, spread his version of the land-use gospel as Portland’s planning director, an aide to Governor Barbara Roberts, a policy adviser at TriMet, a top aide to Portland City Commissioner Earl Blumenauer and an elected Metro councilor. He squeezed in a little time as a private land-use attorney.

In a tribute on the US House floor, Congressman Blumenauer described Stacey as “a thought leader in all things that matter – environmental protection, land use, climate, traffic congestion, affordable housing, air quality and economic development.” Metro President Lynn Peterson, who served with Stacey, said, “Bob never ran out of creative ideas on how to protect Oregon’s communities, farms and forests, and how to connect them all together. His service and vision are obvious in all corners of our state, and his wisdom and nearly 50 years of experience is going to be missed on the council.”

One of the last projects Stacey championed as a Metro councilor was converting 1.65 acres on NE 74th near Glisan from a block-wide parking lot into “active street-side” commercial space combined with low-income housing above.

Former Governor Tom McCall and the late Henry Richmond are given much of the credit for defending Oregon’s innovative and at-times controversial land-use system after its adoption in 1973. However, Stacey played an equally critical role.

Stacey was an original staff attorney for 1000 Friends of Oregon, the watchdog group Richmond set up in 1975 with McCall’s support. Among Stacey’s first fights was to press for a strong urban growth boundary in the Portland area. Like Richmond, Stacey had an engaging personality that took the edge off his policy persistence. He befriended homebuilders who wound up supporting the UGB concept because he convinced them they could build more houses on less land.

Working for Roberts, Stacey convinced the Governor to oppose the westside bypass, conceived as a limited access highway between Tualatin and Hillsboro, which was just beginning to become Oregon’s hub of high-tech manufacturing. Backers favored the bypass to relieve congestion on Highway 26 and Highway 217 in fast-growing Washington County. Stacey sided with farmers who feared the bypass would promote urban sprawl. Roberts not only blocked the highway, but she also had it removed from the state’s highway plan. It’s never been seriously considered since then.

Bob never ran out of creative ideas on how to protect Oregon’s communities, farms and forests, and how to connect them all together.

Stacey and Richard Benner, his legal partner at 1000 Friends of Oregon and later Oregon’s land-use director, were targets of a poisoning attempt by the Rajneeshees in response to their effective legal work blocking the cult’s city plans. Rajneeshees were blamed for poisoning a salad bar in The Dalles that sickened hundreds of people and sending a tainted box of chocolates to the 1000 Friends of Oregon office. According to Benner, Stacey and he never nibbled on the candy.

In the wake of a property rights initiative in the early 2000s, Stacey returned to lead 1000 Friends of Oregon. He blunted the initiative by working with Oregon lawmakers and various interest groups to find compromises such as allowing rural landowners more flexibility to build houses on their land while still preventing large-scale developments on farmland. One of the allies in the effort was Oregon’s wine industry that secured additional protection for existing and potential vineyard land.

Stacey was elected to the Metro Council in 2012 to represent District 6, which straddles the Willamette River from southeast to southwest Portland. Shortly after his election, Stacey was diagnosed with brain tumors that grow slowly but can be disabling. Stacey was open about his condition, including surgery in 2013 to remove tumors and the medication he took to reduce persistent swelling. After serving nine years on the Council, Stacey resigned in 2021, noting the medications he took affected his energy level and ability to analyze complex subjects.

“I wish I could continue to serve my constituents and the public interest as a Metro councilor,” Stacey said in announcing his resignation. “But I no longer have the capacity to do that job – and manage my health.”