Bob Stacey, a pioneer figure in Oregon’s growth, has died

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Bob Stacey, right, died this week. He was a deeply influential figure in Oregon land use.

Courtesy of Metro / Courtesy of Metro

Bob Stacey, one of Oregon’s most influential figures in land use and transportation, died Thursday at the age of 72.

Stacey was one of the pioneering attorneys who helped lay the legal foundations for Oregon’s unique growth management system, which limits suburban sprawl and protects farmlands and other open spaces. He helped fight one of these lawsuits against the Rajneeshee cult, which attempted to establish a town on farmland in central Oregon’s Wasco County in the 1980s.

As Portland’s director of planning in the early 1990s, Stacey helped bring denser housing development into the city as he attempted to accommodate population growth without having to rely on the ever-increasing suburban sprawl. He later held senior political positions for TriMet and in Governor Barbara Roberts’ administration, where he worked to improve public transit and other alternatives to driving. He also served as city councilor for Metro, the regional government for the Portland area, from 2012 until his resignation in 2021 as he struggled with health issues.

“Oregon just lost the most important person most people have never heard of,” US Rep. Earl Blumenauer said in a statement announcing Stacey’s death.

In a previous tribute to Stacey on the floor of the house last year, Blumenauer said, “He was a thought leader on everything that matters — environmentalism, land use, climate, traffic congestion, affordable housing, air quality, economic development.”

While Stacey may be largely unknown to the average Oregonian, he helped shape Oregon’s growth and trained generations of activists on the importance of curbing the type of sprawling development so often found across the country.

“Bob never ran out of creative ideas on how to protect Oregon’s communities, farms and forests and connect them all,” Metro President Lynn Peterson said in a statement.

When he resigned, Stacey praised Portland’s regional government, saying it has the authority to work with local governments across the region to develop coordinated growth policies.

“We have a competitive advantage to emulate,” he said on the agency’s website. “I’m really optimistic about the region’s prospects in terms of economy, growth development – and the resources that make this place so special.”

Stacey was an original contributor to 1000 Friends of Oregon, the watchdog group formed shortly after the legislature created Oregon’s statewide planning system in 1973. The group, which was backed by legendary Gov. Tom McCall after he left office in 1975, played a major legal and lobbying role to ensure Oregon would have a strong system.

In his early years, Stacey fought for a strong urban growth frontier around the Portland area and helped form alliances with the housing industry to shape new development patterns. Stacey’s job was “everything urban,” recalls Richard Benner. Benner went to law school with Stacey and worked for 1000 Friends.

As Roberts’ assistant governor, Stacey encouraged her to oppose a proposed freeway — the Westside Bypass — on the western edge of Washington County. He frequently rode his bike to work and around town, and a bicycle and pedestrian overpass in southeast Portland was named after him.

At times during his long career, Stacey also served as Blumenauer’s senior adviser at Portland City Hall and in the US House of Representatives.

In his speech last year, Blumenauer said the Rajneeshees once tried to poison Stacey. The congressman was referring to a box of chocolates allegedly sent to 1,000 friends by supporters in Columbia Gorge. Stacey quickly became suspicious that the Rajneeshees might have poisoned the candy after discovering the chocolate wasn’t actually from the Gorge group.

Benner, who was also one of 1000 Friend’s original attorneys, said the group never actually tested the chocolates. But the Rajneeshees were behind the poisoning of scores of salad bars in The Dalles, which health officials found have sickened more than 700 patrons. Ma Anand Sheela, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s senior aide, and another senior Rajneeshee official later served prison sentences on a number of charges including those relating to the attacks.

After holding several government posts, Stacey returned to the helm of 1000 Friends in the early 2000s. At the time, voter-approved property rights initiatives threatened the future of the land-planning system. Stacey worked with lawmakers to draft a measure that would give landowners the right to build some additional homes, but which prevented large-scale development.

He was diagnosed with meningioma, which causes tumors in and around the skull, in 2012, Metro officials said. The condition worsened last year, forcing him to resign from the agency. He is survived by his wife Adrienne Stacey and by two daughters and two grandchildren.

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