How We Saved The Council Citizen Advisory Committees

How We Saved The CCACs

By Janet Unruh, Wilkes East neighbor

Council Citizen Advisory Committees (CCACs) play an important role in decisions that affect Gresham. These committees are made up of resident experts, interested community members, and a staff liaison to City government. According to the City of Gresham’s website, “City Council appoints residents to committees and boards to advise the Council on certain decisions and policy matters. Citizen advisory committee work stems from the City's Strategic Plan.” The CCACs include the following:

  • Charter Review Committee (work completed)
  • Community Development and Housing Subcommittee
  • Community Enhancement Advisory Committee
  • Design Commission
  • Finance Committee
  • Gresham Redevelopment Commission Advisory Committee
  • Historic Resources Subcommittee
  • Parks and Recreation Community Advisory Group
  • Planning Commission
  • Transportation Advisory Subcommittee
  • Urban Forestry Subcommittee (UFS)
  • Youth Advisory Council

My interest was in the Urban Forestry Subcommittee (UFS) because they are the stewards of the trees in Gresham. And so, it was stunning when in January 2023, City staffers met with all the CCACs including UFS, and asked us all to stop meeting for two to three months while the City restructured.

In the UFS meeting, they delivered that message and gave us no definite timeline for resumption or for interim communication.  I felt that they were stonewalling the subcommittee, and when members expressed disbelief and frustration, the staffers responded that the City “heard us” and would be in touch.

One City staffer who spoke to us said, “We need a bit of time to clean, a bit of time to get the proverbial house in order, so we need to clean up the house a little bit.  So, what we are wanting [sic] to do is work with the three of you [the remaining UFS committee members] and ask for some time to pause.  So, we’re thinking 2 to 3 months.” See the meeting recording:, Passcode: D&A=%%5t. To hear this part, begin at 07:37 on the timeline. The entire meeting is worth watching in my opinion – it was a very emotional meeting.

Their message came across to me as disingenuous. If we were going to be on hold for an indefinite amount of time, the momentum would be lost and the remaining members might drift away. But because there were projects in process, grant money was coming in, and because UFS members were dedicated to the work, they refused to stop meeting.

To read more, see

A brief history of UFS

For those of you who aren’t familiar with UFS, it began in 1990 as the Tree Preservation Council Advisory Committee. In 2008, the Committee was renamed the Urban Forestry Subcommittee and was made up of City staff, tree professionals, and volunteers. UFS has written publications (for example, The Urban Forestry Management Plan at, worked with neighborhood groups, and planted many trees through the years in cooperation with Friends of Trees and during Arbor Month activities.

UFS has met regularly every month for 20-plus years.

UFS’ chief role is to advise the City, but the resulting work has to be done by the City. This includes such things as updating City documents like the tree code, following up on tree code violations, and ensuring that new real estate developments adhere to tree-related regulations. One of the reasons the City gave as to why they wanted to shut down the CCACs was the “opportunity to relieve staff liaison ongoing workload.”

Over the past few years, UFS members had become frustrated with a lack of cooperation from the City.  Members dropped out, and as of now, only three members remain.

It seemed to me that the City stopped cooperating with all the CCACs around 2019 to 2022, and after members had quit and meetings began to be canceled, the City surveyed past and current CCAC members to ask their opinions of such things as whether their committee was effective. The results of the survey were mixed.

Despite being asked not to meet, UFS kept meeting. Two months passed. Three months passed. Four months passed. Then, on May 2, 2023, City staffers made a presentation to the Mayor and City Councilors based on survey results. We found out about it thanks to UFS’ chair, who attended the four o’clock meeting. The staffers recommended the dissolution of UFS and most of the other CCACs. Below are two slides from that presentation with my markups.

Slide 18, Council Citizen Advisory Committee Review & Recommendations
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Slide 20, Council Citizen Advisory Committee Review & Recommendations
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Members of the community and I wrote letters to City Council and spoke at Council meetings to complain. The City didn’t respond to us.

The idea of transforming UFS to task forces was disturbing. Task forces can be effective, but my experience of task forces in corporations is that they are mostly window-dressing for public relations. Because of the treatment UFS had already received, I was inclined to think the worst. The “ad hoc” part of it also meant that the City would decide who would participate, and when, or even if, a project needed to be done.

Gresham Trees

In early April, I started a website called Gresham Trees ( I counted myself lucky to get that domain name. I also got as my email address. In the pages of the website, I explained the conflict with the City and the ill-treatment UFS received. I also talked about the shortcomings of task forces and some of the failings of the City in regard to trees. Part of the reason for starting the website is that it’s quite difficult to discover the UFS site on the City’s website. If you don’t already know it exists, you’ll never find it. So, I highlight the publications and programs of UFS on the website. I also appealed to visitors to sign our petition. Please see the website at Below is a screenshot of the home page.

Click to visit
Click to visit Gresham Trees home page

Go Fund Me, mid-June

In June, the chair of UFS asked if I could set up a Go Fund Me to raise money to help a Gresham resident pay for trimming the significant (heritage) tree on his property. Some of you may recall what I said on the Go Fund Me page:

Let's say that you're retired with a fixed income, and your homeowner's insurance company says that they will terminate your insurance if you don't have a repair done, which you can't afford. If you lose your insurance, you'll be in big trouble with your mortgage company, and potentially, could be foreclosed and lose the house. That's what is happening to one of our Gresham neighbors. In his case, he has a 150-year-old tree, a registered significant tree that needs to have dead branches carefully trimmed by an arborist. The insurance company gave him until July 17. That's what we're raising money for! Please help with whatever you can.

We raised the $2,500 that was needed in plenty of time. The arborist finished the job on July 10, and the homeowner was happy with the work that was done. I told this story to everyone who would listen, and even had the chance to tell the Mayor in a Zoom meeting, along with my entire grievance.

Go Fund Me for the Salquist tree
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I got help in early July

I’ve known about East County Rising for a few years now and I wondered whether they would be interested in helping. So, I approached their nonprofit, East County Rising Community Projects (ECRCP) with a proposal to help save UFS and they accepted. We joined forces and started working together.

ECRCP offers paid fellowships to people who are interested in learning about community organizing for socio-economic justice. See I began attending the ECRCP meetings, and their community organizer integrated “save UFS” into the fellows’ curriculum. “Save UFS” was the grist for the mill for their training.

East County Rising Community Projects
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The ECRCP organizer and fellows began attending UFS and Climate Action meetings. Soon, City employees seemed to become aware that a community organizing group was showing up and participating.

Accidently telling the truth

During a meeting I attended, a City staffer made a telling admission, as follows:

If the model going forward, the Urban Forestry Subcommittee in place, but use task force to just work on those kind of specific projects, then it wouldn't have any implication if the model was that Urban Forestry Subcommittee was disbanded, and and they knew model was to have task force. We would also have advisory committees that were put together of more general public as opposed to specific you know, individuals with specific technical background to work on these specific projects.

Forgive me if I don’t reveal my source. Assuming that this staffer was privy to discussions in City government, this admission revealed that the City wanted to be rid of committee members with specific technical backgrounds. The effect would be the pretense of “community involvement” while sacrificing the difficult work of tackling real issues with the advice of those who have long experience in working with the City and who have the requisite knowledge, education, and experience.

The petition

I set up a petition and asked a few people to review the text, including the ECRCP folks, and made some, but not all the changes they recommended. I wanted to make the language as powerful as possible but not sacrifice accuracy. So, for example, I changed “the city is planning to shut down UFS” to “the city is strongly considering shutting down UFS.”
I also said the following:

Although not everyone in City government agrees with it, powerful officials have recommended the dissolution of UFS (see the May 2, 2023, Council Roundtable Work session, referenced above). ALL IT WOULD TAKE IS TO CANCEL ALL FUTURE MEETINGS. UFS was told in the January 2023 meeting that [not] “having meetings doesn't change the official status of the subcommittee; it's still on paper and legally an active subcommittee, and thus would not impact eligibility for things like Tree City, or you know, any kind of grant funding…” See the January 2023 recording of the UFS meeting on the City’s website: Passcode: D&A=%%5t. Begin at 34:51 to hear this part.

This is the effect of what we were told in that meeting in January – that, the City was going to suspend our meetings with no definite plans to resume them, and meanwhile, take advantage of the fact that UFS is “on paper” and “legally an active subcommittee” so that the City could keep its Tree City U.S.A. designation and preserve its eligibility for grants. And indeed, the City has the power to cancel all future meetings, or simply never resume meetings, and that would be “it” for UFS.

After several revisions, the petition was ready to launch. I published it on September 5, 2023. I emailed my list of contacts numbering 2,258, including some state, Metro, and local government officials, and posted on FaceBook pages which, in theory, reached an additional 34,241 people. Below is a screenshot of the petition. Access the petition online and read comments from those who signed, here:

Change-dot-org petition
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The city backs down

15 days after I launched the petition, UFS’ chair met with the City Manager, the Assistant City Manager, and the Neighborhood and Community Enhancement Manager. Afterward, he wrote a summary of the meeting to ECRCP, which read as follows:

The meeting this morning with Nina Vetter, Eric Schmidt and Michael Gonzales was positive and reassuring.  The review or reconfiguration of CCACs is off the table with no timeframe for resurrecting that review according to Ms. Vetter.  In response to my question, they may be looking at code language changes requiring a coordinating council though as that has been cumbersome and very ineffective when instituted two years ago.  Ms. Vetter wanted to convey that we could approach her office at any time as she wanted communications to be very open.

Mr. Schmidt said my presentation to the Council earlier this year on lack of street trees prompted numerous meetings within city staff and they recognize they need to examine this issue with developments more closely and that work continues.

We are free to begin recruitment to regain our full membership on the committee.

I was surprised. I thought we were in for a longer battle. But two weeks after the launch of the petition, the City backed down! Perhaps word was getting around that we were strategizing and working on our campaign. Perhaps they received emails or calls from state, Metro, and local government officials asking what was going on. And perhaps they saw the petition. The petition received 128 signatures (not very many) and 2,032 views (quite a few)! I suspect that although I didn’t send the link to the petition to anyone in City government, it got spread around there.

So there we were, nine months after the City told us to stop meeting. In January, they told us to wait two to three months and they would get back to us, and they never did. Neither did they initiate any ad hoc task forces during this time. I suspect that the whole episode was an attempt to exclude citizen participation in City government. I don’t know what else to think of it. If it hadn’t been for our activism, the City would have allowed the situation to drift along indefinitely. They would have achieved what they wanted – but they hadn’t anticipated that we would put up a fight.

What’s happening now

And so, things have turned around. UFS can continue its Arbor Day events and support the City's efforts to be a part of Tree City USA. The City will be getting funding from the Inflation Reduction Act Urban And Community Forestry grant money, and UFS volunteers will be working with Green Gresham, Healthy Gresham, and the Climate Action team to plant trees in Gresham. UFS is also working with the City to revise the tree code.

UFS maintains an inventory of significant trees in Gresham and works with property owners to help them care for these trees. Residents love this program, and when it was threatened with termination, there was an outcry. Happily, that outcome was avoided. UFS recently reviewed the Significant Tree list by going out to the locations where the trees are and assessing their condition. There will be an update to the list soon. By the way, there are three significant trees in Wilkes East and possibly a fourth may be added. See photos, below.

Pound Pear at 17111 NE Sandy Blvd., at the Zimmerman House. In good shape for its age. Had some damage from a previous branch splitting from a wind storm
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English Persian Walnut at 17111 NE Sandy Blvd., at the Zimmerman House. Two trees in fairly good condition. Must be near 100 years old.
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Giant Sequoias (3), at 1214 NE 162nd Ave.  All in good condition. Over 100 years old. A tree grove on the nearby Albertina Kerr property may be a candidate for the list
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I can’t speak about the other CCACs, but I suspect that the reason some people in City government wanted to shut down UFS – despite protestation – is that UFS reports tree code violations and tree-related issues in real estate developments. While tree-lovers in City government are mostly focused on increasing canopy in low-income neighborhoods, real estate development site planning with regard to trees is severely lacking. The example below shows a young tree planted in a flooded bioswale. This poor tree may have already died. This is the kind of issue that UFS reports to the City – it’s the City’s responsibility to ensure that bioswales like this are well-designed.


I learned a lot about the City of Gresham – they will respond to citizens, but you just about have to burn the place down. Jim Buck, chair of UFS, wrote the following in an email to ECRCP and friends:

It is a victory of sorts that UFS remains viable and I credit those who were willing to get engaged for demonstrating that people cared enough about trees in this city to defend what UFS is about. The real battle though is not this saga but that of promoting a more extensive tree canopy and what is happening that keeps tree canopy so low in the city. We need to keep emphasizing code provisions that allow three regulated trees to be cut every year, or that street trees can be removed and nothing happens all too often, or that there is no tree preservation code in our city to protect mature canopy trees during development.

This may also be a temporary victory. The City receives tens of millions of dollars from real estate development projects. This creates an ongoing conflict of interest within City government between paving the way for receiving these fee revenues and the preservation of trees. This may be the heart of the matter. But for now, UFS has survived. Now to turn to the work ahead.