The Department of Land Conservation and Development has to balance the push for construction with the pull for preserving green spaces. (Department of Land Conservation and Development)
When not working, Brenda Ortigoza Bateman enjoys playing the piano and singing folk songs, hymns and ballads.
She also plays piano at her church, the Salem First United Methodist Church.
Her ability to weave musical threads together in harmony and collaborate with others will serve her well in her new job. In May, Bateman became the director of the Department of Land Conservation and Development, which oversees land-use planning in the state.
The job requires managing competing interests – the push to conserve resources and pull for economic development – and plays a key role in the lives of Oregonians by working with the Land Conservation and Development Commission on the state’s land-use goals and rules.
A previous supervisor, Phil Ward, now CEO of Oregon Future Farmers of America, said she is suited to her new job.
“What makes Brenda unique as a leader is her ability to see the big picture, to see what the end goal is and design a plan to get there from where you are,” Ward said, adding that she’s a collaborative leader. “She can bring together disparate interests, resolve issues and get results.”
Though relatively small, with a $15 million-a-year budget and about 70 employees, the department plays a big role in a state where passions run strong about land use. It is in charge of conserving natural resources, protecting farm and forest land and addressing climate change while promoting urban density and trying to mitigate the effects of natural disasters.
“Oregon has some of the best agricultural lands in the world,” said Ward. “We have been known as a state committed to protection of those natural resources.” Ward supervised Bateman when she was at the Water Resources Department.
Bateman, 51, who earns $169,000 a year, said she appreciates the department’s dual role of protecting land while encouraging development.
“That dual purpose is really important to providing a quality of life for Oregonians, in terms of food and health, transportation, housing, jobs and recreation,” Bateman said. “I wouldn’t want to advocate for one to the exclusion of the other.”
Co-author of water plan
She co-authored the state’s first water plan in 2012 and helped revise it in 2017 as science chief at the Water Resources Department. The plan analyzed fish and wildlife uses of the state’s waterways and the needs of agriculture and municipalities. It gave Oregon an overall assessment of its water resources and helped ensure adequate water supply and quality and natural disaster planning.
Bateman also has business experience. She was the chief operating officer and assistant director for operations at Business Oregon, the state’s economic agency, for the past three years.
At the land-agency, she replaced Jim Rue, who led the department since 2011.
Rue said Bateman faces one immediate challenge: The department needs to craft permanent rules on transportation and land use for the state’s eight largest communities to meet Gov. Kate Brown’s goal of reducing emissions and helping underserved communities.
The rules will affect how those communities plan for future growth to meet the state’s 2050 climate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to less than 75% of 1990 levels by 2050. They are expected to be finalized in July.
“We have to get people out of their cars,” Rue said. “More concentrated living styles mean people can move about in a less consumptive way. We develop so we can conserve.”
Before moving to Oregon in 2004 with her husband, an Oregonian, Bateman studied the state’s land-use policies while earning a Ph.D. in public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
She joined the Tualatin Valley Water District as senior policy coordinator and quickly became familiar with the “Oregon way” of involving the public. The district – like other decision-making bodies in Oregon – included public input in decisions. And at the Water Resources Department, she worked with multiple agencies while writing the state water plan. She said she supports including as many perspectives as possible in decisions.
Making equity a priority
One of her priorities is equity. “We know there are voices missing from the decision-making process,” Bateman said. “We will provide stipends to community members from underserved communities so people can come to the table and have staying power.” She intends to spend time in different communities.
“My commitment is to get in the car and get out there and meet folks face to face and build those relationships,” she said.
She also will need legislative support for the department’s mission of helping to increase the housing supply through land-use rules that encourage density in metro areas, Rue said. The department also plays a role in mitigating wildfires by assessing risks and zoning, and planning recovery efforts.
Rue expects Bateman to gain legislative support. “Brenda knows her way around the Legislature,” Rue said.
She also believes in maintaining a balance in life. “I don’t know who I am without music,” she said. “It’s fully half of who I am.”
She said she encourages staff to turn to music or other hobbies to relieve stress.
“Music is a distraction and meditation. It’s where I go to clear my head,” she said. “After time at the piano I’m re-energized and ready to work again.”
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