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County commissioners count successes at annual address

'Values, vision and victories' was the theme of this year's 'State of the County' address, delivered last week at the Monarch Hotel.

Commission board members cataloged successes over the past year, while taking time to caution about the impact of Measure 37 and - they are passed - measures 41 and 48.

Commissioner Bill Kennemer started by noting that many in the room could remember back before Clackamas Town Center or the county's industrial district.

'It's a tremendous change, what a remarkable change,' he said. 'It took the vision of previous county commissions to envision the thriving commercial district that's here today.'

Bill Kennemer

Kennemer called the growth and change at Clackamas Town Center 'exciting,' and noted that the regional mall will soon be linked to the rest of the metro area by ClackaMAX, the new light rail line about to be built down I-205.

'We're going to actually see construction start after the start of the year,' he said,' and it'll open in 2009.'

Meanwhile construction is continuing on Sunnyside; a new roundabout has been built at Stafford and Rosemont, and new lanes are being added on I-205 from Stafford towards I-5.

The next big project for the county is the long-planned Sunrise Corridor, a new highway to Damascus that's been in the works for decades.

'We continue to work very hard on it,' Kennemer said.' We had 250 people at a public open house.

Lake Oswego, he noted, is working to preserve and maintain the Willamette Shore Trolley, and to bring the Portland Street Car line down south. In Estacada they've established a new library district, and 'in Oregon City we're working on the masterplan for the Red Soils site.'

Kennemer also promoted the importance of the public safety levy, designed to alleviate funding shortages at the sheriff's office and the jail - where over 400 prisoners are let go early every month due to shortages.

''Catch and release' may be a good policy for some fisheries, but it's a lousy idea in our justice system.'

Finally, he noted the implementation of the county's new 'villages and hamlets' model of governance for unincorporated communities.

'Our values and vision say it's important to give the people living in unincorporated area a stronger voice.'

Larry Sowa

Commissioner Larry Sowa - facing an election in just over a month, with Democrat Linn Peterson and Independent David Dodds running against him - cited successes with the development of new industrial space in Canby and Molalla, where '[logging] went away… they just opened the Four Corners industrial park, it will provide some jobs.'

In the past, he said, as many as 60 percent of the people living in Clackamas County have commuted elsewhere to work.

'We can't build enough highways fast enough for our population increase,' he said. 'We can't provide the transportation infrastructure to take all the people to places like Washington County… and let them provide jobs.'

He said, however, that now Clackamas County is the fastest-growing provider of jobs in the state. He cited particular success with the 'hire a vet' program, and noted that the county office that created it 'just recently got accepted by the state to provide those services to other counties in Oregon.

Sowa listed successes in providing new recreational opportunities, but closed by noting that the county is still wrestling with the sewage issue: 'Some of our plants are getting old, and are at near capacity,' he said. A citizens' group has just issued recommendations (see article page A1) for the future of the system, and there will now be a public comment period, 'so everyone can give us their comments… what they think of the program, and even advise us of better ways of doing it.'

Martha Schrader

Martha Schrader - sole Democrat on the board since Sowa changed parties - noted the county's successes with jobs and economic growth.

'Jobs are an integral part of livability in Clackamas County,' she said.' The county's Business and Economic Development office, she said, fielded 1,000 requests for information on doing business in the county over the past year.

She noted the successes of companies like Miles Fiberglass and Oregon Ironworks, which have become significant military contractors. Oregon Ironworks, she said, is exploring new ways of generating electricity using wave power.

Agriculture, she said, forms another significant sector in the county: 'Our nurseries, our farms, our timberland - it's what I like to refer to as manufacturing without the walls.'

She finished by getting up on a 'soapbox' - an actual box she had prepared for the occasion - to address three issues - starting with Measure 37, passed in 2004.

'Measure 37 is changing the way we as a commission and as a county do business,' she said. 'And it's literally and figuratively changing our landscape as we know it.'

Clackamas County, she said, has seen more Measure 37 claims than any other county; there have been over 500, with only four denied. The first one, she said, has made its way through the planning and permitting process.

'Measure 37 claims have been filed on approximately 18,000 acres. The size of Damascus is 12,000 acres… Mayor [Dee] Wescott [of Damascus], I hope you'll forgive me, but Measure 37 is the size of one and a half 'Damasci.''

A map of the region showing the claims cropping up outside areas zoned for growth, she said, 'looks like a big, leaky amoeba.

'We need to come back to our values,' she said. Through Complete Communtiies the county has tried to give everyone a voice, but under Measure 37 'often we can't consider the concerns of neighbors.'

The other two issues she cited were Measures 41 and 48. Measure 41 would create new tax cuts, and Schrader said it would take $800 million out of the budget over two years. Measure 498 creates a spending cap similar to Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, and she said it could cost the state $2 billion form the budget.

'We need to be very careful about this,' she said. 'We can not afford ti disinvest in our future.'