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Shaping Forest Grove's Future

Last week's installment (which is available at www.fgnewstimes.com) was aimed at introducing the candidates and their approaches to governing.

This week, the News-Times continues its series of Questions and Answers with the four candidates running for the three open seats on the Forest Grove City Council.

Q. Does the city have a role in attracting business to town?

TOM JOHNSTON: The city does have a role in attracting business, it must recruit and sell what we have to offer such as lower rates for retail space, as well as the available space and its location to our roads, rail. We have cheap power and water, we have made enterprise zones available as well as state certified properties.

CAMILLE MILLER: Yes, the city has invested in an economic development coordinator to focus on how to attract businesses to Forest Grove.

RON THOMPSON: Yes, we must provide an educated work force, road system, water needs, power needs, and shovel-ready sites.

ALDIE HOWARD: It would be hard for me to embrace a major effort knowing that the majority of the jobs are headed for China. We are just nibbling at the cracker now.

Q. What grade would you give the city's current efforts?

JOHNSTON: I would give the city a C and that is up from previous years when the city took little or no action. It will take a lot of time and effort to draw new business. Many of the citizens who live here travel away from town every day to work, shop and entertain themselves. That habit will have to change for us to compete for their business.

MILLER: I don't know a great deal about what is being done specifically except that our economic development coordinator was awarded a grant to hire some folks from the Oregon Downtown Development Committee who will be coming into town in mid-October to build on the Downtown Plan and show us how to take things to the next level. I believe they will be working with our economic development coordinator and the Chamber of Commerce. Anything I can do as a citizen to encourage action on their recommendations I will do.

THOMPSON: B-. We have done an excellent job on water needs and power needs. We are working with the Joint Economic Development Group - university, chamber, city and schools on providing a better cross-trained work force for the future. We have two new shovel-ready sites this year and are working on more. Also, we have enterprise zones for new or current businesses to expand or build in Forest Grove. However, we are doing poorly on our transportation system both roads and public transportation.

HOWARD: For the city to attract business it needs to change the way it treats business interests. Attracting business is a full-time, major effort and will not happen by hiring one person, as is the present case, with the expectation that that person will bring major industry to the city. It just doesn't work that way.

Q. How would you attract more retail business to downtown?

JOHNSTON: It will take investors with the money to develop retail as well as services and probably with the combination of residential units to vitalize the downtown district. That may only happen with the use of grants as well as matching money from private investors.

MILLER: By showing my support as a customer to the businesses that are already here. We can do all we want as a city to try to get them here, but it is keeping them here that counts. That is the role of all of us - the consumers.

THOMPSON: More businesses, more events, longer business hours and more restaurants.

HOWARD: The only way to attract business is to build high-density residential around the core area. The city had a chance to do that on the Rau property. High residential, close to the core, condos … addressed in the Comprehensive Plan for more than 30 years … Everyone knew it was going to happen, but has it? No.

Q. What else can the city do to help downtown prosper?

JOHNSTON: Use its planning and development for a more diverse usage, continue to network with area economic development groups to compete for local business allowing us to stay in Forest Grove and shop for our needs.

MILLER: The city's responsibility is to provide infrastructure (water, sewer, electricity, streets and planning) and public safety, while supporting the efforts of citizens to help downtown prosper. The most important aspect of Forest Grove's future is its residents, and their commitment to making Forest Grove thrive.

THOMPSON: Continue to support events downtown; encourage businesses to open in downtown with data about Forest Grove; encourage tourism to Forest Grove - we have the resources; encourage culture and art events, and believe in our future.

HOWARD: The Woodfold-Marco blocks should be immediately zone changed from light industrial to high-density residential, the company should move out and let residential/commercial interests in. The post office should have been moved to Main and 19th, but one greedy property owner and the dithering of a city councilman shot that effort in the foot. In 1972 I suggested a major medical complex at the Maple Street Clinic. People thought I was nuts. Now it is a fact in Hillsboro, including the movement of a portion of Pacific University. We threw it all away. Tragic.

Q. How would you attract more industrial business to the city?

JOHNSTON: I have already mentioned that we now have state-certified sites and enterprise zones that will assist business to expand or develop. The pre-certified [sites] will allow shoppers for their businesses to check on the Web and locate land that is all but ready to be developed without a long delay of paperwork. We have hired an economic development manager to seek all avenues available to find new business of all kinds.

MILLER: As a council person I would look to the experts to make recommendations as to how this should be done to prepare the infrastructure for that type of growth. As a citizen, I would certainly encourage having shovel-ready land so that, when an industry wants to move here, we have a place ready and waiting for them.

THOMPSON: The industrial businesses have many of the same needs as attracting business - educated workforce, better road system, better public transportation, cheap power, which we have, large supply of water for the future and shovel ready sites.

HOWARD: I am afraid that those days are gone. High fuel costs, no immediate work force, high land costs, Intel laying off people because the Chinese learned how to make chips, most of the smokestack industries forced out due to government regulation, air quality, worker's wage demands. It ain't a pretty picture.

QHow would you characterize the relationship of the city and Pacific University, our largest employer?

JOHNSTON: Over the years there have been many ups and downs in our relationship. I believe that one of the greatest issues over the years has been about parking, where it should be, how much and how long of a time limit should be allowed.

MILLER: The relationship is excellent as far as I am aware. I feel that the city has been very generous with Pacific throughout their expansion.

THOMPSON: I would characterize the relationship as a marriage. We have many of the same goals. We work together to accomplish them. We may disagree at times but we move forward after we discuss the long-term goals. The marriage is in its 134th year.

HOWARD: Except for a very few whose IQ matches their shoe size, the community realizes that Pacific University is what makes Forest Grove live.

Q. Should the city play a role in helping Pacific prosper? If so, what could be done better?

JOHNSTON: The City of Forest Grove and Pacific University have long been in a partnership and the tide has gone back and forth for many years. Yes we should help Pacific prosper if it is in the best interest of both parties. Each and every task may not show an advantage toward one entity or the other, but if our citizens benefit from the use of a field, library or advanced classes for our high school we have gained.

MILLER: The city has a vested interest in Pacific's success and vice versa. We should encourage each other as long it is not at either party's expense.

THOMPSON: Yes, Pacific is our biggest employer. They provide leadership in the community. They may provide the research- industrial business complex base that is needed for jobs in the future. We also share facilities that we would not have if we were independent. The art and entertainment is superior to the normal small town because of Pacific University. Many people move to Forest Grove because it is a university town.

HOWARD: All of the cultural events in this city are connected to Pacific in some way. The city and Pacific have always had a solid connection not always visible but always there. Both entities prosper together.

Q. The county just agreed to pay the city $3.1 million for the land around its sewage treatment plant along Fern Hill Road. What should the city do with that cash?

JOHNSTON: That cash should be used to repurchase land to be used for all of our citizens way into the future.

MILLER: At the city council meeting on Sept. 11 it was determined that the money would go into the Capital Projects Fund to be disbursed by the city council as it saw fit. I'm sure the council has a priority list and I am anxious to see what is on it. Most importantly, I think that we need to fix what needs fixin' and look to reinvest in some of the existing programs and services that need funding.

THOMPSON: Provide parks for sports and recreation including trails for the future growth of Forest Grove as called for in the Parks and Recreation Plan.

HOWARD: I would like to see all of that money pledged towards the improvement of the entrances to the city to be matched by those property owners along each corridor through a Local Improvement District. Do something worthwhile for us all with wealth we newly acquired. Do not spend a dime on administrative salaries. Do not fritter away this opportunity to improve our image. The other idea is to fully fund the Senior Center with an endowment created by investing that money.

Q. Washington County recently raised a bunch of money for tourism. What should the city's role be in promoting tourism and how would you focus those efforts?

JOHNSTON: First we must develop a destination point that can be identified all year around so that visitors will come and focus in the area. The Smith house, local wineries, Sakeone, Pacific University, historic Old Town, antiques dealers, Hagg Lake are just a few of our places to see while touring Forest Grove and western Washington County. If we draw tourists to this area all businesses will benefit from the activity.

MILLER: I would support the city's pursuit of grant money for development of infrastructure and services to accommodate growth in tourism. To promote tourism, we look to the efforts of business owners through the Chamber of Commerce as well as the Washington County Visitor's Bureau. I am on the board of the Chamber of Commerce and personally voted for the hotel tax to support tourism.

THOMPSON: Provide funds for the Chamber of Commerce to answer letters, calls and a Web site about Forest Grove resources: Historical homes, A.T. Smith House, Fern Hill Wetlands, Hagg Lake, wineries, Tillamook Forest Center, Wapato National Wildlife Refuge, arts and culture events, etc.

HOWARD: I think that the Chamber of Commerce should play a more active role in promoting the city and perhaps that body should lobby the county for a fair share of those funds.

Q. The county has backed away from the idea of moving the fairgrounds to Forest Grove, yet plans in Hillsboro are still up in the air. What do you think of the idea?

JOHNSTON: I first of all think that the fairgrounds should stay where they are and be upgraded for multiuse with a nice arena and new buildings. If for some reason the land in Hillsboro is sold off or made too small for the fair grounds to use, it should move, but not just the animal section. If the fair moves the whole thing should move and if that move were to Forest Grove it would benefit our community.

MILLER: That was a warm and fuzzy idea but I don't believe it was ever a real possibility. Although we are the geographic center of Washington County, we are not the population center quite yet. What Hillsboro and the Washington County Fair Board do is entirely up to them, but I would support their interest in such a potential boost to our economy.

THOMPSON: I am open to the idea if the buildings and parking have year around multiple-use at above site and it does not interfere with the needed sports fields and recreation facilities.

HOWARD: What a fiasco. I know a lot about it. Three or four years ago, some prominent citizens in Hillsboro, with me being the general manager, submitted a Fair Plan to the county that was not acceptable because it lacked a financial statement. We didn't need one. All we wanted was the seed money for the feasibility study. Four years later they are still fighting! We have not given up on our plan and one of these days someone is going to stumble on it and Eureka! We'll see what happens then.

Q. It looks like Wal-Mart is going to build a superstore just outside the city limits in Cornelius. What, if anything, should the city do now that the decision has been made?

JOHNSTON: There will be a lot of traffic generated from that location. We will first need to adjust for the flow and then we should find a way to attract business that will take advantage of all those customers driving by on our streets.

MILLER: We could encourage the economic development coordinator and the Chamber of Commerce to create signage that says 'There's more after WalMart, Go West!'

THOMPSON: We must deal with the traffic problems it will create [including those on] our own industrial area streets (north of TV highway) now.

HOWARD: I think Wal-Mart's entrance to Cornelius might adjust some of the business practices in this community and with the proper care and nurturing, folks from outside may find Main Street a welcome relief from the crush of the millions at Wal-Mart.