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City needs more voices

The next few years will very likely have considerable impact on the future livability of West Linn for the next several generations. The last few years of development are evidence that there is a headlong rush to develop as much of the city and adjoining regions in as short a period as possible. Our current city government is very clearly in favor of developer interests, and is actively disregarding existing city development codes and citizen concerns in making land use decisions.

While the process is currently difficult for citizen interests, the city council recently moved to further limit the ability of citizens to challenge planning commission decisions on appeal to the city council. They asked the planning commission to consider changes to the appeal process that would prevent de novo hearings. De novo is Latin for begin anew, and such hearings allow for the introduction of new information not on the record of the planning commission hearings for the decision being appealed. It is a complex subject I won't try to explain fully, but it would certainly have the effect of handicapping citizen oversight of land use decisions in our city.

I attended the planning commission meeting on September 28 at which this subject was discussed. A handful of concerned citizens spoke eloquently in opposition to the proposed change, and many others had submitted letters in opposition. The opposition to the change was unanimous from all citizens involved. We were successful in convincing the planning commission this proposed limitation on citizen oversight would be a mistake, and they voted to recommend to the city council a rejection of the change. This was a minor success, but the conflict is by no means over. The council will be taking up the issue after the upcoming elections in November.

My concern is less for this particular issue, but for the process as a whole. We as citizens need to constantly remind our elected officials that we are the constituents they serve. While there was a reasonably good turnout for the planning commission meeting, we need more voices. We need for the members of our community to become informed and involved if we want West Linn to remain a desirable place to live for generations to come. Yes, growth will happen, but it should be well planned and sustainable without degrading the quality of the city's schools, roads and other infrastructure. With land use decisions, we only have one shot to get it right.

Oregonians of a generation ago put in place land use laws that give a high priority to citizen input. The wonderful place we live in has benefited much from that legacy. Let's not stand on the sidelines while a well connected few work to erode our rights to decide the future of our city and region.

I encourage the residents of West Linn to attend their neighborhood association meetings as well as city council meetings. Participate actively in our upcoming elections. There are well-qualified candidates that have a more citizen-based view of how our city should be run than some of our incumbents. What you learn and the people you meet will uplift and empower you.