Three compete for county commission seat
Larry Sowa battles for his job against Peterson, Dodds
The race for a single seat on the three-man Clackamas County Commission is pitting Lake Oswego City Councilor Lynn Peterson against incumbent commissioner Larry Sowa, a newly minted Republican, and West Linn's former mayor David Dodds.
All three aim to lead Clackamas County through the next four years of population growth and economic challenges. The winner on Nov. 7 will face regional transportation problems, jail shortages and failing sewer treatment plants.
Lynn Peterson is running as a Democrat for the Clackamas County Commission, challenging incumbent Republican Larry Sowa for his post.
A city councilor in Lake Oswego, Peterson carved a niche for herself in tackling transportation issues for the region. A consultant on transportation and land use by trade, Peterson is the county's urban representative to Metro's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, which coordinates the tri-county's approach to managing roads. Through that committee, Peterson worked to balance transportation projects in Clackamas County's urban cities and helped secure funding for those goals.
As a candidate for the county commission, Peterson said she wants that same coordinated planning for growth and transportation countywide. She believes county leaders should be planning for a 12,000-acre expansion of the urban growth boundary, the ring that nets developable land in the tri-county region. Local officials expect the boundary to be expanded in 2008.
She said she also wants Clackamas County cities to share a vision for how that growth takes place and to coordinate a strategy for tackling related transportation and infrastructure problems. To develop that vision, Peterson advocates for a series of countywide meetings in which locals outline what they would protect first in Clackamas County, building a growth strategy around the things residents value most.
She also supports the 'green spaces' corridor between Sandy and the Metro region urban growth boundary, and says she'd like to 'push harder' toward signing an iron-clad intergovernmental agreement protecting Sandy's separateness.
Peterson said she became interested in running for the commission when Damascus first became a city, fearing the current county leaders weren't prepared to make needed changes.
'If you just take a look at the impact on Clackamas County … and add on top of that the urban growth boundary (UGB) expansion in the next two years … we weren't prepared for Damascus and we're not prepared for the UGB expansion,' she said.
Managing expected growth is a major issue in Peterson's campaign. She said the county must raise its profile to advocate for regional dollars and manage growth-oriented projects effectively.
She would also reorganize current projects, including one in the Sunnyside Road area, where a proposal for elevated lanes is projected to cost $600 million. Because that money is not yet available, Peterson said she would look for short-term solutions to the problem of moving freight through that area, including a less expensive bypass and a new turn signal.
'If we don't get something on the ground in the next (few months), it is the beginning of the decline of the industrial district,' Peterson said.
She said while job growth has looked steady for Clackamas County in the last year, the county has been adding retail jobs that are not living-wage jobs. Peterson believes leaders need to focus on how to maintain and support their major industrial players, like Fred Meyer, and would also advocate for similar businesses and unions to bulk-buy healthcare with county support.
She also said a plan to build a new sewage treatment plant in Clackamas County is narrowly focused and would take industrial land out of the region. She would instead favor expanding the existing sewage facilities and wants a fix for ailing treatment plants soon, since none are meeting requirements set by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Larry Sowa promises to stay the course for voters, having served on the Clackamas County Commission since 1998 when he was elected as a Democrat. Sowa switched parties to be a Republican more than a year ago, reflecting what he said is an ideological shift in county politics.
In 18 years as an Oregon politician, formerly as a state senator and as a director on the Clackamas Community College Board of Education, Sowa said he's won the largest margin of votes in races with other Democrats, something he believes illustrates the party's stray from moderate voters. As a traditionally conservative voter, Sowa said he was prompted to switch parties as Clackamas County Democrats increasingly leaned left politically.
In eight years on the commission, Sowa said he's helped Clackamas County find new direction, including implementing a growth management plan, tackling transportation problems and building a better economic base.
'Transportation infrastructure is going to be a big issue in the future,' he said.
He has suggested a plan that will elevate lanes in the Sunnyside Road area, offering smoother transportation for freight along Sunnyside Road where it snarls with the I-205 interchange.
'I believe it is the very next phase of public transportation infrastructure that we need to do,' he said.
He also plans to move from there to a possible light-rail project in Milwaukie.
Meanwhile, revamping the county's economic development commission helped bring new jobs to rural areas of the county, including a new industrial park in Molalla, he said. Clackamas County produced more jobs than any other county in the state last year, Sowa said. If re-elected, he said he would continue to build on job growth.
As an expanding population strains county jails, Sowa is also backing a public safety levy that would re-open jail beds if approved this election cycle. He also threw support behind a task force on methamphetamine as a way to curb crime and, down the line, plans to advocate for a new jail designed to hold more prisoners without more corrections employees.
As the county's needs change, Sowa said partnerships with its cities would continue to expand public services, like a grant recently given to West Linn to build parks.
'We're always looking for ways that we can help our cities out,' he said.
To tackle problems in the county's sewage treatment plants, Sowa is calling for modernization of the county's Kellogg treatment facility in Milwaukie, which would expand its waste capacity and curb sewage problems while infrastructure is strained. Because federal funds are not available, he advocates for selling bonds against sewer rates for the job.
Ultimately, Sowa said he would like to see the county consolidate its buildings on a campus in Oregon City near Kaen Road.
'We figured out how we can use the rents from various departments to pay off bonds,' he said. 'Our next step is to build a development services building.'
That building would centralize Clackamas County services and follow a master plan. Sowa said this allows county departments to better coordinate resources and services to the public.
'Through working with the other commissioners, we have some good programs going now and I would hate to see any of those sidelined,' he said. 'Everybody has their own priorities and I think the ones we're working on now are best for the county.'
David Dodds, former mayor of West Linn, is running as an Independent candidate for the Clackamas County Commission.
Dodds declined to participate in editorial board meetings for this article and could not otherwise be reached.
He is best known as an anti-growth advocate who ran a successful campaign for mayor of West Linn in 2000. He served two terms as mayor, leading the city until 2004.
During his tenure, Dodds leadership was marked by controversy. He was accused of sexual harassment and micro-management of the city's employees. Three employees embezzled roughly $2 million from West Linn on his watch, and he ordered a stop to an audit that could have caught those problems.
He later sued the city of West Linn after his predecessors altered one of his decisions.
Sandy Post Editor Marcus Hathcock contributed to this report.