'They say you can't fight city hall, but almost 40 residents promised Dec. 14th to give it their best shot. The group gathered . . . to try to figure out a way to persuade city council to overrule the Planning Commission on increasing density in the center city area.

The commission voted 4-3 last month to approve increasing the maximum density from 8 units per acre to 22 units per acre.

'I'm not here to criticize our government,' meeting organizer Terrence Wehle said. 'I think we've got a great government. They've just taken a left turn on this issue in pursuit of a different vision of what the city should look like. I like what the city looks like now.'' (italics are Johnson's.)

This comment, from an article by Steve Vaughan titled 'Battle over density vowed,' appeared Dec. 9, 2006, on the front page of the 'Virginia Gazette,' a newspaper aimed at Williamsburg, James City and York, Va. The article refers to changes proposed for Colonial Williamsburg.

It is interesting that citizens in Williamsburg, like those in Lake Oswego, are trying to figure out how to be heard. A surprising number of Lake Oswego's residents believe that city council and the city planning commission fail to hear them. Yes, city policy makers do hold forums. These forums, with their set agendas and 3-minute speaking opportunities, are controlled occasions. Their design does not allow participants to influence the agenda, express their ideas fully, discuss issues raised by other participants, or answer one another. Right now forums have the effect of requiring people to talk fast, then sit down and keep still. To be heard, people need to be able to speak freely.

Perhaps residents and policy makers might hear one another clearly if Lake Oswego's City Council and Planning Commission called a special meeting designed expressly to invite participants to speak freely on issues that concerned them and to discuss different points of view. Why not hold a special meeting for the sake of dialogue?

From free-wheeling conversation, participants in a dialogue could learn, listen, explain, question and exchange points of view. Such an open, democratic conversation might begin to renew trust between citizens and city council, and everyone would benefit.

Elaine Johnson is a resident of Lake Oswego.

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