City voters could reject public projects using urban renewal or larger than $1 million
by: RaYMOND RENDLEMAN Citizens packed Gladstone's City Council chambers Aug. 9 to hear elected officials approve library plans and information about related petitions.

Gladstone's approval of library plans on Tuesday, Aug. 9, won't be the final word on what could be the most contentious building in the city's 100-year history.

Wade Byers, who has been mayor for more than three decades, cannot recall an instance when Gladstone has ever fielded a citizen-initiated petition. Now the city is facing two official petition drives inspired by the library issue.

The library could face voters on two counts if voters approved measures in an upcoming election. The petitions seek to ask voters whether they would like subsequent vote on city buildings that cost more than $1 million or use urban renewal funding. Petitioners have three years to turn in at least 414 verified signatures on each petition.

City Council voted 6-1 approve plans for a 19,000-square-foot library building, with Councilor Lendon Nelson being the no vote. The elected officials considered several hours of testimony during two official meetings, notwithstanding dozens of design meetings and informational open houses.

Chief petitioner Kevin Johnson, however, argues that citizens are generally uninformed and being misled.

'We think the city is kind of doing a back-door thing, and everybody's surprised that urban renewal money is going to be used so that other things that need to be done in Gladstone can't be done,' Johnson said.

The petitions won't make the November ballot, but their existence still compromises Gladstone's ability to secure bond funding, according to the city's attorney. If a ballot measure delayed or halted library construction, the city might have to return the some or all of the county's $2.5 million contribution to the construction project.

Johnson's attorney Thomas Cutler said that his client might be willing to withdraw the petitions and a land-use appeal to the state if the city sent its own referendum to voters.

'We're all in this together-we all want what's best for the city,' Cutler said. 'We would prefer for the council to refer the proposal or the bonding out for public vote.'

Library supporters didn't wait for language to be approved on the two official petitions before launching their own unofficial petition drive. Mostly at their largest book sale of the year last weekend, they gathered more than 270 signatures from Gladstone and Oak Lodge by the time of the council meeting.

'Sometimes all we hear are the loudest voices, and there are a lot of people in support of the new library,' said Colette Umbras, president of the Gladstone Public Library Foundation, before submitting the signatures to the city.

"That type of response in such a short period of time indicates that even three years after the election, there is still much support for the construction of a new library in Gladstone," said Mary Nixon, the city's library director.

Councilors only considered community commercial zoning and its associated design standards during the final public hearing that again drew a standing-room-only audience. Most of the councilors have served on the Planning Commission, so they felt they were qualified to be objective about the quasi-judicial hearing.

Councilor Hal Busch asked city staff whether the library proposal took issues, including street-tree and lighting requirements on walking paths, into account. In crafting the motion for approval, Busch made several additions and clarifications to the staff report on items such as covered on-site bike parking, garbage removal and traffic engineering approval.

City code mandates construction must start within one year of design review, so Busch worried that petitions would delay the project. But if anything stood in the way of the library during the next year, the Planning Commission could grant a yearlong extension.

Busch was re-elected by a wide margin when library as the major point of difference between the two candidates.

'That was in 2010, nine months ago before any of this really started, but if the election was this year, the results would be reversed,' Johnson said.

"In response to the petitioners comment in terms of a change in public opinion since the election or since the last survey was done, I would say that we aren't seeing that change with the people we talk with," Nixon said. "Many are confused by the current activity stating that when they voted in 2008 for the Library District they thought they were voting for a new library in Gladstone. In the Arguments in Favor section of the 2008 voter's pamphlet on Measure 3-310 it states that passage of the Library District 'would allow Gladstone to move closer to its goal of building and operating a new library' that could allow for the proposed merger with the Oak Grove Library. The same phrase was included in information literature about the measure."

Byers said he welcomed the continuation of the public process. He declined to guess how a vote on the petitions would go, but said his own votes on council and sense of the community's will have been informed by the past.

'I think that it's a good project for the community that's gone through many years of evaluation, and there were several scientific surveys that showed strong support from the community,' Byers said.

Portland-based Moore Information conducted a telephone survey of 294 registered voters residing in Gladstone from July 29 through Aug. 3, 2010. Respondents favored 'using urban renewal funds and a 20 percent contribution from Clackamas County to fund a new library and merge the Gladstone and Oak Grove service areas' by a 62 to 24 percent margin. The remaining 14 percent had no opinion.

Fifty percent of respondents were 'very satisfied' with library services, while 26 percent were 'fairly satisfied' and 11 percent dissatisfied.

Competing fact sheets

If Gladstone's new library is eventually built and merges with Oak Lodge Library, according to a fact sheet printed by the city last month, its service area would generate about $1.4 million annually in property tax revenue from the Clackamas County Library District. The city's general fund would no longer supplement the library to the tune of about $159,000 annually that the city hopes to repurpose to help pay off its urban renewal debt.

In a competing fact sheet distributed by petitioners, critics argue that Gladstone's maintenance of infrastructure will suffer to bail out the Oak Lodge Library, while Happy Valley residents get a new library without any extra cost to city taxpayers.

Before the library district passed in 2008, Oak Lodge saw an approximately 40 percent reduction in budget that resulted in a circulation drop of approximately the same amount during a five-year period. According to Clackamas County Library Director Doris Grolbert, Oak Lodge could only afford a book budget for bestsellers and was down to 35 hours a week. Now open 52 hours a week, Oak Lodge activities such as children's story time have returned, circulation is starting to grow back and the book budget is returning to its 1990s levels.

If Gladstone doesn't build its new library, Grolbert expects that Oak Lodge would continue its rebound.

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