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Chamber will fight renewal measure

Oregon City’s leading business group announced last week that it opposed an urban-renewal measure on the November general election ballot.

Citizen-initiated Measure 3-407 would require a citywide vote before urban-renewal bonds could be issued for any project.

“While our organization values and respects citizens’ right to vote, business owners/operators and employees who work in Oregon City but do not reside here would not have the right to vote on urban-renewal bonds even though businesses pay property taxes, too,” said Julie Paulsen, spokeswoman for the Oregon City Chamber of Commerce.

J. Kevin Hunt, chief petitioner for the measure, said the chamber was making a “specious argument” settled more than a century ago when the United States decided to make voting based on residency.

“Voting in the United States isn’t based on the ownership of property, because we fought a Civil War and a revolution in part over that issue,” Hunt said. “Under that model, a speculator sitting in a Wall Street office would have a vote equal to a native Oregon City resident as to the character of our community and the obligations of its residents.”

The chamber board of directors also agreed with a recommendation from its Government & Economic Affairs Committee to oppose the measure based on the group’s continued support of urban renewal as an economic development tool in Oregon City.

“Urban renewal is one of the few tools available in Oregon City to revitalize blighted areas in cities and spur development,” Paulsen said. “The uncertainty of a citizen vote for each bond expenditure could inhibit developers. They may decide not to risk the financial investment necessary for a project to even reach the urban-renewal bonding stage.”

Hunt acknowledges that a citywide vote could present a formidable hurdle to some developers. But he contends that such a vote would be a necessary “check and balance” to Oregon City’s commitment of public funds to development.

“Would it discourage some potential inventors? Yes. But would it discourage all of them? No. And that would be a small price to pay for preventing abuses,” Hunt said. “Urban renewal can be a good thing or a bad thing, but the only way we can put a check on possible abuses is through that vote of the people.”

Urban renewal already had plenty of trouble attracting businesses, argued William Gifford, GEAC chairman and owner of smALLFLAGs.com, who gave last year’s example in redeveloping Oregon City’s old landfill and gravel pit, where a developer backed out of plans for building a shopping mall.

“Why would we want to put our community at a disadvantage to potential economic improvement and jobs by putting another step in the way? We elect our leaders to represent us and make good decisions on our behalf. Let’s not then tie their hands,” Gifford said.

Hunt said urban renewal “started out as a wonderful idea,” but he said he changed his position after seeing problems with the system.

“Everyone benefits when it works right, but if it doesn’t work, everyone suffers, and there are some decisions that are too important to be left to politicians,” Hunt said. “Oregon City isn’t a piggybank for people outside of the region. We have to keep in mind that the purpose of urban renewal is to redevelop, not to provide corporate welfare for new development.”

Endorsement policy

At the same meeting on Aug. 20, the chamber board voted to enter a new era of political action.

“As stewards of a strong business climate, it is the responsibility of our chamber to ensure that the interests of business are being represented in the policies and positions affecting our community. A candidate endorsement policy was developed for the purpose of identification, review, endorsement and support of pro-business candidates for elected office,” said Paulsen.

Recently adopted endorsement policy reaffirms the chamber as nonpartisan but allows the organization to support candidates who are most closely aligned with its objectives. Chamber board votes to endorse a candidate will require a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority, providing the flexibility to make no endorsements or multiple endorsements.

“The policy strengthens the visibility of the chamber in the community and could result in businesses seeing greater value in chamber membership,” Paulsen said. “Neither recommendation was considered lightly, and information was gathered from multiple sources before the board made their decisions.”

Paulsen encouraged chamber members to join the discussion as it steps into the political arena. In conjunction with polling results and member comments, the chamber board approved the policy with six votes in favor, two opposed, and two abstentions.

“If our chamber is not endorsing political candidates, it can negatively affect our local business economy. After many months of deliberation and discussion, it was decided that we are ready for a change. If we want to shop locally, then we should be influencing locally,” said Mike McCarroll, chamber board chairman and owner of Minuteman Press.