What should citizens of Lake Oswego expect if streetcar project is OKd?


The Lake Oswego City Council will soon be voting on whether or not to support the Portland to Lake Oswego streetcar. It's time for the council to present all of the facts to the citizens and let them know exactly how their pending approval is going to affect us.

Yes, I know that the council has not officially made up its mind yet, but if one has followed their actions these past few years, you can see it coming. After all, we know the council cannot possibly pass up another 'opportunity of a lifetime.' The last one was the West End Building, and we know how that turned out.

So, Mayor Hoffman, why not take a leadership position and inform the citizens what we can expect after you approve this project? You have all of the cost figures, and you certainly would not vote for this project unless you knew with some certainty how it would affect the citizens of Lake Oswego, would you?

The following figures were taken from the March 10, 2011 Lake Oswego Review story titled 'Streetcar debate.' Take the best-case (lowest cost) scenario of:

* Streetcar cost of $380 million (2017 dollars)

* Federal funding of 60 percent

* Willamette Shore Line right-of-way valued at $97 million

* Remaining cost for local and regional agencies of $57 million

And the worst-case (highest cost) scenario of:

* Streetcar cost of $458 million

* Federal funding of 50 percent

* Willamette Shore Line right-of-way valued at $97 million (this may decrease but no alternative appraisal is currently available)

* Remaining cost for local and regional agencies of $132 million

The operating costs are also significant. According to DEIS, page 3-28, '…corridor O and M (operations and maintenance) costs for the Streetcar Alternative would be $2.64 million higher than the No-Build Alternative …'

Given these two possible outcomes, I ask you to tell us for both cases the amounts and sources of the money for Lake Oswego's contribution. (I've heard the city's share could be as low as $12 million and as high as $30 million.) Will the council establish an urban renewal district? Will our property taxes increase? Will the city consider implementing an additional tax?

A streetcar decision will have opportunity costs, so which projects will not be funded as a result, such as a new city hall, library, maintenance facility (or) the WEB? Will school funding be reduced? Will the city have to subsidize the streetcar if ridership does not cover operating costs? In short, what will be the effect on the citizens?

It would be disingenuous for the council to say they don't know the answers to these questions while still voting to commit the city to a project this large. They would be putting the city at great risk if they did. But I would not be surprised if they did because many of the councilors will be out of office by the time these chickens come home to roost - in 2018 when the streetcar is expected to become operational.

The citizens of Lake Oswego are intelligent enough (they elected you as their mayor) to understand this information, so why not share it with them? After all, it's their city, their money and they're going to have to live with your decision. Mr. Mayor, a response would be appreciated.

Greg Nelson is a resident of Lake Oswego.

Editor's note: As requested by Greg Nelson, Mayor Jack Hoffman is responding:

'Mr. Nelson, thank you for your questions. Much of what you inquire will be considered by this or future councils as we move through the various decisions over the next few years.

'We are in a long process, which started in the 1980s when regional elected officials including the Lake Oswego City Council purchased the railway line between Lake Oswego and Portland to preserve the option of high capacity transit. The decision that is before us now - to select a Locally Preferred Alternative - is not the last decision in this journey. It is not the decision which puts the shovel to the ground or the funding to pay for it. The decision determines the most desired and best mode of transportation and the appropriate alignment for further review and refinement. The decision kicks off and provides a focus for the next phase of study.

'While complicated and involved, the region is pursuing significant federal funding and to get that we must work our way through this lengthy process.

'Over the next three to four years, all the regional partners, not just Lake Oswego alone, will need to come up with $25 million of the project costs - this is the amount needed to create a final environmental impact statement, design the project and obtain federal funding. Over the next several years, this council, and following councils will be responsible to contribute about 10 percent, or approximately $2.5 million to the next phase. A final decision and allocation of funds to implement the project will likely occur in 2014.

'For Lake Oswego, we are looking to redevelopment agency (LORA) funds in the East End or in the Foothills area to pay for our entire share. We are not looking at general fund dollars from the city government (taxes collected from all residents).

'While there is the ability within our current urban renewal area to pay for Lake Oswego's share, we will look to new development that may benefit, such as that located in the Foothills area, to pay for the benefits of the streetcar. Funding from our current urban renewal area, or from a new one also on the East End, cannot go to schools, West End Building, maintenance yard or other services.

'Urban renewal funds can only be used for capital projects in the urban renewal area. We are currently studying these questions around how we go about using urban renewal and will vet the benefits, opportunities and any tradeoffs.

'A goal of spending money on a streetcar is to facilitate the development associated with dependable and consistent rail transit and create a strong return on investment, creating further opportunities that otherwise would not exist and amenities that benefit the entire city.'