My name is now on the list of supporters of the streetcar alternative. It took me a while to come to this conclusion, and it was not an easy one. There are valid arguments on both sides. I am bothered, though, by the kind of rhetoric being used against the streetcar by some opponents, including some elected officials who I believe should keep an open mind until they listen to the public at the council meeting on April 12th. These officials have been speaking against the streetcar for many months. I guess they see no reason to listen and maybe learn.
Beyond that, many of their arguments are distorted. Take, for example, their claim that the streetcar will lead to 'several' - the actual claimed number has varied over time - Washington Squares in Foothills.
This statement plants in the mind of the reader a picture of several 85-acre Washington Square shopping centers, access roads, surface parking, and buildings. Guess how many acres of the 107-acre Foothills District are estimated to be available for private development? 46.
But it's just a half-lie. If you leave the acreage comparison and ask about how many square feet of development we would allow on those 46 acres, could you get several Washington Squares? The gross leasable area in Washington Square is 1.5 million square feet. The maximum potential for development in Foothills would be about 3 million square feet. That would include mostly residential and some neighborhood retail, not Washington Square retail. How can that much be developed in Foothills? It will be a question of how dense the development is ... how big a footprint can residences and shops have, and how tall will the buildings be? That will be a decision council will make at the appropriate time. Several (make that two) Washington Squares? I doubt we'd approve that.
One opponent recently declared at a TriMet board meeting that we'll owe $32 million for our share of the streetcar project. That figure is not accurate. Preliminary estimates have Lake Oswego's share at $10 to $20 million, but design, engineering and a funding plan aren't completed. It is also claimed that we will divert dollars we ought to use for infrastructure needs to pay for streetcar costs. This is another distortion. Nobody has proposed tapping the general fund for the streetcar. That will not be the way the streetcar is financed. Decisions about financing will be made by our elected officials, after listening to the public.
I support the streetcar alternative. We will know more if we make the right decision and support the alternative through the next phase of study. Then, when we know more, we will say 'go,' or 'no go.' It is too soon to pull the plug on such a wonderful opportunity to make life easier and better for us, and for the new residents who can join us in our lovely town. The opportunity we now have may not come again. Let's keep the door open.
Ellie McPeak, Lake Oswego, is a former city councilor and currently serves as panel chair of the Portland to Lake Oswego Transit citizen advisory committee.