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Critics urge city to derail streetcar project

Strong testimony hits new rail line to Portland

On Tuesday night, opponents of the streetcar spoke loud and strongly hoping to sway the council and derail plans for a streetcar to Lake Oswego. Many urged councilors to get a vote of the people before they move forward with their own advisory vote to Metro.

Not a chair was left open for the hearing on Portland-to-Lake Oswego transit, which had standing room only when the meeting began at 6 p.m. More than 120 people had signed up to speak, though only 92 got in their comments as some left before their turn as testimony stretched past 10 p.m.

Of those who spoke, more than 60 were opposed to the streetcar, while only 29 clearly supported the streetcar.

Council also received between 120 and 130 emailed comments prior to the meeting, some from the same people who spoke.

A clear point of contention is over the vision of a future Lake Oswego. While proponents advocated for the council to take the long view, opponents tended to favor the small, village-feel of the city and worried that a streetcar would facilitate a version of the Pearl District in Foothills.

'I've seen outstanding projects proposed and then go down the tubes,' said Mountain Park resident Bud Kass. 'Normally those projects got kicked down the road. I've seen those same jurisdictions fall over those cans five, 10 or 15 years later. We have to take a long view here. If you take that view, the streetcar looks better and better.'

Paden Prichard agreed, 'I prefer to look at it in terms of what it will cost us if we don't build it.'

Former councilor Roger Hennagin felt that planning for the future after the recession was important. Opponents have said that the streetcar will only take 100 cars off the road, but they are comparing the future to current conditions on Highway 43. '(Without the streetcar) by 2035 there will be a 40 percent increase in traffic on Highway 43. I believe that's gridlock,' he said.

But many others moved to Lake Oswego because of the small town feel.

'I do not understand the desire to transform our quaint village into a South Waterfront or Bridgeport Village type of community,' said Linda Zmrhal, who lives in the Lakewood neighborhood.

'If you want to live in the Pearl District, move over there,' said Mountain Park resident Kay Kerr. 'I like Lake Oswego the way it is. It could be smaller. That would make me happier.'

Other local leaders couldn't see benefits that outweighed the costs. Former mayors Alice Schlenker and Bill Klammer both opposed the streetcar vision.

Schlenker, who became mayor in the late 1980s, said that the Willamette Shore Line was never intended to be used as a commuter line. She added that an urban renewal plan for Foothills 'is completely out of sync with this community.'

She chastised the council on the direction it has taken.

'You really need to consider the public. It has brought a schism in the community I have never seen in my life. These are my friends out here. This is a community project that needs to be given very careful consideration … Don't screw it up, folks.'

Chris Dudley, the Republican candidate for governor last November, spoke as a resident of Lake Oswego.

'I like and also understand the appeal of having streetcar here in Lake Oswego. I support mass transit where the numbers generate it,' said Dudley. 'But from what I've seen so far, I've been disappointed with the numbers the proponents put forth. At this time, I just think it does not make sense for us to go down this path.'

Meanwhile, former Clackamas County commissioner and Lake Oswego resident Lynn Peterson spoke on behalf of Gov. John Kitzhaber's office, expressing the governor's support of the streetcar due to its potential to create jobs, promote compact urban form and protect the Stafford basin.

Former school board member Deborah Lopardo enthusiastically expressed her support of a vision for Lake Oswego that includes the streetcar while speaking frankly of her opinion of the opponents.

'This is very Glenn Beck in my mind,' she said, getting some audible reactions from the audience.

Having a vision of the future has helped Lake Oswego transform its downtown and generate more tax dollars. 'I think … vision has worked well with this town and vision has been financially managed,' she said.

Lopardo added, 'I belive that the generations ahead are not being represented here and would want streetcar.'

Meredith Scanlon, 25, grew up in Dunthorpe and was one of a few that spoke for a younger demographic. 'People of my generation don't want to see urban sprawl. We want to see Lake Oswego grow up not out.'

Meanwhile, elementary student Helen Nickerson, who lives on Riverwood Road, said that the streetcar would harm her quality of life.

'I walk and ride my bike on my street and walk to school. I love walking on my street because I know my neighbors and I feel safe in my neighborhood,' said Nickerson. 'A streetcar will ruin that. Please don't build the streetcar.'

Dunthorpe resident Gerald Fox came to tell the council that there are actually a lot of streetcar supporters in his neighborhood.

'Most are very happy that the streetcar is (an option) … but not enough that they're going to go to feud with the very zealous people who live along the tracks,' he said, referring to those who live on Riverwood Road.

West Linn city Councilor Teri Cummings asked Lake Oswego councilors to consider the needs of its neighbors to the south.

'If this is truly a transit project, it will actually make transit for West Linn citizens worse.'

A few different people spoke with disgust about the council's sensitive lands policy, believing that the council that placed restrictions on residents' backyards should take the same care to protect the Willamette River floodplain in Foothills, where the streetcar will end.

Proponents also used environmental arguments saying that the streetcar, which runs on electricity, is one way to lessen the nation's dependence on oil.

Citizen advisory committee chair Ellie McPeak of Lake Oswego introduced the argument of peak oil theory, which says that the amount of oil left on earth is gradually decreasing and that we will run out.

Studies of the various transit alternatives have not figured in the rising cost of gas, said First Addition resident Dave Jorling, who served on the citizen advisory committee. If oil companies were not subsidized by the government, more people would understand the true cost of gas and would begin to look for alternatives like the streetcar, he said.

'Diversification is a good thing for transportation,' added First Addition resident Bill Mathers. 'We can't put all our eggs in this petroleum bucket.'