by: ,

Well here we go again, and the voters of Lake Oswego have the opportunity of voting yet a third time on the West End Building. Currently on the ballot is Measure 3-295, a $20 million general obligation bond to retire the line of credit on the WEB. The West End Building is a very divisive and contentious issue in Lake Oswego. Hopefully, after May 20 the process of reconciliation can commence and we can put this episode behind us. As with any vote there are two outcomes, either the bond measure passes or it doesn't pass. Both of these outcomes have in their essence a positive component for our city. It is possible some folks may not see the optimism so I will explain.

Let's begin with what happens if the bond measure doesn't pass. Nothing changes and we are back to before May 20 (somewhat like the 'Groundhog Day' option). The West End building continues to be financed with a line of credit to the tune of $1 million/year, interest payment only. But the voters, in essence, have given the WEB thumbs down. That no vote means it is fiscally irresponsible for the city to continue to deplete its reserve fund for a building the citizens don't want. Thus the city council has two choices, to continue with the line of credit or not. Given my observation of the new city manager, I can't see the city council following the path of the fiscally irresponsible. Which really only leaves the second choice and that is to put the West End Building back on the tax roles. Lake Oswego gets 14 acres of prime real estate added to its tax base, the supporters of Measure 3-295 grumble for a while, and the opposition smiles. Life goes on, a new city council is elected in November, and after a while it is but a memory.

The bond measure passing is where real change begins. On May 20 the citizens vote to tax themselves for the purchase of the West End Building. We now own the WEB and the trick is whether it will remain the West End Building or will it become the White Elephant Building. The Lake Oswego City Council has adopted the Lake Grove Village Center Plan, a plan that provides a positive framework for the future of Lake Grove, a plan that will allow Lake Grove to grow into a sense of place in its own right. At the northern terminus of that plan sits the West End Building. Thus the West End Building presents an opportunity to make a statement of significant proportions as to what defines Lake Oswego. Currently underutilized, it is my opinion that under this scenario given imagination, common sense, and sound fiscal judgement the West End Building can become a showcase for the city of Lake Oswego. To do properly and avoid confiscatory property taxes will require sacrificing some sacred cows. It would entail consolidating city hall, police and 9-1-1, the library, adult community center, and other city services to the West End Building. It would become the center of community in the center of population. The city hall, library, adult community center and other city properties affected are sold. Lake Oswego gets prime real estate in prime locations added to its tax base and that would help defray costs. The supporters of Measure 3-295 will smile and the opposition will grumble for a while. And yes life will go on, a new city council is elected, and after a while all this is but a memory.

Whatever the outcome of the vote a poorly executed and short-sighted plan for the West End Building is best avoided. Otherwise, it may become Lake Oswego's White Elephant Building with only confiscatory property taxes and continued strife and animosity as a result. In that I can find no optimism.

Russell Jones is a resident of Lake Oswego.

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