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City should hold off on tearing down building

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I provided remarks at the June 3 Lake Oswego City Council and subsequent Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency (LORA) meeting. The issues I raised with the premature demolition of the U.S. Bank building, unfortunately, fell on deaf ears by the majority of the council (aka LORA Board members). I have since e-mailed Councilors (Kristin) Johnson and (Frank) Groznik and thanked them for their 'no' votes.

Both wanted to hold off with the teardown until more information was provided. But, the Mayor and others seemed in a rush to get the building removed since it was part of some master plan passed years ago during different times and different circumstances for Lake Oswego. I submit that such plans need to be revised when current times and circumstances facing the City, its residents and taxpayers are substantially different than those years ago. As it now stands, the building could come down in less than one month from now.

Because the LORA Board decision-making process does not allow public comment, those of us opposed to the removal of the building had to voice our dissent during the regular council meeting during the 3 minute 'public remarks' session.

But, let us all remember, there is a LORA/East End Redevelopment tax assessment line item on our property tax bills. LORA should hold public hearings for the purchasing and removal of LORA-purchased properties to which our tax dollars are either directly or indirectly contributing. In fact, LORA rules could have permitted LORA Director Robert Galante to have made the removal decision unilaterally, solo, by himself only, and not even ask the LORA Board because he and/or the city manager can make such executive decisions if they are less than $100,000. The demolition cost is a little over $50,000. The building was purchased for more than $2 million within the last 10 years and it, along with the yet-to-be-purchased Lakeshore Hotel, and both are to be scrapped for yet another park!

The U.S. Bank Building could still serve a very useful purpose. It could house the newly formed Sewer Lake Interceptor project team that the council approved also Tuesday night. The taxpayers are funding or 'backfilling' five new staff positions to fill vacancies left by City Engineer (Joel Komareck) and two other staff engineers and the Public Affairs Director (Jane Heisler) and two new clerical staff.

This group will all move to the WEB - miles away from city hall and miles away from the lake where the project takes place. They should have offices at the U.S. Bank Building where they could even 'look' outside their office windows at the project - and walk to city hall for meetings. They would also be close to the Lake Oswego Corporation offices -walk there, too. Think of the reduced carbon footprint if they were at that building and not at the WEB. Reduced emissions, gas and staff expense. Doesn't this all make sense? I think so.

Let's hold up on the demolition of the U.S. Bank Building. What's the rush? There needs to be more public input and oversight over LORA decisions when members of the city council make decisions as the LORA board. Whichever hat they are wearing, they need to listen to the citizens and taxpayers of Lake Oswego better in both instances, especially when they decide to start to tear down useable buildings around town.

John Surrett is a resident of Lake Oswego.