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Your city candidates speak out

Nine local politicians take part in Lake Grove forum

Despite it's formerly fevered pitch, Lake Oswego's political discourse took an aspirin Monday evening.

When candidates turned out for their first public appearance at the annual meeting of the Lake Grove Neighborhood Association, the heat was decidedly off.

Instead, all nine of the candidates talked casually about their approach to city politics. In their first public event together, each calmly addressed an audience of more than 100 at the Lake Grove Presbyterian Church.

They shared ideas about the city's political future and showed a little of their leadership styles. The thorns were mostly set aside, the jokes plenty.

Seven candidates are aiming for three vacancies on the Lake Oswego City Council: Bill Tierney, Justin Luber, Jeff Gudman, Sally Moncrieff, Devin Holz, Mary Olson and Russell Jones. The top three vote-getters in the Nov. 4 general election will take office Jan. 1.

Two mayoral candidates, John Surrett and Jack Hoffman, are vying for the most powerful political position in Lake Oswego. The top vote-getter in that contest will take charge of a mostly new city council as 2008 begins.

Together for the first time, their differences and similarities emerged.

The candidates weighed in on carbon footprints, the West End Building, public transportation and the cumbersome state of the city's development code.

They also offered ideas about their approach to Lake Grove, to implementing the Lake Grove Village Center Plan and whether they would retool any of the city's tree code.

Following is a snapshot:

Tree code

Most city council candidates said they support Lake Oswego's tree code but each would make minor changes to make the code more flexible.

Only Holz disagreed.

'I don't think anybody should tell anybody else what they should do with property that they own,' said Holz. 'We don't live in China.'

Gudman predicted an emerging conflict between the tree code and residents' rights to solar access. He thought the issue might need a closer look in the future, particularly as solar power technologies emerge.

Luber wanted county property owners to be ineligible for annexation to Lake Oswego if they clear-cut land to avoid tree-code restrictions once inside the city.

Olson thought Lake Oswego should stop making money off tree removal permits, which are mostly paid by residents.

Tierney, who has 52 trees on his property, suggested there could be more balance between the need to preserve the local tree canopy and the rights of property owners.

Public transportation, carbon

Only the mayoral candidates responded to a question about whether the city should begin monitoring carbon and if they would support increased rail options in Lake Oswego.

Both candidates supported future rail development.

Surrett suggested a city-owned mitigation area could offset carbon losses, such as the loss of trees during development. Trees could be replanted in a publicly owned area, he said.

Hoffman thought storm water credits might also play a role in offsetting tree loss. He suggested the Lake Oswego Sustainability Advisory Board consider carbon and storm water programs.

Community development code

Virtually all of the candidates agreed that Lake Oswego's community development code is cumbersome.

Russell Jones was most vocal about the code's problems, joking, 'It doesn't speak well of the code that you have to have a facilitator to get through it … If there was ever a reason for a book burning, this is it.'

Olson, a current member of the Lake Oswego Planning Commission, said the code literally contains thousands of errors now being corrected. She said Lake Oswego currently staffs twice the number of planners of a similarly sized city and suggested the code's problems might be at the root of the extra labor demands.

Other candidates suggested the code be cleaned up and made simpler.

Luber suggested a cleaner document could improve customer service in the city planning department.

Lake Grove Business District

Many of the candidates supported the Lake Grove Village Center Plan but suggested it should be implemented only when affordable.

Only Holz objected to the plan, saying he thought proposed traffic changes on Boones Ferry Road were 'going the way of Safeco.'

Jones and Surrett wanted less influence from Metro in the plan and called for increased input from businesses.

Surrett suggested Metro guidelines could create a cavernous design on the road, with tall buildings on each side. He wants small businesses protected to preserve the area's character.

'I sure wouldn't want to put them out of business because they couldn't afford the rent or the fancy new redevelopment,' said Surrett.

Hoffman cautioned that Lake Grove could suffer without action on the plan.

'Right now it's just a throughway and what you want is not a throughway but for people to stop and patronize the local businesses,' he said.

Luber thought private investment could spur positive change in Lake Grove, much like at Lake View Village, where a city redevelopment agency attracts private funding.

Moncrieff called for greater participation from residents in surrounding neighborhoods, where changes in traffic were likely to have impacts.

West End Building

Most of the candidates were eager to resolve the fate of the West End Building. Only Jones leaned toward the building's sale.

'I think it's almost incredulous on the part of the city council to think that in this economy we could really afford it,' he said.

Others said they would let the public decide whether to keep or sell the building. Most thought a pending inventory of public property would be critical in the decision.

All emphasized a need for better civic engagement on the project.

'I think it's a public decision and I would like to see us get all of the options on the table,' Moncrieff said.

Gudman emphasized his own role in opposing the city process as a member of the Lake Oswego Community Center Steering Committee.

'The council made an error in the process it went through from the moment it purchased the building. And I'm not talking about the decision to sell the building, I'm talking about every decision in the moments thereafter,' he said.

Lake Grove

Mayoral candidates showed few differences in opinion on a question about what was unique about Lake Grove. Both pointed to the diversity of housing stock and to the area's older trees.

While both said they would revisit infill standards to address 'the McMansion' effect in Lake Grove, only strategy was unique.

Hoffman would bring in national experts on taming the McMansion trend while Surrett said a grass-roots approach could achieve the same goals without the expense of consultants.

Streetcar

All of the candidates were streetcar supporters and all considered related development in Foothills to be a positive change for the city.

Olson suggested that development be kept out of the floodplain of the Willamette River. She is opposed to a streetcar terminus in downtown Lake Oswego that is proposed to travel up and down A and B avenues.

Gudman said with the railroad right-of-way in public ownership, its $100 million value should be treated as a significant investment from Lake Oswego. For that reason, he said the city should be last to commit money to the project.

Mayor's role

Hoffman and Surrett both responded to a question about how the mayor should interact with the city manager and other top-ranking city officials.

Hoffman said the mayor and city council should set policy in Lake Oswego and that the city manager should implement that policy by directing staff.

Surrett said he would like a more collaborative approach to policy implementation. While he agreed the mayor and city council should set policy, he said his approach to city staff would be more analytical.

Surrett said he would poke at assumptions underlying staff reports and be responsive to the public while making decisions, even decisions about how to implement policy.

'With the type of challenges we have facing us in the city of Lake Oswego it's going to be a much more collaborative (process),' he said.

This article was modified from its original version to clarify remarks on the Lake Grove Business District.