According to Wikipedia, ''It's the economy, stupid' was a phrase in American politics widely used during Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign against George H.W. Bush. The phrase refers to the notion that Clinton was a better choice because Bush had not adequately addressed the economy, which had recently undergone a recession.'
The phrase could not be more relevant today. We are on the brink of the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression. Many are losing their homes and jobs. News of business bankruptcies and layoffs are daily occurrences. Even more are faced with 50 percent or more reductions in their 401k's and retirement assets. Few have been spared from financial despair.
At times like these, affordability must take precedence over livability investments. It is a time for belt tightening, not loose spending. We already have necessary expenditures for the sewer interceptor and water utilities. We need to continue improvements to our schools, roads, police and emergency services. Reasonable investments in our parks and recreation are worthwhile livability improvements. But let's not get carried away.
The most important goal for our new city council going forward must be affordability. Second, the council must look for ways to continue reasonable improvements to livability. These include not only urban renewal and parks and recreation, but infrastructure improvements. Third, the council must seek sustainability - both economic and environmental. Economic sustainability is the necessity for balance between livability and affordability. Investments in livability are not sustainable if they are not affordable. Investments that are affordable do not necessarily improve livability. Environmental sustainability is the necessity for balance between nature and our human wants. We need a sustainable balance.
As keepers of the power, we must hold our new mayor and city councilors accountable to the goals of affordability, livability and sustainability with every decision they make. In good economic times, livability improvements can trump affordability. It's an easy trap to fall into when money falls endlessly from the sky. No one could have foreseen the extent of today's financial collapse when the city purchased the Safeco property in 2006. In some peoples' eyes purchasing the Safeco property may have been affordable at the time, but given today's circumstances, it is now clear that affordability was sacrificed.
But let's not look back; we already own the property. With fresh eyes, we need to look at the WEB property and reassess whether, in today's circumstances, it meets the goals of affordability, livability and sustainability. While the community center/library proposal passes the livability test, it quickly fails the goals of affordability and economic sustainability. Actually, this proposal failed these tests in 2007 (before the market crash) when citizen opposition to the proposal forced city council to shelve the idea.
Are there other uses of the property which meet the goals? Some have suggested selling the current city hall property and moving city hall to the WEB property. Not only would it be economically detrimental to the downtown city center and the revived Millennium Plaza Park area, it would also be several times more costly than simply selling the WEB property and rebuilding the current city hall where it stands. Moving city hall to the WEB property detracts from livability and fails both the affordability and economic sustainability tests.
I am hopeful that the new mayor and council will carefully consider these goals for the city and come to an early decision on the WEB property. We cannot afford the continual drag of $100,000 per month interest and support costs in times when we need fiscal restraint. In considering what the primary goal for the new city council should be, no one should need to say, 'It's affordability, stupid.'
Gordon Umaki is a resident of Lake Oswego.