Whether or not you, as a citizen, favor the community center, you should strongly consider signing the currently circulating initiative petition. This initiative would enable citizens to vote in November 2007 on whether the city should be required to obtain ballot approval for real property purchases exceeding $2 million.
The impetus to this petition has been a very broad adverse reaction to the approach the city council has utilized in developing the community center. The petition initiative gives you a vote to curtail future city use of the process established by the precedent of the Safeco purchase. Please read the following brief summary of discoveries that led me to the conclusion to sign the petition and subsequently vote 'yes' on the initiative question: 'Should the Lake Oswego City Charter require elections for city property purchases exceeding $2 million, retroactive to April 1, 2006?'
When I first heard of the city's Safeco purchase in early 2006, I was taken aback, since a specific city development plan was not in place. As a 20-year resident of Lake Oswego, I have noted that major property purchases have always previously fallen under the umbrella of a pre-approved redevelopment plan, parks and recreation plan or similar planning document. I investigated to find that not only did no such pre-approved plan exist, but that the latest city study, conducted in early 2005, had shown a 45 percent negative response to a community center versus only a 36 percent positive response.
After the purchase, the city sent out 22,000 questionnaires to taxpayers asking for inputs on community center services. I filled out the form and awaited publication of the results. The compilation showed that only 1,200 citizens (5.5 percent) were interested enough to respond to the city, showing again that there was no citizen mandate for a community center. Starting in December, 2006, I began collecting Lake Oswego Review articles and letters to the editor 'for' and 'against' the center and/or its development process. In the last five months, the negative pieces have outnumbered positive pieces by approximately nine-to-one.
Still open to the community center concept, I participated in the Celebrating Community event held at the West End Building (Safeco) on April 11. I came away realizing that the West End Building is a monstrosity. Half the current structure is reserved for a future library. The mayor proudly stated that city services such as police, 9-1-1 and parks and recreation will be moving immediately into the new building. When I queried why voters had to wait until November 2008 to approve funding, it became clear the delay is a tactic to increase likelihood that voters would approve by then the 2-½-year-old West End Building purchase and plans. I since learned the city now plans on introducing several smaller bond measures, the first in November 2008, to obtain funding approvals that total to the funds needed for the site. The city obviously feels an extended approach is more likely to be approved than a single measure that is viewed as too costly. My bottom line conclusion is that the city has utilized a (questionable) approach in purchasing the $20 million site and developing its usage and funding plans without voter input.
I urge you to strongly consider signing the current petition if you are also dissatisfied with the city's planning and development process. The petition initiative is clear, simple, and well conceived. It would ensure that citizens face no more Safeco-like scenarios, regardless of how they eventually vote for the community center itself. The initiative does not bind the hands of elected officials, but it puts the power of major real property purchase approval where it should be, in the hands of the voters. Petitioners are currently circulating Lake Oswego. Petitions are also available for signature at Lake Grove Garden Center, 15955 S.W. Boones Ferry Road or at Frederick E. Squire III Antiques, 340 First St., near Millennium Plaza Park.
Les Furnanz is a resident of Lake Oswego.