Safeco, Lake View Village different
I read with interest the mayor's and the chamber of commerce's assertion that Millennium Plaza Park would not have been built had the provisions of the new initiative petition been in effect at the time the properties were purchased. Rather than dwell on the history of the development of this area which has been well-covered by Mr. Kuran's letter, I think the real issue in the mayor's and chamber's assertion regarding Millennium Park and the initiative petition can be stated in more simple terms.
Recall that the petition originated because of the ill-advised purchase of the Safeco property by the mayor and council for $20 million without voter approval. Now, let's compare the Millennium Plaza Park/Lake View Village and the Safeco property/community center situations.
The area where Millennium Park and Lake View Village now stand was an area sorely in need of redevelopment and revitalization. It was comprised of deteriorating apartment buildings, shops and restaurants, all needing redevelopment and new investment. City investment and urban renewal for this area was appropriate and the city and the Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency (LORA) have done a fine job in redeveloping this area.
Now compare that situation to the Safeco property acquisition. It would be difficult to argue that the Safeco property and surrounding areas need economic redevelopment and economic benefit. On the contrary, this property and surrounding area are among the most desirable and expensive in Oregon. Acquiring this property for any city use has no direct economic benefit to the city. In fact, the purchase of the property has the opposite effect - it costs the city and taxpayers big money. The city and its citizens lose all future property taxes formerly paid by Safeco to the city and the Lake Oswego School District forever. This will amount to millions of dollars in a few short years. The bond measure financing the purchase and the community center will cost every Lake Oswego homeowner, business owner, and renter thousands of dollars each in increased property taxes over 20 years whether they use the facility or not. Further, the Community Center Steering Committee's own projections are that the community center, even after charging market user fees, will not be self-sufficient and will require an estimated $140,000 per year subsidy paid by taxpayers to keep it afloat, and it could well be much more. None of these facts can be disputed by the city.
The mayor, council, and LORA are to be commended for the Millennium Plaza Park and Lake View Village projects. They are fine examples of successful urban renewal and development. The Safeco community center project, on the other hand, is a grandiose and needless project that gains the city nothing financially and costs all of us much for many years to come.
So if you hear the argument that Millennium Plaza Park would not have been built had the petition been in effect, tell them two things: 1) The mayor needs to have more confidence in her ability to persuade the voters that spending $2.2 million for an urban renewal project like Millennium Plaza Park is a good thing. 2) The Safeco community center project is no Millennium Plaza Park.
The petition requiring voter approval for city acquisitions of real property costing more than $2 million deserves your serious consideration. Find out more and where you can sign it at asklakeo.com or 503-697-7064.
Gordon Umaki is a resident of Lake Oswego.
Editor's note: According to Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Bill Korach, the impact of the Safeco purchase on revenues to the district cannot be estimated at this time.