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Buying Safeco was right to do

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I've been on the Lake Oswego City Council for about 7½ years now. During that time I've tried to vote for what's right for Lake Oswego. But now it's clear that one of our important decisions has displeased some articulate citizens. I think these people, while well meaning, are wrong.

The controversy is over the decision to purchase the Safeco property. I voted for it, along with the rest of the council, even though I'd been slow to approve buying property in the past. The Safeco purchase is the only one I had no qualms about. We paid a fair price. It's a centrally located, relatively flat piece of property in a city where nothing comparable has come on the market in a long time. The building is seismically sound. It gives us options: Build a new, multi-generational community center; open a larger, better-located library; move Lake Oswego City Hall, the police department and the 911 Call Center. Some of these options would allow the sale of current properties, offsetting costs. And, of course, if none of these options appealed to voters, we could always put this eminently saleable property back on the market. Accordingly, it was a wise purchase, done at little risk.

Soon, determined and vocal opposition arose, arguing against both the purchase and the proposed use. Some knowledgeable citizens are working hard on a proposal for a new community center, but the opposition group doesn't want a vote when that proposal is ready. They want the property sold immediately. A petition they're now circulating places serious obstacles in the way of the city ever buying property in the future.

I've changed my mind about the Safeco property. No, I don't regret my vote. I do regret we then had no idea about the seriousness of the sewage interceptor problem, and how much fixing it would cost. I still think all our citizens should have a chance to vote on the new community center, but I'm not now as optimistic about the outcome. Nonetheless, I think the Safeco property is so valuable for our built-out city that selling it would be a major mistake. Just to be clear: When I voted for the purchase, I believed we could sell it for at least as much as it cost us, if the community center ballot measure was unsuccessful. Now I think buying it was right and selling it would be wrong.

That's why I think the opposition is wrong and their petition does the city a disservice. I'm speaking for myself, here, not for the council. But there's not much property left in Lake Oswego, especially where public services can be conveniently and centrally located. The Safeco site is one, and we now have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to place needed facilities there.

This council, and the ones that preceded it, have helped make this a first-rate city, with a top financial rating. Buying Safeco was the right thing to do.

Eylnor 'Ellie' McPeak is a Lake Oswego City Councilor, but is not writing this opinion piece on behalf of the council.