Group seeking to block plans for a community center gathers signatures

A group that wants to block the city's efforts to create a community center in Lake Oswego has collected enough signatures to put the issue on the November ballot.

Clackamas County Elections Manager Margaret Wu said Tuesday that the group, Ask Lake Oswegans, submitted the required 3,450 signatures.

The Elections Office processed more than 3,500 signatures and rejected just 49 of those as invalid.

If approved, the ballot measure would create a charter amendment that says the city must receive voter approval for property purchases of more than $2 million.

It would also place the city's purchase of the Safeco building on Kruse Way before voters in March 2008.

The city council will discuss the future of the community center at a 7:30 a.m. meeting Tuesday, July 10, at city hall. A public hearing on the center is scheduled for 6 p.m. July 24.

The council is considering putting a measure before voters in November that would ask whether the city should hold or sell the Safeco building, also known as the West End Building.

Such a vote would help the council decide whether to ask voters to pay for as much as $60 million in renovation costs to convert the 89,000-square-foot office building into a community center.

That vote would not happen until 2009 or 2010, according to Mayor Judie Hammerstad.

The council could put the spending issue on the November 2008 ballot, but Hammerstad said it would probably lose because of the unusual number of other funding matters scheduled for that ballot. One of those measures would be the $100 million sewer interceptor project in Lake Oswego.

If the charter amendment passes this November, Hammerstad said it would be 'nearly impossible' for the city to complete real estate transactions of $2 million or more.

She said it would be difficult for the city to make an offer on a property, go into escrow and then wait for voters to approve the purchase.

And while the city has made few property purchases of more than $2 million in the last decade, Hammerstad said that number will certainly increase.

'Going forward, the inflation for land purchases is so much greater than the CPI (consumer price index), there would be a strong likelihood of many land purchases over $2 million,' she said.

She anticipated land values in Lake Oswego to increase around 12 percent to 14 percent a year.

And while the city has the option of condemnation, which it considered exercising in the case of the Safeco purchase last year, Hammerstad said 'condemnations are extremely unpopular.'

John Surrett, spokesperson of Ask Lake Oswegans, said he doesn't believe the charter amendment would inhibit the city's ability to purchase properties more than $2 million, because the city could negotiate a down payment on a property to hold it while it is voted on.

In addition, he said Lake Oswegans do not think a community center is a high priority at the moment.

He faulted the council for not coming to voters before purchasing the Safeco building a year ago.

'The council has had lots of opportunities to come to (its) senses on this thing,' he said. 'They were never forthright to begin with.'

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