Decisions on Safeco already made
Know before you go to the July 24th public hearing on Safeco that two key decisions have already been reached in advance.
The city council decided six months ago that it would not sell the Safeco property even if the voters do not want a community center. As far back as January, Councilor Jordan suggested taking the option of selling Safeco off the table so as not to mislead the voters. On February 6th, 2007, the Mayor took the position that 'the community center was in public ownership and should stay in public ownership. Otherwise, people might think the building would be sold if the community center vote failed.'
Owning Safeco has become a more important priority than any use that may ultimately be found for the site. In an unexpected revelation at the June 19th study session, Councilor McPeak disclosed, '… it will simplify our discussions in the future if we try to focus on two separate issues. One is owning Safeco and the other is the use of that property. They are separate and the crucial one is owning Safeco. And I acknowledge its primacy.'
Now the public must be persuaded to consent to the property purchase for undetermined purposes. A use must be found for it until the voters are in the mood to favor a community center project years from now. To use the site for a different purpose has troubling significance for Council Resolutions 05-86 and 06-15 which linked the property to a very specific purpose, and for the Lake Grove Village Center Plan, where the property is designated as a Community Center. There are also some legal and financial implications.
Keeping the building for an alternative use while postponing the bond measure indefinitely is at odds with the representations that were made to Moody's and Standard and Poor last year. Both firms who awarded the AAA bond rating have the understanding that the $20 million outstanding balance on the line of credit will be paid off in 2008 when voters either approve GO bonds or the property will be sold.
And deviating from the stated purpose of the loan might well violate the provisions of City Charter Section 51 which holds, 'Any fund voted by the people or the council for a specific purpose may be used only for that purpose and shall not be transferred or used for any other purpose, except investment while not in use.'
The second key decision which has already been made is the Council's unanimous June 19th, 2007 agreement to postpone the November 2008 bond measure. Last week's Review confirmed this decision with an emphatic quote from the Mayor.
It's clear why the City Council has decided to postpone a binding vote. The longer the bond measure is delayed, the longer the city can own the property without taxpayer consent.
In the meantime, Safeco's interest-only loan is costing very close to $1 million a year. The payments come out of the property tax reserve account. As long as the Council doesn't ask permission for GO bonds to finance the community center project, the reserves can be tapped indefinitely to pay the loan interest without voter approval.
It will likely be 2010 or later before we are allowed vote. By then, the taxpayers will have waited five years since the October 2005 letter of intent to purchase Safeco for an opportunity to authorize the project. After spending millions we will still owe the original $20 million without ever having authorized a dime.
Please go to the 6pm public hearing at city hall on Tuesday and ask the Mayor and three senior Councilors why they do not feel inclined to resolve the Safeco question before their terms expire in December 2008.
Ask what is the value of a public hearing when the Council has made the key decisions in advance.
Ask why your vote should be delayed any longer.
Heydenrych is a resident of Lake Oswego.