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Its a pity it took the city so long

Hooray for the mayor and city council!

It has taken a little more than a year for them to realize the citizens should have decided on whether to purchase the $20 million Safeco property. When they were making the purchase, they said it would be for a community center. They threatened Safeco with a condemnation proceeding if they refused to sell the property to the city. They decided that any price was not too much to pay for the single tenant property, even the prices paid for multi-tenant, multi-story business properties in one of the hottest selling commercial districts in the state. They gave away six months free rent to the former owners. What 'a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!' they said. They chose to ignore a citizen survey showing little support for a $27 million community center, let alone the $80 million proposed facility, sans library. They chose to suspend city investment policy prohibiting investing more than 25 percent of city tax reserves in real estate. They wrote off as chump change more than $1 million per year in interest, property tax loss, and maintenance expense to carry the property. They allowed thousands of hours of city council, steering committee, city employee, and citizen time to be wasted in a fruitless, ill-conceived project. Because of their refusal to listen to citizen calls for an early vote on the project, they caused an initiative petition and ballot measure to be created, requiring them to sell the Safeco property if it passed and placing dollar restrictions on future real estate purchases without prior voter approval.

Now that they have tabled the proposal for an $80 million community center, the petition signatures have been certified, and the measure is on the ballot for the November election, the mayor and council have come up with a terrific idea. Why don't we just vote on the purchase and retention of the Safeco property? While this is all well and good, this is exactly what many of us having been asking them to do since last fall.

All the while, they have placed the taxpayers at risk of investment loss despite the mayor's assurances that 'in the event that (the Safeco property) does not become a community center, the appreciation of the property will more than cover our costs of acquiring and financing.' If it were sold today, the buyers would have to pay the city $22 million to make that true and our costs continue to mount daily.

They have spent well over $2 million on Safeco since the purchase in interest, free rent to the former owners, lost property taxes, consultant and architectural fees, renovations to the building, city salaries and maintenance costs at a time when just last week at the city council meeting, they fretted about spending $2.4 million on a needed water conservation plan for the city.

And now they want us to consider retaining the property indefinitely for some indeterminate reason? A new city hall perhaps. Think of the uproar if the mayor had proposed purchasing the Safeco property for a new city hall. Even so, demolishing the current city hall and building a new larger, mold-free, earthquake-resistant city hall would only cost $13.5 million including the 9-1-1 department, far less than the cost of the Safeco property plus the millions needed for building modifications.

A new community center sometime down the line perhaps. Are the citizens apt to change their minds about an $80 million community center?

A new library perhaps. Do we need one? Our current library just this year won a national award for citizen usage. The city has delayed indefinitely any decision on replacing the current library and if one were proposed, surely there are suitable, less costly locations for a new library.

I am glad the council is finally allowing the citizens to decide the fate of the Safeco property this November. It's a pity it's taken so long to convince the mayor and council of what has been obvious to most of us.

Gordon Umaki is a resident of Lake Oswego.