Charter amendment is meaningful
To date, the city has spent $509,000 to develop a community center proposal, only to decide, a week after its release, not to bring it before the voters.
Instead, an advisory question will be placed on the November ballot that asks whether Safeco should be retained. In an open-ended question, the city asks for maximum flexibility by not specifying any particular use or budget for the $20 million Safeco site.
City Ballot Measure No. 3-273 should be viewed with skepticism for the important questions it leaves unanswered about the purpose of the Safeco purchase, the funding source or the time frame. It asks for your blind faith vote, explaining:
'The final determination of how the property will be used has not yet occurred. Potential uses could include combined public and private uses … A 'yes' vote does not endorse any particular use for the property.'
You are being asked to sign a contract you are not permitted to read.
Two years after passing a resolution that declared the acquisition of Safeco a 'public necessity,' after spending $22 million and obligating the taxpayers to $996,000 a year in interest payments alone plus $300,000 a year in operations costs, the council now tells us that it has no clear plan or compelling use for the site.
If the city council can't identify a use for this property after two years of throwing money at it, how can its ownership ever have been a necessity?
How did this happen? Is the council so lacking in foresight that it failed to view its plans for Safeco in the larger context of other community costs? How is it possible that this council, which calls its Safeco decision 'visionary,' somehow allowed $179 million of new water and sewer costs to sneak up and catch it unawares? At the June 19th meeting, Councilor (Ellie) McPeak called these massive new, predictably oppressive infrastructure costs 'financial bad surprises,' as though two decades of sewer interceptor issues and myriad warnings and fines from the DEQ had escaped the council's notice entirely for the past several years. How did a visionary council not see these bills coming?
It's likely that the council is not being entirely frank with us when it says it has not determined a use for the Safeco site. Lacking confidence that voters will approve a $105 million community center any time soon, the city's new objective is to secure ownership of the Safeco property before disclosing its plans for the site. But Parks and Recreation offices and staff were moved to Safeco at a cost of $300,000 and a Teen Center was recently installed, a clear indication that the council has not abandoned its desire for a community center and is, in fact, moving forward with its plan. It's just going to present the 'financial bad surprises' in smaller, more palatable increments over time. Once we're already committed to the first $20 million, it will be easier to make the public compliant with the rest of the mortgage. Measure No. 3-273's advisory question is just the camel's nose under the tent.
If the city won't give you a meaningful vote, there is another avenue you can pursue. A better way to vote on Safeco is by passing charter amendment Measure No. 3-269. If it passes, the Safeco purchase will require retroactive voter approval at the next election.
Measure No. 3-269 will put an end to our collective misery by imposing a March deadline for the city to disclose, among other things, its purpose for the Safeco property, its funding source and the cost of the anticipated debt service. Best of all, unlike the city's measure, Measure No. 3-269 is binding.
Why vote in blind faith without knowing what costs you're agreeing to bear when you can insist on full disclosure before you agree to mortgage your future?
Vote yourself a meaningful, binding vote on Safeco by passing the charter amendment. Vote yes on Measure No. 3-269.
Jacqueline Heydenrych is a resident of Lake Oswego.