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Differences between sides in Safeco debate very apparent

When John Surrett and Debbie Craig step into a room, sparks fly.

Surrett, the spokesperson for Ask Lake Oswegans, and Craig, co-chair of Our City Our Future, can barely agree to disagree.

Each says the stakes are high in the Nov. 6 election, which could decide the fate of the city-owned Safeco Building on Kruse Way.

Ask Lake Oswegans is behind Measure 3-269, which would require the city to go to voters for property purchases of more than $2 million - unless the property will be used for health or safety purposes, such as a police station. The measure would be retroactive to the time when the city bought the Safeco Building, possibly setting the stage for a March 2008 vote on the Safeco purchase.

Surrett said Lake Oswego residents don't want and can't afford the $20 million Safeco Building at a time when the city must replace the under-the-lake sewer interceptor, which will cost about $100 million.

'Things start pancaking and accumulating on us and the burden is so heavy that we have to decide whether or not we can live in these houses any more,' Surrett said at the Oct. 17 debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Clackamas County and Lake Oswego Neighbor-hood Action Coalition.

Craig and Jonathan Puskas, co-chairs of Our City Our Future, said properties like Safeco are scarce and it would be a mistake to sell it. In addition, they say that Measure 3-269 would force many property purchases to come before voters.

'Anytime we purchase park property, it's going to cost more than $2 million,' Craig said at the debate.

In addition to Measure 3-269, voters have a chance this November to tell the city whether to sell or keep the Safeco Building, which the city has renamed the West End Building. That measure is 3-273.

Our City Our Future is for keeping the building, and Ask Lake Oswegans wants the city to sell it.

The groups differ greatly on the issue of what projects the city must pay for. Craig and Puskas said Ask Lake Oswegans is using scare tactics to make voters think the city is planning a series of costly capital projects.

'These are not debts we are facing,' said Craig at last week's debate. 'None of this is debt we've agreed to.'

The sewer interceptor project is mandated by the state Department of Environmental Quality and will cost sewer customers about $6,000 apiece over the next 20 years, according to city Finance Director Richard Seals.

In addition, the purchase of the Safeco Building would cost $105 annually for a home assessed at $300,000. To convert it to a community center would cost $315 annually, if the city spent $60 million on the remodel.

The city is also looking at creating a Portland to Lake Oswego streetcar line, of which $23 million to $57 million would be shared by local municipalities and agencies. That could start in 2013. And an upgrade to the water treatment plant would cost the city $52 million to $78 million.

In addition, the annual interest on the Safeco Building purchase is $1 million and the annual maintenance cost is $300,000.

Craig said Measure 3-269 takes purchasing power away from the city council. She added that residents should not be asked to decide on each property purchase because they might not understand the city's rationale for the purchase.

'We don't have the big picture view,' she said, referring to voters. 'City planners do. They have this information. That's why we elected them.'

That statement drew loud groans from some in the audience at last week's League of Women Voters/LONAC debate.

The atmosphere was often tense, and not always just between the two groups.

When Lake Oswego City Councilor Donna Jordan questioned Surrett's use of one figure, Surrett said tersely 'I'm not making up numbers, Donna.'