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Voters deny Ask Lake Oswegans

Measure 3-269 goes down while Measure 3-273 gets approved by local voters
by: SAM BENNETT, Eric Meyers, a volunteer with Our City Our Future; Debbie Craig, co-founder of Our City Our Future; Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad; and Jonathan Puskas, co-founder Our City Our Future, celebrated their win Tuesday night.

Lake Oswego voters on Tuesday sent a message that a majority approves of the city's purchase of the Safeco Building and trusts the city council with future land purchases.

Measure 3-269, which would have required the city to put to a vote property purchases of $2 million or more, was defeated with 54.5 percent of voters saying no compared to 45.4 percent voting yes.

These are the latest figures, as of press time Wednesday afternoon.

A no vote rejected the measure put forth by the Ask Lake Oswegans group.

Measure 3-273, which asked voters whether they want to keep or sell the Safeco Building, was approved with 54 percent voting yes compared to a little almost 46 percent opposing.

A yes vote meant residents wanted the city to keep the 89,000-square-foot building on Kruse Way, which it purchased in July 2006.

After months of debates and contentious arguments between the pro Measure 3-269 group Ask Lake Oswegans and the opposition, Our City Our Future, Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad said it's time to mend the divisiveness and work together.

'Now we need to start healing from the division caused by this election,' said Hammerstad. 'We simply need to work toward common goals.'

City Councilor Ellie McPeak said, 'Let's get back to more unanimity.'

She acknowledged that 'mistakes were made' in the planning process for converting the Safeco Building into a community center and at the same time, 'other projects came onto the radar screen.'

Ask Lake Oswegans co-spokesperson John Surrett said the $20 million building is too great an expense at a time when the city must pay for a new $100 million sewer interceptor project, and a list of other possible transit and infrastructure projects are on the horizon.

Mary Olson, also a spokesperson for Ask Lake Oswegans, said the group was disappointed with the results but encouraged by the number of votes the group received.

'This clearly shows we are not a small, vocal minority,' Olson said. 'Almost half the voters supported us and we are not going away.'

It was the city's purchase of the West End Building that prompted Ask Lake Oswegans to begin a grass-roots campaign to force its sale and change the way the city purchases property. Their Measure 3-269, if passed, would have been retroactive and forced a vote on the purchase of the Safeco Building.

It also would have created a charter amendment to force votes on land purchases more than $2 million - an idea opponents said would have tied the city's hands with a cumbersome vote-before-purchasing process.

The Ask Lake Oswegans group had 140 volunteers who collected 5,000 signatures in six weeks last spring, to put the measure on the November ballot.

Although Measure 3-273 passed, the city must still come to voters to ask if they are willing to buy the building through a bond sale.

The city estimates the annual property tax would be $105 a year per $300,000 of assessed value of a property.

McPeak said the council must decide when to come to voters with a bond measure to pay for the Safeco Building, which the city has renamed the West End Building.

She said she's skeptical of the idea of a March 2008 bond vote, because money measures don't fare well in a double-majority election.

Debbie Craig, co-founder of Our City Our Future, which wanted to keep the West End Building, said she thinks the building will not be used for a community center for at least several years.

McPeak agreed, citing the city's 'financial constraints,' which could delay an earlier $60 million plan to renovate the building into a community center.

In fact, she said it's still unclear what the best use of the building is.

'There are more good ideas than there is space in that building to put them,' McPeak said. 'We need to have as public a discussion as possible about the best uses for that property. That discussion will take a while.'

In addition to a community center, the city could look into putting a new city hall, new library or the city's police department and 911 call center at the West End Building site.

'The population is far closer to the Safeco Building than it is to Fifth and A,' she said, referring to the location of city hall.

Surrett said his group will still closely watch the city's land purchases.

'More than anything, this sends a clear message to the city council,' he said. 'They no longer can conduct business as usual behind closed doors, buying buildings without voters being allowed to weigh in.'

Olson said the vote results show that Hammerstad and other proponents of keeping the West End Building do not have a mandate.

Although her group failed to win, she said Ask Lake Oswegans forced the council to be more open in its discussions about the building.

'We succeeded in creating a dialogue,' said Olson. 'Before our group came about, people were kind of being dictated to by the city council. We came along and launched a discussion that we think has been healthy for the community.'

Hammerstad said the West End Building is worth keeping.

'We normally have very supportive voters, and they did not buck that trend,' she said.