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Streetcar: Whats going on?

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Many citizens have asked me what is going on with the streetcar. I am writing this comment to explain the current status.

On April 19, the Lake Oswego City Council voted 4-3 selecting streetcar as the locally preferred option. At that meeting, Councilors Olson, Gudman and I fought hard to move the council to agree to hold a citizen vote before spending any more money. We felt that there was far too much money at stake and too dramatic a change in character for our village not to allow citizen input in the form of a citywide vote.

At that point, $7 million had already been spent. Unfortunately, the voting block of four stopped our effort for a swift public vote and instead approved a non-binding public vote in May 2012.

During the same meeting, I made a motion to immediately hire a professional survey firm and conduct a survey of the citizens in regard to streetcar. I made this motion because some on council had harshly dismissed and minimized the nearly 400 emails to council, which ran more than 4 to 1 against streetcar. The same councilors also rejected the verbal comments during the public session, which ran more than 2 to 1 against the streetcar.

It was my hope that a professional survey might finally convince the voting block of four on council that citizens are truly not in favor of streetcar. Fortunately, this motion passed.

One would assume that a survey would have been rapidly held following this vote, but this was not the case. Yes, the city promptly contacted a survey firm but the next action was for staff and opposing council to stop the process. A decision was made that by simply hiring a survey firm, Lake Oswego had met the intent of the motion. Only an attorney might agree with such simplistic parsing of words.

My next step was to aggressively push city staff during late June to honestly and truly execute this motion. Because of these efforts, the survey topic was brought back to council June 20. During nearly 70 minutes of discussion, the voting block of four pushed to delay the survey until January 2012 but finally compromised on October 2011. The logic used to delay the survey was that we lacked adequate information to survey the citizens. Now, in case the irony of this logic is missed - council was required to vote and select our locally preferred option in April, but now in June we don't have enough information for a survey of our citizens!

In late June, the mayor attended a Clackamas County meeting asking to delay their vote regarding streetcar while more Lake Oswego city funds are spent on continuing engineering. This unilateral action, not fully explained, was purported to be because of a lack of information - again, recall Lake Oswego Council was required to vote on this in April. Perhaps the truth lies more with the significant citizen opposition and creative political maneuvering to try and find some new description, path or option that proponents hope might make streetcar more acceptable to the citizens.

Stay tuned for the next maneuver from the voting block of four - I'm betting that the survey never sees the light of day and that the May 2012 vote gets pushed off, also.

Mike Kehoe is a Lake Oswego City Councilor.