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Council candidates tackle core issues

Light rail, Light & Power, lawsuits dominate forum


by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Victoria Johnson, who served on the Forest Grove City Council in the 1990s said she Light & Power funding and public safety issues led her to run.Forest Grove residents could elect a city council with the same membership as 2009 Tuesday, with former mayor Richard Kidd running for the vacant council seat his resignation made available.

And based on the questions at a candidate forum sponsored by the Forest Grove Chamber of Commerce, not much has changed in Forest Grove since then.

Light rail, senior center funding, homelessness and Pacific University were on the minds of audience members that submitted questions.

Light & Power funding

One new twist was a recent controversy over the city funding its economic development department with money from the city-owned utility.

Victoria Johnson, who sat on the city council in the 1990s, said that was one reason she decided to run.

"The city of Portland has this issue and they're being sued," Johnson said.

State law puts limits on the way cities can spend revenue earned from "business-like" activities, such as utilities. Johnson, who used to work for PGE, said the city already recieves $800,000 from Light & Power and should leave the rest of the department's funding alone.

Incumbent city councilors Elena Uhing and Victoria Lowe both said it seemed defensible to spend utility money on the city's economic development coordinator.

"Most of the time is spent promoting our utility and our water and what makes us a good city to do business in," Uhing said. Kidd said he didn't think city departments should be paying for the responsibilities of other city departments.

Lawsuits

Aldie Howard, who has pledged to run for city council until he wins (his past attempts have all failed), suggested that a series of recent lawsuits in the city demanded a change in leadership.

"No more secret deals," Howard said. "Paying for this last debacle will cost us a lot of money."

Howard and Johnson were the only candidates to address the suits.

Light rail

When asked about light rail coming to Forest Grove, Kidd said it was a good idea.

"This would be the least expensive light rail project Metro would ever do," Kidd said.

Howard agreed with Kidd that state ownership of the rail right-of-way between Hillsboro and Forest Grove made expanding light rail to Forest Grove economical. But he said Forest Grove and Cornelius didn't have enough riders to lure federal dollars away from other transit corridors.

"If we had more people here, we'd have more ridership and maybe TriMet would look at us," Howard said.

Johnson said she didn't support bringing light rail to Forest Grove. She said she worried about what rail could do to the city's crime rate. Ehing and Lowe both said they were open to light rail, but wanted more discussion before the city dove in.

Urban renewal

The candidates split in the same way on the city's proposal to establish an urban renewal district. Kidd said he was generally for urban renewal districts that have clear, specific goals and an expiration date, while Johnson said she was very skeptical of the districts. Lowe and Uhing said they wanted more discussion. Howard didn't take a stand.

Homelessness

Candidates were also asked about what they would do to address homelessness in the city. Lowe and Uhing said they sympathized with the plight of homeless residents, with Uhing pointing out 49 kids in the Forest Grove School District are classified as homeless.

But Kidd said community service organizations like churches needed to focus on homelessness. "The city council does not have the assets available to it to solve a homeless problem," Kidd said.

Johnson, citing run-ins with men on the south end of town that spurred her to lock her business during the day, said the city should mark a distinction.

"There's a difference between those who are homeless and vagrants," Johnson said.

Vagrants, Johnson said, were likely methamphetamine addicts and "lifers" on the streets.

But the forum found one point of agreement: all the candidates were supportive of Pacific University.



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