Forest Grove candidates tackle issues
Here in Forest Grove, seven people are vying for three open seats on the city council. Incumbents Tom Johnston and Ron Thompson are being challenged by Tom Beck, Malynda Wenzl, Aldie Howard, Alexander LaFollett and Nathan Seable. Meanwhile, incumbent Mayor Pete Truax is being challenged by Tim Marble. The News-Times posed six questions to the candidates. Here are their answers.
NT: What Forest Grove City Council decision made in the past four years did you disagree with the most and why? What would you have done differently?
Nate Seable: The Times Litho Purchase has been probably one of those most controversial and for good reason. The City was not very transparent about the decision making process, and it occurred rather quickly to meet deadlines. The property now produces no tax revenue for the city and it appears a potential conflict of interest may have been in the mix.
Tom Johnston: I would say that the times litho bldg. and taking it off the tax rolls was my biggest issue. The difference now is the majority of council voted to buy the property, and it is up to all the council to find a use or sell to investors, putting it back on the tax rolls.
Aldie Howard: I disagreed with the majority decision of the council related to the purchase of the Times-Litho property, but that is history and we now own the building. What to do with it?
Recently I met with Bob Hall, president and CEO of the Columbia-Willamette YMCA suggesting that the Times-Litho property be developed into a community center under the YMCA umbrella. I think we model this facility on the Sherwood program which has
been self-sufficient since opening. A new post office could be incorporated and the Ruralite Building could be utilized for related offices.
Tom Beck: I testified against the burn ban proposal that passed last month, because it left in place spring burning, ended fall burning, and left any exceptions to be determined later. I believe that as a health issue burning should be banned, but people need time to adjust to the change. Therefore, I would have cut the burn period for both the fall and spring in half in 2015, and half the burn period again in 2016, and end burning in 2017. I would allow large property owners, defined as over one acre, to obtain a permit to burn according to the regular DEQ requirements.
Ron Thompson: I have a problem with the question? Ethically once the decision is made by council, I support the decision.Even when I disagree. We are a team. If the majority of the voters disagree. I would ask the the majority vote to reconsider for more discussion. Our charter has this opportunity to reconsider.
Malynda Wenzl: There is no benefit in judging past actions of the Council. I'm running because I had a good childhood in Forest Grove and I want my children to feel the same way. Representing families and maintaining the strong community values are my goals.
Alexander LaFollett: Besides the Times Litho purchase, I disagree with the decision to create an Urban Renewal District (URD). I have serious concerns about dragging the city into debt for the benefit of private developers. There's a reason California banned URDs with Assembly Bill x1 26 in 2011. Per p. 15 of the draft URD report, the projection is that in 20 years, on a $15 million investment, the city would make $16.2 million in tax increment revenue at best, and could make as little as $7.5 millionmeaning a loss of 50%. Assuming those projects succeeded in bringing in new residents and businesses, that means more people to provide with city services, without the revenue to do so, and many residents I've talked with already feel tapped out with existing levies. I wouldn't have put the city in the land development business, and hope to curtail that sort of thing if elected.
Pete Truax: This question seems designed for candidates for election, not the incumbents. I feel we have kept Forest Grove on the right track as far as economic development, transportation issues, land use, and sustainability are concerned. Good Decisions so far: backyard burning; smoking and tobacco use in parks and public events; purchase of TLP; Island annexation; improvement of intersection at Hwys 8 and 47; extension of David Hill Road to intersect with Hwy 47, and; involvement in the safety discussions around Hwy 47 north and south of Forest Grove.
Timothy Marble: One of the decision by the City Council that I disagree with the most is the decision by the City Council in December 2012 to purchase the Times Litho property. I would have voted against the decision because I do not believe that the city should be using public money in order to speculate in private investment or to attempt to control which businesses should be allowed in the city limits. My reasons for disagreeing are more fully described in my response below.
NT: Despite Pacific Universitys economic, cultural and educational importance to Forest Grove, there continues to be a level of town-gown separation. Is it important to encourage more crossover between Pacific people and townspeople? If yes, how would you do that?
Seable: The difficulty that comes with mixing a student population with local population is not unique to Forest Grove. I am a graduate of BYU-Idaho and also Oregon State University. Both Rexburg Idaho and Corvallis Oregon also struggle with that. The good news is that students help drive local economies through their purchasing of goods and services, so local businesses naturally do whatever they can to attract and cater to students. That factor alone helps bridge the gap between "gown and town". In addition to that, I feel it is important that city leaders and University leaders communicate frequently on issues important to students and the success of the school in general. The city should recruit heavily amongst the student population to get involved in local charitable and volunteer opportunities. This is good for the community and for the developing young people and their resumes. Their are also very important touch points between the school and city when it comes public safety. Good policing and pedestrian/bike safety are extremely important to the well being of students within Forest Grove.
Johnston: I would say we are light years ahead in relations with Pacific than in the past. Recently, the building of the Sustainability Commission and use of business students through the chamber have been great examples of good relations with Pacific. The partnership with Lincoln Park and Thatcher Park was a win-win. We have had several Pacific students applying for city committees and commissions. I would like to see more intern work with Pacific for the city and businesses.
Howard: Town-gown separation is a myth. There are 500 graduates of Pacific University now living in Forest Grove. The annual Rotary Concours dElegance includes a major community effort. The Chamber Corn Roast draws hundreds of local citizens to the campus. Add to this the cultural, historical and relevant social programs sponsored by Pacific and one should realize that Pacific is an integral sector in this city.
Beck: As the former Dean of Arts and Sciences at Pacific and as a professor of history teaching one course in the January term, I have close ties with the university. We should improve our relations with the university by looking to involve both students and faculty in the activities of the city. We should be looking for opportunities to use Pacific students as interns in various city offices, working with the Center for Civic Engagement for projects to help with the elderly and others in need of assistance, partner with the university in furthering developments at Fernhill Wetlands and encourage Pacific students to join our boards and commissions.
Thompson: I think we have had many crossover projects Lincoln Park Sports Fields, new parking at the Aquatics Center, new Thatcher Park and the cannery field and parking. The only negative is the moving of the bookstore back to the campus. Also, parking in the residential streets is a growing problem that needs to be addressed.
Wenzl: The city has supported Pacifics growth in the last five years. I would like to see more local business in Forest Grove. Ideally, it would be nice if local business could benefit from the increase in students and people visiting Pacific University.
LaFollett: Speaking as an academic, I know that town-gown separation is not an uncommon phenomenon in college towns, and Pacific University and Forest Grove are no exception to this. I know there is actually a bit of tension in the downtown area between business and the university, particularly with respect to parking, and there had been some initial issues with their partial takeover of Lincoln Park. There are some positive crossover opportunities that could alleviate some of that, however. I remember back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Pacific had Oregon Symphony conductor Murry Sidlin on faculty, he used to hold a class that was open to the public on Wednesday nights, that was well-attended both by students and community members. Providing and promoting shared enrichment activities like that would be one key step in the right direction.
Truax: I would use the words communication and cooperation between Pacific and the community, if and it is a big if we do not share the belief that Pacific is part of this community. I have heard about the disconnect and frankly, I dont buy it. There is always a little tension between parts of a community, such as a university, such as a high school, such as a large employer. Pacific has played a key role in the past and present of Forest Grove, and will be a positive partner in the future. Yes, parking is an issue, and we are working on it, but in my opinion, that is not enough of a barrier to our working relationship with a leading cultural, educational and research institution in this community indeed, in this state.
Marble: Pacific University and the City of Forest Grove have an intertwined relationship dating back to the mid-1800s, when they were both in their infancies. This relationship has grown into a strong partnership throughout this time. Like siblings, however, there are often grumblings about inequities. It takes forthright communication and trust to develop and maintain a strong and healthy relationship. We all need to be reminded of the benefits that each brings to the table and the importance of working together in order to build on our common future vitality.
News-Times: For years, city planners and leaders have worked to spark TriMets interest in extending the MAX line to Forest Grove. Is this an idea you support? (Yes or No) If yes, do you have ideas for how to achieve it? And if it doesnt happen, what are some other ways to improve transportation in and around Forest Grove?
Johnston: I think we lose a lot of business by not being on the MAX line; however, because of costs I don't see MAX coming to Forest Grove anytime soon. The railroads on the north or south sides of town may play a role in the future for some light rail. It may also be in the form of buses run off of roadways.
The GroveLink buses that we have need to continue or expand, Evergreen Parkway from Hillsboro needs to run directly west, connecting with the Verboort Road roundabouts to give Forest Grove another way to drive east from Forest Grove.
Howard: The demographics of Forest Grove do not support the extension of a MAX Line. GroveLink is an important mode of transportation here and should be continued. The problem is that it is dependent to some degree on federal funds which may not always be available.
Seable: I support extending TriMet if the premise is to serve the current population and bring tourism and commerce to Forest Grove -- but not if the premise is to open Forest Grove for more sprawling growth. Cities all over have ruined themselves with the insatiable desire to grow. Forest Grove's recent growth has not helped the citys budget problems, but has led to transportation problems and stress on city services. The assertion that a TriMet extension would alleviate traffic long-term only holds water if both Forest Grove and Cornelius plan to stop adding people and cars to their populations. I support the exploration of additional bus service within the city, as well as to the Hillsboro MAX station. I would aggressively encourage East/West bypass options to take pressure off Highway 8. I also support business growth within city boundaries, strategically placed so people don't have to travel as far for groceries, fuel etc.
Beck: Yes, I support bringing MAX to Forest Grove, though I do not believe it will happen any time soon, and therefore we need to continue to work with TriMet to meet the public transportation needs of our citizen. GroveLink is a wonderful improvement and needs permanent funding, along with expansion as the city develops to the north. We also need to further improve the TriMets 57 bus route by adding express service to Hillsboro during morning and afternoon commute times. The Planning Commission (which I chair) has been working on possible locations for MAX stations as we think about development from the Cornelius border to downtown Forest Grove. During the Periodic Review process, I pushed to forecast our desire to have MAX in Forest Grove. Population size is the key to being successful with getting the MAX as well as how society changes over the next 10 to 20 years.
Thompson: Yes. Work with all parties national, state, Metro, TriMet. We have the cheapest six miles in the system. The state owns the right-of-way. It may not happen in the near future, but special non-stop buses to Hatfield Transit Center now would serve the need.
Wenzl: I don't think that expanding MAX into Forest Grove will help the community retain our small-town values and identity. It will also put an economic strain on the city for many years. I would like to see the city explore alternative routes connecting Forest Grove with the Metro area. There is a lot of dependence on Highway 47 and unfortunately it has affected the safety of our citizens.
LaFollett: While the added connectivity of a MAX Blue Line extension would be nice, I don't think the cost of rebuilding the Portland and Western right-of-way to support light rail justifies it, especially when it would essentially duplicate the existing 57 bus line (and, assuming similar projections to Milwaukie MAX, at a slower speed). I would also be interested in carefully examining the model of South Metro Area Regional Transportation (SMART), the agency Wilsonville created when they opted out of TriMet in 1989, to see if it might be a viable way forward for our community.
On the roadway side of things, besides figuring out a solution for Highway 47 I don't believe roundabouts are the answer we are direly lacking in east-west roadway connectivity to the rest of Washington County. Extending Evergreen Road to the Forest Grove area would be a great first step.
Truax: When I ran for City Council in 2000, my major issue was extending the MAX line from Hillsboro to Forest Grove. I was elected, so I think that issue was popular with the electorate. Since then, I have received an education about politics and government. One, you don't always get what you want. Two, there are alternate ways to establish your aims. My overall goal was to improve transportation, especially the first mile, last mile (that distance from home to mass transit, and from mass transit to employment, doctor, school, etc). With GroveLink we have done that. TriMet has also increased the number of buses along line 57. So, while MAX has not come to Forest Grove, we are still better off than we were 14 years ago. Our task now is to continue GroveLink after the two year pilot program expires. Together, we can do it.
Marble: We need to evaluate carefully whether extending the MAX line is a good match for our community and the financial investment which will be required. The cost to extend the MAX line is not just dollars, but changes in residential and commercial zoning with minimum-density requirements. These zoning changes will have a big impact on the character of our community. Transportation issues in and out of Forest Grove are also driven by lack of local jobs and retail shopping. We need to look at ways to bring more jobs and retail shopping opportunities for our residents in order to alleviate the increasing commuter traffic. We also need to be an active participant in tranportation planning at the County and State levels.
News-Times: Half of the Forest Grove School Districts students are Latino, as are a significant portion of the citys residents. Yet Latino participation in public or community groups is relatively low. How would you go about reaching out to the local Latino community?
LaFollett: I do feel that there is indeed a bit of a cultural divide there, and that divide is becoming more glaring as the Latino population has grown significantly, especially across the western US. Forest Grove's Latino population is now at about 25 percent. I think there are some positive steps being taken in this direction already, and given some time, we'll start to see a more diverse cross-section in community groups. I also believe that reaching out to Latino business ownersperhaps via the Chamber of Commercewould be one effective means to this end.
Howard: Those young people who attend our schools are learning English, history, political importance and what it takes to assimilate into our midst. It will take time but very soon the Latino population will realize that without representation at all levels of society and government, they will not be able to advance. When that happens we will all benefit.
Thompson: An example is my campaign resume -- bilingual -- which was translated by Sarah, my youngest daughter. Also, I worked with a local Latino church for church-worship parking on the Cannery Field lot on Sunday Morning with Pacific University. Also, all Boards and Commissions are reaching out to both adult and student membership. Town hall meetings are bilingual.
Wenzl: As a council member I need to be accessible to the whole community. I would attend events and ask questions and invite participation. My role as a teacher also helps me connect with the Latino community as they already know and respect me from teaching their kids.
Johnston: The Latino population in Forest Grove is 23 percent . I can remember some 25 to 30 years ago, I participated in the Three Rivers Study to look at Latino participation in their communities from almost every angle. Since that time, I have supported minorities to participate in any and all activities, community, government, civic, sports, clubs or after-school activities. Forest Grove High School has a Mecha Club for young Hispanics, they are taught to get involved in the community and to learn leadership skills. I have always supported Mecha and will continue to do so to promote Hispanic involvement in our community. We now have two Hispanic planning commission members in Forest Grove and we are always open for more representation.
Seable: I firmly believe that communities are most vibrant and healthy when diverse opinions, experiences, and backgrounds are represented at the table. Forest Grove has made some strides in this area, but is not fully matured in it's embrace of its diverse expanding population. Here are some specific things I will encourage while on the city council.
The city needs to recruit more bi-lingual employees particularly in the police, fire and parks departments, as well as front-office administration; seek out Hispanic members of the community to serve on boards and commissions; consider translating the citys website into Spanish; work harder to bring awareness to existing programs that help non-English speakers to learn English and get the services they need; create a commission to promote a diverse, vibrant fully represented community; get out more to meet people, listen, shake hands and look into the eyes of the people they represent.
Beck: Listening and showing respect for each person with whom we interact is the key, followed by support of activities that can bring people together. I would propose periodic forums to address the concerns of our Latino fellow residents. This could lead to having a commission/board to focus on issues for those likely to face discrimination whether because of their cultural background or socio-economic situation. I am participating in a forum this week sponsored by The Center for Intercultural Organizing as one such effort of reaching out to the Latino community. We should continue to look closely at our hiring policies, especially in public safety. We just swore in Officer Sanchez to our Police Department and I am pleased to have Hugo Rojas as a new member on the Planning Commission. We should continue to support key City activities that service our Latino community, such as the library, community gardens, and athletic activities.
Truax: Rainbow representation in government is always, and has always been, an issue. We have spent time and effort in recruiting people for our Boards and Commissions, and we have not been as successful as we had hoped. That does not mean we are going to stop this effort. I don't have the immediate answer, but I am still looking. Stay tuned.
Marble: The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that as of 2013 about 23 percent of the population in Forest Grove is Hispanic or Latino. Although the participation by Hispanic and Latino populations may be lower than this percentage in traditional public or community groups, that does not mean that they do not get involved. The lack of involvement by Hispanic and Latino populations in traditional groups may be symptomatic of the declining effectiveness of these groups to the overall population. We need to meet people where they are, not invite them to join us and then shrug our shoulders when they don't show up. There needs to be a re-evaluation of our traditional public and community groups in order to make them relevant to 100 percent of our population instead of 77 percent (or less).
NT: At the end of 2012, the city council voted to spend $800,000 to buy the 2.68-acre Times Litho property. The council majority and city staff members said they hoped to keep it from becoming a warehouse and get good, job-producing proposals for developing it. Nearly two years later, only one developer responded to a recent Request for Qualifications and his interest is in building a hotelnot the mixed retail/housing councilors had hoped for. Did you support the council majoritys position at the time? In retrospect, do you think it was a good idea?
Seable: I sincerely hope that the purchase of the Times Litho site turns out toe be a "win" for the city. That being said, If I were on the city council, my vote would have been a solid NO for a couple of reasons. First, private investors would be better suited to bare the risk inherent with holding a non revenue producing property. The city budget is in the red without the local option tax levy. General operations expenditures requires the city to dip into "reserves" in the amount of about 300,000. If this goes on another 5 years, there won't be any reserves left. Under these conditions, I don't believe it was a good time for the city to become landlord of a property with no revenues.Second, It's troubling that the property was purchased without a solid plan in place. I agree that mixed retail/residential development would be most desirable as long as it fits the current ambiance and flavor of our downtown area.
I might support a Hotel on that spot if it is a boutique hotel with ambiance and also has significant plans for a conference/events center that would bring people into our downtown area for meetings, entertainment, and local touring.
Johnston: I did not vote to buy the times litho property, I felt it should have stayed on the tax rolls. Now that the city Owns the property , the city needs to sell, develop or partner to see that the property is not Left vacant.
Howard: See #1.
Beck: The City bought a property for $800,000 that is assessed at $2,238,750 for the tax year 2011-12 and the City would lose $11,877 in taxes from this property. Therefore, financially this was good deal. But should the City be in the business of owning develop able property? Usually, not, but in this case given the economic climate, there was the danger that it would remain empty and become a large eye-sore for the community. By purchasing the property at a bargain price, the City gained control with a minimum of tax loss. In this manner, City can use its economic development abilities to market the property with more focus than a commercial real estate agent and keep the property from becoming clean. The fact that development has not occurred reflects on the economic possibilities more than the work of the City. I expect that eventually, the City will find a buyer for this property, and we will not have suffered any financial loss.
Thompson: Yes. Yes. Listen to the announcement on Monday night (Oct.11)council meeting. A hotel is both retail and housing - a great economic multiplier for Downtown and the Community. Both restaurants and small shops should benefit.
Wenzl: In regards to the Times Litho property I think the council had good intentions but those intentions are not manifesting. It is time for the city to explore other options with the property. I think it is in a centralized location and makes a viable option for a recreational center.
LaFollett: The Times Litho purchase, while perhaps well-intentioned, was not a smart decision, and I also disagree with how the the city's mad dash to beat the other potential buyer curtailed the public input process. I believe the city should have let the other buyer have it, instead of getting involved. Rather than simply letting it sit empty and still generate a modest amount of tax revenue, it's now become an added expense and liability, for which the city's residents are on the hook. It is becoming less desirable each passing day, as it continues to deteriorate, and I think the top priority should be to have an exit strategy, to sell it off and try to break even, even if it means it gets used for warehouse purposes again. That would mean more jobs and more tax revenue for the city, which is not a bad thing at all.
Truax: Yes, and yes. Be patient.
Marble: The problem with the purchase of the Times Litho property is not a lack of success in finding a willing investor. Even if the city eventually sells or leases the property for a profit the city should not be speculating in real estate investment. In 2005 the city attempted to condemn and annex approximately 140 acres of real property beyond the south end of Elm Street. The city's attempt was unsuccessful and the net result was a judgment entered against the city in 2009 in the amount of $185,844.92 for the property owner's costs and attorney fees. The city should not be making decisions with respect to privately-owned real estate without a legitimate and specific governmental purpose.
NT: Here are two questions about leaves. First, in light of the tragic deaths last year of two sisters playing in a leaf pile on the street, do you think the city should do something to prevent that danger? If yes, what? Second, do you support the councils recent plan to halt yard-waste burning in fall but still allow it in spring? If no, please explain your opposition.
Seable: The factors leading to the horrible tragedy that occurred last year are not within the city's ability to deal with. I hope the community continues to support the family and never forgets what matters most in our lives.
I do not fully agree with the compromise the City Council made concerning the modified burn ban. The two biggest concerns against backyard burning are 1. Quality of Life and health 2. Environmental. Burning in the spring does not satisfy either one of these issues because springtime yard debris are usually wet and they smolder. Smoldering creates more smoke and the particulates released are not well incinerated. Fall burning on the other hand, when the materials are drier, helps alleviate both of these concerns because the materials burn hot and releases much less smoke. I would support a limited fall burn possibly with a free permit, that gives the city a chance to educate landowners on existing EPA guidelines and best practices for burning yard debris. I would encourage land owners to seek alternative methods such as composting and using existing city services to remove debris, while in general being considerate of their neighbors health concerns. I do not support an across the board ban on backyard burning at this time. A more creative solution is possible.
Johnston: the tragic deaths of the two young girls will be with us forever and we can not change that.
The leaf pickup we have is working, we must always educate drivers about running over articles in the roadway to prevent accidents, and not put the leaves in the road until the day before the pickup.
I did support the spring burning, because that was a compromise to a full burning ban, I would of liked to see the spring and fall burning days shortened allowing the same number of burning days but still having fall and spring burning. The city needs hardship permits as well as sustainable ways of disposing of yard and tree trimming that fits young,old,rich and poor.
Howard: The tragic accident that killed the children was just that; a tragic, heartrending accident. There is no way the city could have prohibited that sort of incident from happening.
I support all efforts to eliminate backyard burning because Waste-Management now supplies green waste containers which are emptied once a week throughout the city.
Beck: I do not favor doing anything different other than the current leaf pickup program as not every accident no matter how tragic and heart wrenching can be prevented. My answer to the burning question is above.
Thompson: No. A tragic accident.Yes.
Wenzl: In response to the first part of your question: I think our community has shown support and love to the families involved in this tragic accident. I will not make this tragedy about my political agenda.
In response to the second part of the question: I agreed with the Council's decision to postpone the ban on back yard burning until January. Citizens needed more than 30 days to prepare for the ban and the Council needs time to set the criteria for exceptions. For the sake of the environment and health of our community backyard burning needs to be halted but we also have people who will need to be able to continue to burn. I'm certain that the Council can work out a compromise that will meet the needs of the majority of citizens.
LaFollett: From what I know of Forest Grove's leaf pickup system, from talking with city staff, it is primarily a service to keep storm drains from becoming clogged. Keeping that program going strong would help not only with its stated goal, but also help avert situations like the horrible tragedy that occurred last year.
As far as the burning ban, I do think it is inevitable that it gets phased out entirely, mostly from the standpoint of public health (i.e. asthma and respiratory ailments) but rather than simply banning one season, I would have instead gradually narrowed the windows of both seasons, in order to give residents ample time to identify feasible alternatives. Also, it would have been more fair to the recently-annexed, who are quite understandably shell-shocked right now, between this and seeing the new taxes they are having to pay go to things like the Times Litho purchase.
Truax: At first blush, I find the first question to be patently unfair. You are ripping scabs off old wounds. However, in an effort to provide some sense to this issue, the city needs to provide education about our leaf pickup program. For instance, sending out information in our utility bill mailings which indicates leaf pickup dates (which we already do). In addition, the information could include the caveat that leaf piles are not playgrounds. Other items of information could include, for example, that drivers need to be aware that leaf piles are not targets for amusement, but are efforts by the community at large to handle a disposal problem in a city with a great number of trees. Leaves are a community issue. Don't leave it to one portion of that community to solve all the issues. Be a partner.
Obviously, I support the backyard burning ban in the fall. I think the City Council acted wisely, and with plenty of thought. It is a discussion that we have had for numerous years. We have a responsibility to the environment, not only ours, but our children's and our children's children.
Marble: In my many years in Forest Grove I don't recall any similar incident occuring here. It is difficult to speculate whether the city should take any different measures to prevent a similar accident from happening. It is also difficult to draw a direct correlation between a ban on leaf burning and this type of accident because there is no data to suggest that more leaves will pile up on the streets because they cannot be burned. One could argue that the decreased visibility due to smoke from burning yard debris also creates an unsafe driving hazard. Limitations on burning, with exceptions, is prudent in order to meet the needs of all of the residents. Although the accident was certainly tragic, the community's response has been heroic.Add a comment