A streamlined plan to fix Lake Oswego's aging roads?
Despite a concerted push in recent years by the City Council to jumpstart the restoration of Lake Oswego's aging roads, there are still quite a few streets that remain long overdue for repairs — particularly smaller residential streets with low traffic volumes, because the bigger arterials and collector streets take priority.
But for the residents of those small local streets who have grown impatient with the indefinite wait for repaving, the City is about to institute a new program that will in essence allow neighbors to bump their own streets to the top of the queue — if they're willing to chip in for the cost of repairs.
"We've had questions from people whose residential streets are in pretty bad shape, asking, 'How do I bring my street up to the top of the list?'" City Manager Scott Lazenby told The Review. "And the answer is that this is one good way."
On Tuesday, the council approved a resolution that will make it easier for individual homeowners to request the formation of a Local Improvement District (LID) to fund the restoration of their street. A LID allows a group of property owners to use the City's borrowing power to take out a loan to fund a local public improvement project.
LIDs are already an available option for Lake Oswego residents seeking improvements to their local infrastructure, Lazenby said, but the new program streamlines the process.
"The current procedure puts a lot of the burden on the resident to move the process along — they've got to gather support from neighbors," Lazenby said. "(The new program will) make the default be that the City will help create these districts instead of just being more passive."
The program also adds a new incentive: The City will split the cost of street reconstruction with the homeowners in the LID and cover overhead costs such as design and bidding.
The matching dollars would be drawn from the City's Street Fund and would be subject to availability. Lazenby acknowledged in a staff report to the council that the program could potentially have an impact on the fund, although he said that would be "a good problem to have."
"If (the impact) becomes significant, it means we are successful in leveraging a new source of funds in addressing our pavement preservation challenge," he wrote.
LIDs are sometimes formed to deal with issues such as adding sidewalks or stormwater infrastructure, and while those sorts of improvements could be included in a street reconstruction LID, only the street portion of the project would be eligible for matching funds.
The council initially discussed the idea in April after it was suggested by City staff, and most of the councilors appeared to support the idea, at least tentatively. However, Councilors Jackie Manz and Joe Buck raised concerns about equity, which came up again at Tuesday's meeting.
"We have neighborhoods that have more means to form a LID and be able to pay for it than other neighborhoods," Manz told The Review this week. "It's not a judgement; it's just a fact of life that, contrary to popular opinion, Lake Oswego isn't in total a wealthy community. There are some differences."
The new program does include some safeguards for homeowners. While the new LID process can be started by a single resident, it can be stopped if at least 50 percent of the affected homeowners object. A regular LID cannot be halted without an objection from two-thirds of the affected neighbors.
"Under this program, the default is to go ahead and create the improvement district," Lazenby said. "But if more than half of the affected property owners don't want to do it, they just need to indicate that and it's automatically dropped from the program."
Affected homeowners will have two chances to "opt out" and stop the project: once when the LID is first proposed, and again after the cost estimates for the project have been calculated.
At the meeting in April, Councilor Jeff Gudman raised the possibility of using the program to fund the reconstruction of private streets — particularly in the Mountain Park neighborhood — which would then be dedicated to the City for future ownership and maintenance. But Lazenby's staff report said the LID process can't be used to fund private improvements, so a private street would need to be dedicated to the City before any work could proceed.
And at that point, he said, the LID would need to be entirely neighbor-funded.
"In fairness to other residents and taxpayers, it is hard to justify a 50 percent match," Lazenby wrote. "The affected property owners should be responsible for repairing the street as a condition for transferring ownership to the public."
Lazenby said the costs of the program are still being determined. Projects to rebuild streets often include upgraded stormwater and landscaping, he said, which tends to push the cost up. But City staff hope that the more limited scope of the new LID program's road restoration projects will keep the costs affordable for residents.
"We're hoping if it's a matter of just the street, the cost will be reasonable," Lazenby said, "and we're doing some experimental work right now to see if that holds out."