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LO's mayoral candidates weigh in on 5 key issues

Topics range from pot, property rights and PERS to broadband fiber and redevelopment


SUBMITTED PHOTO - Lake Oswego's next mayor will face a variety of tough policy choices in the next four years, including: Should the city look for more high-density redevelopment opportunities like the Wizer Block project? This is a rendering of that in-progress project, slated for completion in fall 2017.Lake Oswego’s next mayor will face a variety of tough policy choices in the next four years, on issues that range from redevelopment and property rights to PERS, pot and broadband fiber.

Where each of the three candidates for the city’s highest elected office stand on those issues will help determine the future direction of Lake Oswego. For example, Citizens Budget Committee Chairman Dave Berg says Lake Oswego should approach all redevelopment “with the objective of preserving our unique ‘village’ character.”

Councilor Jon Gustafson says he would “continue to seek ways to shield our neighborhoods from the potential negative effects of redevelopment.”

And incumbent Mayor Kent Studebaker says his goal “is always to eliminate unnecessary and burdensome rules and regulations on individuals and their property.”

How would those differences play out over the next four years, in policy and in practice?

Last week, The Review asked Berg, Gustafson and Studebaker a series of questions about key issues facing Lake Oswego. They responded in writing, with some answers edited for length and clarity.

Here’s what they had to say:

Q:

Redevelopment has become a controversial topic in Lake Oswego, both in terms of housing in neighborhoods such as First Addition and commercial projects like the Wizer Block. How do you think Lake Oswego should approach the issue of redevelopment?

BERGBERG: Redevelopment in Lake Oswego involves two distinct areas. First is the use of Urban Renewal Districts (URD) to promote high-density development, and second is the use of our current Development Code to promote high-density infill development in our existing neighborhoods.

The Wizer Block was developed by the Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency under an Urban Renewal District, using in excess of $5 million in taxpayer funds.

I believe it’s obvious that this is a high-density project, which many residents opposed because they were deeply concerned that it will change our community. Both of my opponents voted to approve this project despite the concerns of the community and their promise to oppose high density during the 2012 election.

It is my view that we could have done much better in terms of using our taxpayer funds to promote redevelopment. I often mention another project which was proposed and completed in Lake Oswego: Kruse Village. It features lower density, contributes to the district, requires minimal city services and didn’t require any use of taxpayer funds. It has also been largely embraced by the community without any controversy.

The second controversial area is how our Development Code is applied to infill development within existing neighborhoods. It’s a long-standing issue where residents are complaining about the size of residential development on smaller lots and the use of flag lots to increase density. It is driven by developers maximizing their return on tear-downs and dividing existing lots. The current code and staff interpretations result in ever-increasing density within existing neighborhoods. Residents oppose the approval of many infill projects simply because they believe it is not consistent with our “village character.” Lake Oswego should approach all redevelopment with the objective of preserving that unique character.

In general, I am opposed to “high-density” development using URD funds. Consideration should be given to all redevelopment projects based on their impact on existing neighborhoods, including whether each project contributes to the community. Many of these projects demand more in city services than they contribute to in increased property taxes. Redevelopment should contribute to and not detract from our community.

GUSTAFSONGUSTAFSON: We need to approach redevelopment very carefully in order to ensure that changes to our community are positive. I believe we need to strictly enforce our current Development Code, and when necessary, amend that code to prevent unintended consequences. When I served on the Planning Commission, we made many code revisions that sought to protect neighborhood character.

As mayor, I would continue to seek ways to shield our neighborhoods from the potential negative effects of redevelopment. I also recognize the many benefits of redevelopment, including improving our tax base, creating vibrant town centers and providing the housing options and cultural assets that will attract the young families we need to support our school district.

STUDEBAKERSTUDEBAKER: First, let me say that everything is about balance. We have a very stringent Development Code in Lake Oswego, with many overlays that reflect neighborhood desires. That code and its provisions should be upheld so we have progress done right.

At the same time, we must continuously look for ways to simplify and streamline, so that people can get through the process smoothly and in a reasonable amount of time.

Q:

In the past few years, Lake Oswego has faced tough choices on issues like Sensitive Lands, stormwater management and the Tree Code, all of which sparked discussions about how to find a balance between environmental protection and the rights of property owners. Where do you stand on these issues, and how do you think the city should balance the two concerns?REVIEW FILE PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - One of the questions the mayoral candidates will answer concerns the tree code.

GUSTAFSON: I believe in the environmental and aesthetic value of our natural resources and believe that they deserve protection. Our wonderful tree canopy is a character-defining element in many of our neighborhoods, and a healthy watershed feeding into Oswego Lake and other waterways is critical for animal habitat and human recreation.

As the owner of a remodeling company, I understand the occasional need to remove a tree. I also believe that property owners deserve to have a clear and unambiguous understanding of how they are allowed to use or develop their property. As a member of the City Council, we recently made improvements to both the Sensitive Lands ordinance and the Tree Code in order to increase flexibility and to improve certainty for property owners.

STUDEBAKER: Again, we must balance the paramount right of the individual property owner with any actions and their impact on the rest of the community and the overall environment. My goal is always to eliminate unnecessary and burdensome rules and regulations on individuals and their property.

At the same time, we must weigh the effects on the residents as a whole and plan a future Lake Oswego that attracts new taxpayers because of the quality of life in this city.

BERG: All successful environmental programs are “outcome-based” in that they have a defined and measurable environmental outcome as their primary objective. Improving the environment can be measured, and success should be very well defined.

That’s why all of our local programs must have a defined objective and all requirements should include a cost-benefit analysis to justify the balance between environmental protection and property rights. Many of our existing programs exceed federal, state and regional requirements with very questionable efficiency in their ability to improve the environment. They have emotional appeal, but they are not well thought out on a technical basis.

Citizens who know me have seen my frustration and deep concern when staff and the council consider these programs “required” without any real thought as to how they will be managed, the actual statutory requirements and the cost to both property rights and affordability within our community.

The mayor and council need to provide greater technical oversight of our important environmental programs and clearly define not only the objective of the program but also the measurable objective which defines successful environmental protection. That is the best way to find balance, rather than our current practice of passing poorly-thought-out regulations.

I believe all our residents would like to improve the environment. It’s a core value we all share as neighbors, and it cuts across all political lines. But our programs must be well developed, well communicated, measured and with defined progress reported back to

both the council and the community.

Given my professional experience in engineering, environmental contracting and as an environmental regulator at the state level, I can definitely say we can do much better. Protecting the environment is a core value with me and has been throughout my adult life.

Q:

Lake Oswego is expected to face an estimated $1.3 million increase in PERS costs for 2017-2018. How should the city meet that challenge, and how will it impact Lake Oswego’s overall budget priorities?

STUDEBAKER: The increase in PERS costs could have an impact on our overall budget, but we have had an increase in development this year and probably will have an increase next year. Our property tax revenue will increase as a result.

We will still concentrate on infrastructure as a priority, because a first-class city with first-rate infrastructure will attract business revenue and additional taxpayers to support our schools.

During my tenure, we have reduced the number of full-time employees, thus reducing the PERS burden. But we have done it in a way that does not adversely impact city services.

BERG: This is the critical issue facing Lake Oswego, and the primary solution to it is to implement innovation in how we deliver services within our community. City Hall needs to improve its productivity, and we need to look for more efficient ways of delivering both existing and future services.

During my initial year as budget committee chairman, we reduced staff levels without any noticeable change in service delivery, and our city has reduced nominal staff levels since then under a program I call a “glide path.” But the reductions have been minor — in fact, the entire City Council voted against a citizen proposal for a 2-percent reduction target this budget cycle.

We need to begin to address which services are “core” to our community and which services are “nice to have.” We cannot afford to delay this issue, given the cost of our ever-increasing PERS obligation and other factors. I believe there is wide consensus on what constitutes the core services in Lake Oswego, due to our shared values as a community, and I also believe we can innovate the delivery of services and continue to improve our quality of life. But this will require determined leadership and a dedicated effort to reach out to the community for their input.

Citizens have consistently said “streets” are the top priority. Yet the funding for the $1.3 million PERS increase in 2017/2018 will largely come from our general funds, which we now dedicate toward street improvements. Each increase in the cost of staff will require a simultaneous reduction in the amount of general funds allocated to improve our infrastructure; it’s a direct tradeoff. Even if we just maintain our existing staff levels, personnel costs will increase and reduce the ability to improve our infrastructure.

More programs and higher staff levels can only be implemented with increases in taxes, fees, utility rates and more debt. All of these costs will reduce the affordability of our wonderful town for mature residents on fixed incomes, younger families and those struggling due to income stagnation.

The solution is simply for our elected leadership to decide which services are core, innovate the delivery of services to increase productivity, and do more with existing/lower staff levels over time as the cost of PERS increases. That is the only way to maintain affordability for all residents and preserve our existing quality of life in Lake Oswego.

GUSTAFSON: Despite increases in PERS costs, the city is on sound fiscal ground. Our priorities should continue to remain the same, with basic city services at the core. We must remain diligent by planning and budgeting for this and future increases. We should also continue our search for process improvements and efficiencies, and should seek innovative approaches to the delivery of city services.

As mayor, I’d propose we form a ‘service-level evaluation task force’ comprised of citizens and staff to advise the budget committee and City Council on the potential effects of budget and personnel adjustments. By facilitating new development in the Foothills and Southwest industrial areas, we have the opportunity to significantly improve our tax revenues without raising the tax rate.

Lastly, we must make sure that new development pays its fair share for the additional impacts and burdens it has on our existing infrastructure.SUBMITTED PHOTO - One of the questions mayoral candidates will address is: What is your opinion on the issue of marijuana businesses operating in Lake Oswego?

Q:

What is your opinion on the issue of marijuana businesses operating in Lake Oswego? If voters overturn the current ban, are you comfortable with the time, place and manner restrictions that have been proposed?

BERG: The issue of concern here is protecting our children and public safety. As I talk to many residents of differing backgrounds, that concern comes through consistently.

The irony is that during the election that legalized marijuana in Oregon, Lake Oswego voters reversed course and voted to approve legalization. So voters have said that not only do they want the right to purchase marijuana legally for recreational use, but they are also concerned about having marijuana businesses within our community.

If voters overturn the ban, it’s sending a very clear signal of their intent. I believe that given the convoluted complexity of our development codes and the professionalism of our public safety departments, the council and city staff can more than ensure control over such operations. That said, we should all ask ourselves if marijuana businesses are consistent with our community character. The answer should be a factor in how each of us vote on the marijuana measure this fall.

If voters remove the ban, I will abide by their will with ardent enforcement of requirements according to our city codes. This includes regular reporting by the police chief on any issues involving such business in our community, in terms of protecting our children and public safety. If citizens vote to continue the ban, it will also send a clear message of their intent. Either way, additional review and efforts will be required by our council to ensure the will of our residents is effectively implemented, while maintaining public safety.

GUSTAFSON: The voters of Lake Oswego have already voted once to legalize recreational marijuana, and I recognize and support that decision.

Despite the will of the voters, the current City Council majority went ahead and imposed a local ban. This short-sighted decision will not only cost the city thousands of dollars in lost tax revenue and economic development, but will continue to provide the criminal black market a monopoly on the sale and distribution of this otherwise legal product.

Much like alcohol and other controlled substances, we need to protect and educate our kids on the dangers of drug use. Should the citizens again vote in support of legalization, the City Council majority has approved time, place and manner restrictions that effectively ban most of the business operations. For this reason, I am opposed to the restrictions as proposed.

STUDEBAKER: I am not in favor of marijuana facilities in our city because my research has shown them to foster more crime. If Lake Oswego voters decide to overturn the ban on such facilities, I am comfortable with the time, place and manner provisions proposed by the Planning Commission and City Council.REVIEW FILE PHOTOS - Another question candidates face is about Lake Oswego having a broadband fiber network.

Q:

Do you support the idea of a city-owned broadband fiber network for Lake Oswego? More broadly, do you think internet access can or should be a public utility, or is it a service best left to the private sector?

GUSTAFSON: The construction of a municipal broadband network could be the biggest game-changer in this town since the construction of the dam that raised Oswego Lake. Right now, our business and educational opportunities are at the mercy of Comcast and a few other service providers whose sole motivation is to maximize profit at any cost.

Imagine a future where lightning-fast internet access is affordable, available to every house and where price and service levels are controlled at the local non-profit level. This community asset would provide our homes, businesses and students a significant advantage over those in adjacent cities, improving both our economy and our educational outcomes.

As we move toward the future, we will only become more dependent upon access to the internet. I believe that now is the time to secure that access, for ourselves and future generations, as a public utility — free of the high prices and poor service levels provided by Comcast and other private providers.

STUDEBAKER: Giving all our residents access to gigabyte capacity at a low cost is very attractive. However, I have mixed feelings about a city-owned broadband fiber network and the financial burden on our city if things do not go as planned.

Again, it is a matter of balancing needs, priorities and the impact on our budget. That is why I proposed an advisory vote by our residents to test their enthusiasm for a public/private network prior to any further negotiations on such a system.

BERG: No, I do not support this concept. This is a prime example of another potential “self-inflicted wound” that is a distraction within our community.

In an era where we have issues with PERS and limited general fund dollars to improve our city, this is a very dangerous proposal. It is a dated technology that will more than likely be supplanted within the next few years, and yet our residents would be on the hook for millions of dollars in fees and other contingent liabilities for the next 30 years!

This project has the potential for increasing utility bills for all residents, whether they choose the service or not. Today, I receive more complaints about the city utility (water) rates than ever before, largely because they impact affordability and are a fixed cost for our residents. Increasing the fixed costs of these bills should not be an option due to another “visionary project” that will likely go awry. It has a very high level of risk, will increase staff levels and will further restrict our ability to use funds for core city services like police, fire and parks.

Our council should have vetted this project much more thoroughly. The full facts have been disclosed in multiple articles by Councilor Jeff Gudman, and I share those financial concerns with him. I would urge all citizens to look very carefully at the enormous risk and affordability impacts this project will likely have on our community. It’s similar to the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership in terms of potential for cost escalations, and we as citizens bear all the risk.

Even if we have issues with existing private-sector internet providers, this is not the solution. Instead, our council should stand up and address the issues under current franchise agreements, in public testimony, and hold these private providers accountable. They should not put our community at risk by pandering poorly thought-out projects that will cost millions, expand city staff and limit our available funds to invest in increasing our quality of life in other areas.

Contact Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..