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Streetcar support: Why the change now?

At the end of the Jan. 10 Lake Oswego City Council meeting, Bill Tierney issued a statement changing his vote on the Portland to Lake Oswego streetcar, citing financial conditions and the division in the city over the streetcar controversy.

He said, 'Someday, I can see a streetcar connecting us with the services and jobs in OHSU and downtown Portland. Right now, we just aren't ready.'

The Review called his action courageous. The Oregonian said by doing so he made and lost friends. It could be that neither of those are accurate statements.

What really had occurred between the vote on the streetcar in April of 2011 and his announcement? The minutes of that earlier meeting indicate the following: '(Tierney) acknowledged that the streetcar had many issues that made it a problematic choice. He cited cost as the major factor, and observed that there were still many unanswered questions regarding who paid how much and whether the critical federal support would even be available. He noted the unanswered questions also surrounding the future development in the East End. He stated that he wanted answers before he made his decision. He commented that, while he personally wanted the streetcar, he did not know if Lake Oswego could afford it.'

What had changed over those nine months? A new estimate had cut the estimated costs of the streetcar substantially. In his announcement he admitted the economy had improved somewhat. The federal support was no more or less likely to be there. Foothills development still appeared to be dependent on having the streetcar. There were no additional facts available regarding the city being able to afford it than had been pointed out by councilor Jeff Gudman at the April meeting. Meanwhile we continued spending citizens' money on the project.

What had happened was an Oregonian article indicating the streetcar was doomed. In addition, public sentiment regarding recall efforts was growing. The proposed May vote on the streetcar seemed destined to have a strong majority opposed to the streetcar. Another entry in the minutes of the April meeting had Tierney making the following statement: 'Anyone standing for election in November 2012 was well-advised to use the results of the advisory vote effectively.'

Frankly, the announcement was a step he had to take to be re-elected.

It also did not appear it was an independent decision. Obviously, he had shared his announcement in advance with mayor Hoffman and councilors Moncriff and Jordan as they had prepared statements in response. Even several staff members were present though the audience had dwindled. If he was concerned about bringing the city together, why didn't he also share his plans with the other three councilors?

Proponents of the streetcar faced being ousted in November if the streetcar remained an issue. New pro-streetcar candidates would face strong opposition. The making of such an announcement stifles the vocal opposition, quells the controversy and perhaps ends the recall movement. It eliminates viable platforms for potential opponents in the coming months. The announcement did not lose him any friends, because it potentially furthers the cause of maintaining a pro-streetcar majority in the city council. It did not win him many friends either, because most of us realize he could make another reversal-in-course shortly after being re-elected.

Gary Gipson is a resident of Lake Oswego and a member of COLA-LO.




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