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Our Opinion: Voters face tough choices on local ballot measures

Should Lake Oswego maintain its ban on marijuana businesses? Do residents want the City to operate its own broadband fiber network? And in an age of vote by mail, is it still necessary to post notices of upcoming elections?

Here are the three measures local voters will find on their Nov. 8 ballots:

Measure 3-489

Charter Amendment Relating to Notices of City Elections

Vote: YES

City leaders embarked on a process two years ago of cleaning up Lake Oswego’s charter through a series of “housekeeping” amendments aimed at streamlining the City Code and removing redundancies.

In 2014, the change dealt with election rules for approving new or widened roads; this year, the target is an outdated requirement for posting notices of upcoming elections. Voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure two years ago, and they should do so again in November.

In this case, Section 24 of the Lake Oswego Charter mandates that the City post public notices of upcoming elections at least 10 days in advance, detailing the “time and place” of the election. But Oregon has now switched entirely to a vote-by-mail system, making “time and place” notices unnecessary. After all, there are no longer polling stations in the city, and the mailed ballots themselves serve as notice of the date of the upcoming election.

The City would still be required to publish notices of upcoming elections in a newspaper, but the overall impact would be a big savings in time and money.

Vote YES.

Measure 3-490

Prohibiting Certain Marijuana Production and Sales Facilities in Lake Oswego

Vote: YES

Recreational marijuana became legal in Oregon last year, following the passage of Measure 91 in 2014. Fifty-four percent of Lake Oswego residents voted in favor of the ballot measure — but did that mean they wanted to allow pot sales in their own hometown?

That’s the question posed by Measure 3-490.

In December 2015, Lake Oswego’s City Council voted to extend and expand the City’s existing ban on medical dispensaries to include all marijuana facilities — growing, processing and retail. That's allowed here under rules approved by the 2015 Oregon Legislature, as long as the ban is referred to voters in the next general election.

The bottom line, then, is that the City's ban can only remain in effect if voters agree to keep it. We think they should.

It’s not that we believe marijuana is evil, although we agree with Mayor Kent Studebaker about the potential harm that pot can cause; we, too, have seen first-hand the devastating effects of abuse and addiction on families. We also share Police Chief Don Johnson’s concerns about the potential for increased crime and impaired driving.

But those concerns are not the issue here; in fact, you could argue that voters addressed them both when they approved Measure 91. No, our support for the City’s ban has more to do with what Councilors Charles Collins and Skip O’Neill often refer to as the “Lake Oswego brand” and what mayoral candidate Dave Berg calls “community character.”

You see, we have driven through other towns that have allowed pot retailers to open and have seen how cheap and shoddy it makes the rest of the community feel. It’s hard to imagine high schoolers celebrating Homecoming with a parade down Canyon Road in Beaverton, for example, or the entire population of Tigard meandering down Highway 99 on the Fourth of July.

If Lake Oswegans want to buy pot, those other communities are just a short drive away. But our home is a special place, with small-town values that foster a family-centric quality of life. A friend of ours calls it “11 square miles surrounded by reality.” And you know, we’re OK with keeping reality at bay for as long as we can if that means our children can continue to grow up in a place where they feel nurtured.

That won’t happen if the City’s ban is overturned. Not even the strict time, place and manner regulations enacted by the City Council will keep marijuana businesses from locating in the downtown core or in pockets of Lake Grove where redevelopment efforts now underway might otherwise encourage quality retail establishments.

Once that happens, our “Lake Oswego brand” will be tarnished, and our “community character” will darken. Maybe that’s inevitable, but we’re just not willing to encourage it now. Vote YES.

Measure 3-491

Advisory Vote on Municipal Fiber-Optic Broadband Network

Vote: NO

Lake Oswego has spent more than a year considering whether to build a fiber broadband network, and the truth is that it’s hard to find anyone in town who would argue with the notion that high-speed internet is a marvelous thing. A wondrous thing. A necessity, in fact, given our reliance on cyberspace for news, information and entertainment.

But that doesn’t mean the City should take responsibility for operating what is better left to the private sector, and we urge voters to advise against pursuing a partnership agreement filled with technological and financial risks.

The proposed network would be built as a public-private partnership with local startup Symmetrical Networks and would provide gigabit internet speeds to residential customers for an estimated price of $60 per month. That sounds great, until you understand that roughly 35 percent of residents would need to subscribe in order for the network to pay for itself.

Will that happen?

It will at first — everyone loves a shiny new toy, after all, and a public survey commissioned for the City predicts an “achievable” sign-up rate of 37-42 percent. But the proposed agreement locks the City into a 30-year commitment, with Lake Oswego potentially on the hook for millions of dollars if the sign-up rate ever falls below the threshold.

In an industry where performance has traditionally doubled every 18 months, are we willing to make a 30-year bet on current technology? Wireless connections may never be a reliable alternative here, given our trees and hills, but who knows what innovations might be unveiled over the next three decades?

Hey, we get it. Comcast is not exactly a model of customer service, and prices keep going up. But companies like CenturyLink are already laying miles of fiber in Lake Oswego, setting the stage for better service and lower prices as competition escalates.

In fact, do you really think that the private sector would sit still and watch as a municipal network takes customers away? These companies will absolutely make deals and cut prices, which would threaten the City’s sign-up rate, which would put Lake Oswego on the hook for millions of dollars and, well, you get the idea.

We hesitate to blame PERS for anything else, but the City really is facing ever-increasing costs and only has a limited amount of money to spend. Given the current debate over what should be considered “core services,” it would be irresponsible to commit the City to a proposal with the potential to drain money away. Vote NO.

— The Review