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City should halt map review and develop better sensitive lands program

The LO Stewards would like to address the free map review offered to approximately 1,420 property owners burdened with the arbitrary and unfair sensitive lands regulations.

The LO Stewards support the city council’s intent to allow property owners an opportunity to dispute their sensitive lands designation and to do so free, something previous councils made financially prohibitive. Removing sensitive lands regulations from private property has been a singular focus of the LO Stewards for more than five years now, and it’s great that we now have a council with the same focus, that wants to restore equal property rights to all citizens of our city.

We do, however, have some concerns with the free map correction process:

First, removal of a property must qualify under the current sensitive lands code criteria, meaning the resource has degraded, the resource doesn’t qualify, the property was selected in error or the resource isn’t on the property. For more than five years the Stewards have been arguing the lack of valid environmental science in the sensitive lands definitions of natural resources — drainage ditches are not significant streams or waterways and three trees with a 120-foot canopy could apply to most properties in a city with 43 percent tree canopy. To quote a past city manager, the criteria for identifying natural resources on private backyards was broken from the start. It became more broken with subsequent changes such as the “associated tree groves” and remains broken to this day.

Reviewing properties using the same flawed criteria does not fix this broken program. It could lead to other problems including the identification of additional properties for future mapping and reinforce the contentious division between sensitive lands property owners and the city.

Second, there are about 97 requests for correction so far and probably more to come before the Dec. 31 deadline. With less than a 10 percent response, staff has already acknowledged the need to stage map corrections to control costs and the need for an unbudgeted environmental consultant to review the properties. Why waste the time and money that could be used toward the more relevant goal of developing a program to remove sensitive lands designations from private properties in a manner acceptable to state and Metro?

Although the city council’s intent is appreciated, we’re concerned that the free map correction process will do little, if anything, to help sensitive lands property owners get back the use of their backyards and will likely distract staff (in time and dollars) from the main purpose of developing a real solution that removes the sensitive lands regulations from private property.  

Metro never said no to the city’s April 2013 proposal to remove sensitive lands regulations from private properties, placing the regulatory burden on public lands. In their response to the city they identified several key issues that need to be resolved for the proposal to work.   

It’s time for the council to instruct staff to redirect work away from the limited map review program and instead focus on the broader goal of developing a proposal that resolves the concerns identified by Metro and removes the broken sensitive lands program from private backyards once and for all.

Please join with the LO Stewards and let the city council know that you support removing sensitive lands from private properties as a goal for 2014.

David Streiff, Lake Oswego, DMD, is president of LO Stewards.

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