Most residents happy about quality of life, support extending streetcar into city

Lake Oswego residents are upbeat about their quality of life but grumpier about city politics than in previous years, according to a community survey released last week.

The results are no surprise, said Mayor Judie Hammerstad, who said the dissatisfaction noted by the survey, most relating decision-making on the West End Building, has been apparent in Lake Oswego for months.

The recent poll is conducted every two to three years by Campbell DeLong Resources, Inc. and is meant to gauge public opinion as local leaders steer policies and projects. The process dates back to 1991 and this year surveyed 400 local residents via telephone.

Results for the 2008 poll showed a significant jump in disapproval for the Lake Oswego City Council - 27 percent disapprove versus 13 percent in a 2005 survey. And the West End Building topped the list of related gripes, even among people who were mostly satisfied with city leadership.

But despite the resounding thumbs-down on the decision to buy the West End Building on Kruse Way without a plan to finance it, local residents report they are generally happy with Lake Oswego and upbeat about the city's future.

They gave strong indications that they support two key projects ahead: An effort to extend the Portland Streetcar into Lake Oswego along an existing rail line on Highway 43 and a plan to change the price of local water to encourage conservation.

Hammerstad was pleased at both the streetcar enthusiasm and the optimism of residents: 81 percent of people favored the streetcar idea and residents gave quality of life an average 8.6 points out of 10, the highest average in 17 years of surveys.

'At the same time there is a dissatisfaction with the way we handled the West End Building. That's no secret,' said Hammerstad. 'Positive feelings about everything else that's going on in the city I think are the biggest takeaway.'

Overcoming negative feelings

While long-time residents were more likely to show some dissatisfaction with downtown and were less optimistic about the future, Hammerstad said the poll found far more optimism in Lake Oswego than a recent survey of the tri-county area by pollster Davis, Hibbitts and Midghall. That poll showed economic forces and other factors had many Portland-area residents battling gloom.

While longtime residents and those who disapprove of the city council's direction showed more pessimism than other city residents, Lake Oswegans were still overwhelmingly optimistic that quality of life would remain high in the community 10 years from now.

'The trending is really a trend upward in people's opinions about Lake Oswego. And even though we have a little dip this year, it's a very small dip, and I think it's certainly a fear that's attributable to other factors,' as well as local issues, Hammerstad said.

Still, much work lies ahead, Hammerstad said.

Much effort is needed to overcome residual negative feelings about the West End Building, she said, and to find an agreeable way to fund the property.

City officials are taking stock of local assets. They will ask residents to consider options when community talks about funding and planning for the West End Building begin next month.

As that work moves ahead, the city must also stay the course on fixing sewer problems, improving the water utility, maintaining roads and attending to traffic problems, Hammerstad said - all rated important by Lake Oswegans but showing lower approval ratings than other city services like police and fire.

Giving a voice to ideas

Public support for the streetcar also calls for continued emphasis on that plan, Hammerstad said.

While $4 million was recently awarded to explore the environmental impacts of extending the streetcar from Southwest Waterfront into Lake Oswego's Foothills area, little has been known about whether Lake Oswegans support it.

Residents of Dunthorpe and Birdshill area residents have opposed the streetcar plan. Many have assumed Lake Oswegans feel the same.

Hammerstad said the survey will give city residents a greater voice in the regional process to fund rail.

'I can take that back to the regional decision-makers and say 'This is the result of our survey.' And that is very powerful,' she said.

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