Public Comment: A Matter of Trust

Lake Oswego City Council Meeting – April 16, 2024

RE: Clackamas County’s Stafford | Childs Intersection Improvements and Stevens Meadows Nature Preserve

City Council:

The Lake Oswego community executed their Oregon constitutional rights under home rule authority to amend our City’s charter, enacting significant land use regulations for 15 Nature Preserves, a mere 290 acres combined, with their ratification of citizen-initiated Measure 3-568 on November 2, 2019. 

Chapter X was in response to decades of inaction to protect our natural areas from constant threats of development – such as, but not limited to, Springbrook Park, Iron Mountain, Canal Acres, Bryant Woods, Woodmont Park, and Cooks Butte. It’s a mistake to believe otherwise.

Chapter X intentionally places all development not explicitly authorized within 15 Nature Preserves into the custody of Lake Oswego voters. This was due to decades of weak Lake Oswego code and “conditional use” permits that have been used to circumvent sensitive land and natural area regulations. 

City Council and City staff are obligated to enforce Chapter X or seek voter approval. Lake Oswego is not the only city with charter-protected parks: West Linn, Tualatin, and Oregon City are just a few of our neighboring communities who have and respect their charter-protected parks.

In the 3+ years since Measure 3-568’s ratification, City Council has failed the majority who enshrined into law Chapter X by willfully doing nothing to direct City staff to enforce this significant land use regulation; lest you forget, many of Measure 3-568’s 8,267 voters (62%) also voted for you. 

Instead, City Council has required a private developer to route a sewer line through the charter-protected Waluga Park-West, threatened another referendum to undo the citizens’ initiative, patronized, belittled, chastised, and ridiculed the majority who installed Chapter X, ignored City Council Goals 2024 public comments asking City Council to fulfill their obligation to adopt policy enforcing Chapter X, and largely remained silent on Chapter X. 

With City Councils’ willful silence, it’s no wonder City staff have continued to operate business as usual and willfully fail to implement policy enforcing Chapter X. City attorneys’ have pushed questionable legal opinions on Chapter X in an apparent attempt to confuse, convolute, obfuscate, and re-write history and the citizens’ intent to further the City’s development agenda. 

Furthermore, City staff’s defiance and suggestion that the community mobilize to engage in costly litigation against the City’s unlimited taxpayer resources is an abuse of power and undemocratic. These City staff actions continue to result in further insult and injury to our community, deepening the wedge of mistrust.

In just the last few days, we have learned, once again, City staff have remained silent, not forthcoming, and failed to enforce Chapter X’s land use regulations regarding Clackamas County’s Stafford Road Improvements Project. Clackamas County has chosen a design, without City intervention, that proposes constructing a portion of Childs Road on the charter-protected Stevens Meadow Nature Preserve. Chapter X specifically prohibits road construction in the Stevens Meadows Nature Preserve.

Why was Clackamas County’s project allowed to reach this milestone without any community awareness when this impact to the Stevens Meadow Nature Preserve was identified months ago? 

City staff had the obligation throughout the 2023 design process to direct Clackamas County engineers to avoid the Stevens Meadow Nature Preserve. City staff suggesting that City Council potentially sell the impacted portion of Stevens Meadow to Clackamas County is not within the spirit nor intent of Chapter X to preserve this Nature Preserve for the future benefit and enjoyment of citizens. The fact that something was not explicitly prohibited does not mean it is permitted. 

Additionally, City staff’s lack of transparency and this suggestion have the appearance of gamesmanship in order to force an unpopular agenda that carves out portions of our Nature Preserves for development — a blatant disregard to the majority in our community who’ve mandated by law that the City protect our Nature Preserves.

Chapter X placed the authority with voters, in those rare instances, to consider all development not explicitly allowed by Chapter X within a Nature Preserve that is inconsistent with the preservation of a Nature Preserve as a natural area. The City promised our community as much on November 2, 2021 – “Any future property-specific changes will include voter approval.”

There’s no debate that our community supports safety improvements, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense and destruction of our Nature Preserves. Preservation and safety can co-exist simultaneously. Engineers, provided the proper constraints, develop solutions all the time that achieve such goals. 

There are alternative solutions for this project that comply with Chapter X and don’t involve reducing the footprint of the Stevens Meadow Nature Preserve. That is what voters’ intended when they codified into law Chapter X’s significant land use regulations that directs the City of Lake Oswego to protect 15 Nature Preserves from all development inconsistent with preserving them as natural areas.

If City Council considers selling the impacted portion of the Stevens Meadow Nature Preserve, City Council must declare how the sale benefits our community when the citizens have already demanded by Chapter X that they perceived their benefit to be preserving the Stevens Meadows Nature Preserve. There could be political and legal ramifications from City Council’s declaration, but our community is entitled to hear their proposed justification. 

Sale or no sale, City Council should also seek voter approval through a very narrowly targeted and specific referendum addressing any impact to the Stevens Meadow Nature Preserve.

City Council’s and City staffs’ actions and inactions speak louder than any words and proclamations. Ignoring our community’s majority who expect leadership to follow through and abide by our City’s laws doesn’t seem like a great strategy to build trust. 

Our community should expect City Council and City staff to comply with the laws that govern our City without the need of constant citizen oversight. The City’s culture and behavior is a disservice and insult to our community. It must strive to do better.

I implore City Council to demonstrate you have the pulse of our community and the courage to respect our democratic principles and laws. City Council must :

  • direct Clackamas County and City staff to return to the design table and avoid the Stevens Meadow Nature Preserve, and
  • direct City staff to embed Chapter X into the forefront of all City policy involving the Nature Preserves protected by Chapter X

Only then can the healing and rebuilding of trust within our community begin.

Your constituent, neighbor, and chief petitioner of citizens’ initiated Measure 3-568,

Scott Handley