LO Review: A Matter of Trust

As the Lake Oswego community celebrates Earth Day, we also celebrate the passage of the voter-ratified city charter land use regulations that ensure all development within 15 nature preserves is consistent with preserving them as natural areas available for public enjoyment. Chapter X protects nature preserves by moving authority for all development not explicitly allowed into the custody of voters. Simply put: The City of Lake Oswego must seek voter approval. We are not alone: West Linn, Tualatin and Oregon City also have charter-protected parks.

Since Chapter X’s enactment on Nov. 2, 2021, City Council has willfully done nothing to direct city staff to implement policy that ensures city compliance with Chapter X’s land use regulations. Since their referendum loss tantrum and threat of another referendum, council’s been resoundingly silent. Recently, they ignored public comments requesting Chapter X discussion at this year’s annual goals retreat. It’s no wonder city staff continue to ignore Chapter X, exasperating public distrust.

Several months ago, our community learned that city staff required a private developer to route a sewer line through the charter-protected Waluga Park-West Nature Preserve — even though viable alternatives exist. Throughout the land use process, city staff pushed questionable legal opinions in an attempt to disenfranchise citizens’ input and subvert Chapter X while brazenly suggesting citizens engage the city in costly litigation. Last month, the Clackamas County Circuit Court overruled one of the city’s overarching opinions in this matter and affirmed that Chapter X is indeed a land use regulation. Waluga’s fate is yet to be determined.

In the last several days, our community learned that Clackamas County’s Stafford Road Improvements Project has completed its design phase and requires land from the charter-protected Stevens Meadow Nature Preserve. Clackamas County has been involved with city staff for years, yet the public, and apparently City Council, have been in the dark. Chapter X specifically prohibits road construction. Furthermore, deed restrictions imposed by the Stevens family also prohibit such activity.

How did this important safety project reach this milestone? Certainly, city staff had an obligation to influence Clackamas County to avoid Stevens Meadow. Furthermore, city staff had an obligation to inform council and the public well before it reached this stage. Preservation and safety can co-exist simultaneously; engineers develop solutions all the time that address such constraints. Is the city playing gamesmanship?

At last week’s City Council meeting, the mayor should be commended for publicly acknowledging Chapter X’s importance to our community: that it prohibits selling any portion of a nature preserve and defended it when speaking with the county’s design team. He should also be commended for asking critical questions of them and why this is just coming to light. But, neither the mayor nor councilors asked who knew on city staff and when did they know it. Both entities share responsibility. Until that is acknowledged, the mayor’s words are simply that — words with no opportunity for improvement.

Councilors’ rebuke of citizens who expressed concerns and grievances with the city’s continued assault on charter-protected nature preserves further erodes trust. Citizens’ comments were critical and factual; they did not disparage councilors as a few would lead the public to believe. Councilors playing victim is tone-deaf and playing politics. Our community expects council to listen, even when the message is critical toward our city, and take action to address issues in an effort to do better. Chapter X wasn’t ratified by a fringe group of activists; they are the majority and should be able to trust their city to comply without constant citizen oversight. It’s doing the right thing when no one is watching.

The coming days will shed light on whether the mayor and councilors’ words become action to do better, listen more closely and start rebuilding trust through policy exemplifying Chapter X’s importance to our community. Failure to acknowledge our community’s concerns will only deepen the wedge of mistrust.

With Scott Handleys’s permission, we have reproduced his Citizen Comment for your convenience and for those who don’t subscribe to the LO Review. Read his letter in the LO Review here:

April 24, 2024

April 24, 2024
Print and Digital issues