Committee for Citizen Involvement examining appeal process
Editor's note: Last summer, The Tidings visited with each of the City's advisory board chairs to learn more about the behind-the-scenes work that helps define the future of West Linn.
A year later, we're rebooting that series to learn what has changed — and what hasn't — at the advisory board level since 2016.
To begin, we take a look at the Committee for Citizen Involvement (CCI)
There is a consistent refrain that echoes through City Hall and the virtual walls of social media when controversial development proposals make their way into West Linn.
"We didn't know."
The Committee for Citizen Involvement (CCI) — which was reignited in 2016 and aims to "serve as a watchdog and advocate for citizen involvement within the City of West Linn" — is well aware of that complaint, and will spend much of 2017 working to change things for the better. After spending the early part of the year drafting a new preamble for the City's Comprehensive Plan and reviewing a public engagement plan for the West Linn Waterfront planning project, the CCI is now in the midst of reviewing West Linn's quasi-judicial appeal process.
"What we're trying to do is understand the current process and compare it with the old process called 'de novo,'" CCI chair Thomas Tucker said. "That comparison will look at the pluses and minuses ... specifically in how each allows or encourages citizen involvement. That really is the mandate of the CCI, is to get citizens involved in the land use process."
Since 2014, the City has operated under an "on the record" hearing process in which the record is sealed at a certain point and new evidence cannot be introduced as part of an appeal of a land use decision. The de novo process used prior to 2014 allowed for developers to revise their applications during an appeal, while also keeping the record open for residents to add new testimony.
While those who were in favor of switching to "on the record" hearings said it would prevent confusing last-minute changes and make for a cleaner process, proponents of de novo — including a number of current city councilors — have argued that keeping the record open is best for maximum citizen involvement.
Now, the CCI is charged with making a recommendation to the West Linn City Council by the end of the year.
"We're getting close to being done — it's taking more time than we thought," Tucker said. "The de novo process, we haven't reviewed yet. On the record, it seems to be complicated and it's difficult for the average Joe on the street to understand his responsibility and role in the process, and to know when he's allowed to comment or be part of the process when a new application is put forth by developers."
Ideally, Tucker said, the City could find a way to meld the two processes into a new system that offers the best of both worlds.
"I'm not sure we're going to be able to do that," he said. "Quite frankly, there's people leaning toward de novo and others who think on the record, and (we should) amend that so it works better."
Beyond examining appeal processes, Tucker said the CCI is also exploring small measures that could improve the public noticing of land use applications.
While residents are notified in advance of planning commission hearings for land use applications, Tucker said additional notification before the earlier pre-application meetings might help spread the word.
Overall, Tucker is pleased with the work the CCI has done since it began meeting in 2016.
"Last year we really looked at the municipal code and Community Development Code, and made a number of recommendations to the council for changes. That was good work, in my opinion," Tucker said. "Now what we're doing is trying to go through and give another recommendation on public involvement in the land use process.
"We still have a lot of work to do, and I don't think it's going to get all done this year. It will carry over into next year."
The CCI generally meets at City Hall on the first and third Tuesday of each month. Due to the July 4 holiday, it will meet on the fourth Tuesday in July.