Initiative would bar Newberg from creating homeless housing without voter approval
(Editor's note: This story contains new information)
An initiative petition is being circulated throughout Newberg that would forbid the city from establishing or supporting creation of housing for homeless folks without a vote of the people and bars such facilities from proximity to schools.
"Question: Shall the (city) charter be amended to limit city support of temporary housing near schools or without a public vote," the ballot title, approved by the city in June, reads.
The authors of the initiative are Newberg residents Robyn Wheatley, Bill Rosacker and Jennifer Sahli. (Attempts to contact the trio for comment were unsuccessful by press time Saturday morning). Sahli is listed as among the secondary faculty and as a volunteer coordinator at Veritas School.
Readers may recognize Rosacker's name as he was the chief petitioner in the attempt to make the City Council's approval of an urban renewal district subject to a vote of the Newberg electorate. Although petitioners had begun collecting signatures for the referendum, Rosacker and his cohorts ran out of time due to an error by the city in establishing a deadline to receive signatures.
City Recorder Sue Ryan explained that the difference between an initiative and a referendum is that "an initiative is a law that the citizens themselves … have written that they want referred to the voters." A referendum, on the other hand, is a local law that has already been approved, but "that citizens don't agree with, so they want it referred to the voters."
Under state law petition circulators must collect a minimum of 15% (roughly 2,426 in Newberg) of the registered voters on the day the petition was filed.
"It is recommended they collect more than that number as the signatures have to be verified by Yamhill County elections to be valid," Ryan said, adding that no signatures had been submitted as of July 11.
Under state law those seeking an initiative petition have up to two years to collect the signatures and be placed on a ballot. It's unlikely, however, that the Newberg petitioners will draw out their effort as it came about due to a specific project that's underway: Peace Trail Village.
The project is to be constructed at North Valley Friends Church and include nine tiny homes used for transitional housing. The church is partnering with Providence to utilize $400,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds granted by the city toward realization of the project. The funds will pay for case manager and project manager's salaries and also cover some infrastructure costs such as engineering, design, excavation, water, sewer and electrical utilities.
Peace Trail Village will be located within a few hundred yards of Veritas School, which is situated on land sold to the school by the church. Some parents of Veritas School students have raised concern, primarily on social media, that their children will be exposed to residents of the village who could be a threat to the students.
News of the project had been circulating through the community for some time, but the pushback against it really heightened at a City Council meeting in late June. The council heard a report from a group of graduate students at Portland State University on the issue of "car camping" in the community. The church is exploring the idea of hosting multiple vehicles for several nights in hopes of alleviating the housing shortage in the community.
During public testimony Rosacker vowed to put a stop to the prospect of the city being part of fostering car camping, hence the petition and the threat of litigation against councilors and administrators.
"This measure makes public officials liable to reimburse the city for unauthorized expenditures and allows any taxpayer to sue on the city's behalf," the ballot title reads.
The wording of the initiative is specific in its intent to bar the city from using public resources to promulgate "homeless encampments" locally.
"'Homeless encampment' means any property approved for use as an outdoor living space where tents, cabins, yurts, automobiles, recreational vehicles or any housing structures lacking a permanent foundation or modern indoor plumbing facilities are used for transitional housing, or any section of public right of way where camping is allowed for purposes of temporary housing," the initiative reads.
In an email interview Newberg Mayor Rick Rogers said there were a couple of things about the vagueness of the petition that concerned him.
"I am not sure what the definition of 'homeless encampment' is," he said. "Also, with homeschooling and remote learning, I'm also not sure what a 'school' is.
"The other curiosity to me is the call for a 1,500-foot buffer. The distance between a marijuana facility and a school currently is set at 1,000 feet."
The pushback against the city and the church's plans progressed last week after the website www.NewbergKidsNotCamps.com was launched and local residents began receiving professional-quality mailers from "The Newberg Kids Not Camps Team." Both the mailer and the website carefully walk residents through the process of signing the petition and also recruits petition gatherers.
Church responds to initiative and mailer
North Valley Friends Church Pastor Leslie Hodgdon Murray countered some of what is being claimed on the initiative petition, website and mailer.
"(Peace Trail Village is) definitely not a homeless camp," she said. "It is a 'cottage cluster' of homes that are on foundations and have indoor plumbing.
"We do have three tiny homes now onsite that are not on foundations, but we are working with the city to bring those into compliance, which is difficult since there isn't code for tiny houses."
She added that the emergence of the mailer and initiative petition has not caused the church to consider altering the project as "we already felt like it was solid in its original format."
"Before we received the ARPA grant, the Peace Trail Village was part of our long-term planning as a church," Hodgdon Murray said. "We have shared in our meetings with Veritas representatives that PTV was on the distant horizon.
"We applied for the grant as if it were a pipe dream and then were pleasantly surprised when we received the grant and then we realized we had some work to do to make sure the community understood the project in its entirety."
Hodgdon Murray pushed back at the claims on the initiative petition, website and mailer that Peace Trail Village diverted ARPA money from other more worthy entities. "When we presented our ARPA grant requests there were 22 projects presented by businesses in Newberg ..," she said. "We were not 'awarded over all other grant requests' as five or so other projects were also awarded -- we were also the third round of ARPA grants to be dispersed."
The church has not wavered in the face of disinformation that has been spread about the Peace Trail Village project, Hodgdon Murray said.
"I would say (it's) more like disappointment that folks in the community would believe some of the outlandish claims about our project," she said. "We are proud of the Peace Trail Village and what we are trying to do on our private property. We sold the property to Veritas and are discouraged that this is the way they are responding to our faithfulness to God and the mission of Jesus."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.