Over the last four years, Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge residents have expressed increasing concern over a number of issues — the sharp increase in the homeless population, inadequate parking at the Park Avenue light-rail station, an uptick in property crimes, the need for more parks and an improved library, a desire for less used car lots and a greater variety of businesses, and, most recently, the feasibility study of the Oak Grove to Lake Oswego bridge (OGLO).
There are legitimate concerns that our area is not headed in the right direction and many residents want to restore and preserve our neighborhoods' quality of life. At a public meeting earlier this year in the Park Avenue area, local citizens expressed their frustration at a lack of opportunity to engage in community dialogue. They had been invited to a public meeting on a potential project impacting their neighborhood, but were not given an opportunity to share their concerns or ideas. Time constraints of public meetings often limit the amount of dialogue or feedback allowed. Town halls provide that opportunity — and the entire audience learns in the process.
A recent example includes the unincorporated Stafford area, where residents requested a discussion of safety issues on Stafford Road in response to an increase in vehicular accidents. Community members assisted in setting up a town hall. Members of the county transportation staff and Sheriff's Office participated in answering questions. But most important was the opportunity it allowed the citizens to voice their concerns. We do a lot of talking as elected officials, but the most important work we do is listening. We heard the Stafford residents suggest speed limit changes, signage and more traffic enforcement. We heard about the impacts of traffic congestion on I-205 and diversion onto Stafford and other local roads creating serious problems. For these and numerous other citizen concerns throughout Clackamas County, I believe town halls and other opportunities for feedback are ever-more vital.
Given the growing concerns facing the Oak Grove/Jennings Lodge area, I scheduled a town-hall meeting in June where local citizens voiced their concerns about a number of issues impacting their community. Each issue raised was written down and discussed. As the discussion progressed, it became clear that the community desires greater local control. Without being a city, unincorporated citizens must rely on the county, which is limited in its ability to address all of the citizens' concerns. At the end of the discussion, there was strong support for another town hall to discuss options for increasing local control, whether in the form of a hamlet, a village or incorporation.
While there have been efforts in years past to incorporate the area, each effort ended due to a lack of community support. Since the June town hall, many citizens have asked me when the next discussion will take place. At the Oct. 29 town hall, we'll review some of the history of unincorporated residents wanting more local control. There are examples of some smaller communities voting to become a hamlet or a village, but the issues facing Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge are unique and far more challenging.
For years, Metro has voiced interest in increasing the density in the area. Since the opening of the Orange Line, Metro has doubled down on its efforts to make that a reality. While area residents recognize the need for more affordable housing, many have voiced concerns about how the proposed changes will impact their neighborhoods and their quality of life. We do have an opportunity to shape the future of the area, but that will require some level of self-determination.
Recent developments in our region have sparked questions over who makes decisions on behalf of our communities. Let's talk about that. The answers may come as a surprise to some, but for those who have been actively engaged, it has generated a call for action. The community has asked for a discussion and this is an opportunity to voice your opinion. Join us at the Milwaukie-Portland Elks Lodge, 13121 S.E. McLoughlin Blvd., Oak Grove, from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29, and be part of shaping the next step.
Paul Savas is a Clackamas County commissioner.
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