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Former district manager suggests broader engagement, determination of community interests

I find it interesting that a small group of people are once again studying governance of the Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge areas, commonly referred to as Oak Lodge.

Historically similar discussions and studies have occurred approximately each decade since at least the 1970s. In each of these past studies there has been no interest in altering the form of governance whether that be annexation to an adjoining city or incorporation of the area as a city. Prior to addressing the current study, I think it important to consider some factual information.

Having read the Jan. 20 opinion article by the Oak Lodge Governance Project Steering Committee, as well as watched the video on their scope of work, I believe there are serious flaws in the current study effort. Let's address these point by point.

Steering Committee members state "demographics, economics and circumstances of our area have changed enough in the past decade to support a fresh effort to explore the advantages and possible downsides of various governance options, including, but not limited to, incorporation, annexation or remaining unincorporated."

The demographics of the residents may have changed as one would expect in a mature community, but the demographics of the land-use types, businesses and industries has changed little.

The Oak Lodge area is predominately residential with a limited commercial strip along the McLoughlin corridor, and a very small industrial base in isolated areas on Naef Road and Roethe Road. In terms of land use, little has changed in the area in decades.

There has been a steady but small annual growth in residential building, mostly infill and some redevelopment of large lots. The commercial strip has not changed in size in decades although businesses come and go. The "activity centers," high-density residential and commercial developments envisioned in the original comprehensive plan at five major intersections along the McLoughlin corridor, have never materialized.

So, the demographics of land use that are essential to providing an attractive funding base for incorporation or annexation are nonexistent.

Cities are generally funded through property taxes and fees. It is important to understand the dynamics of city funding, particularly as a function of land use. Generalities are frequently dangerous but in this case they serve a useful purpose.

Typically, property taxes levied on industrial properties provide a surplus revenue stream; meaning the amount of money collected exceeds the cost of services provided to that type of property. Commercial properties are generally revenue neutral; meaning the cost of services provided is about equal to the revenue generated. Residential properties are revenue negative, meaning the cost of services provided typically exceeds the revenue generated. Consequently the most financially viable cities in Oregon are those with a solid industrial component.

Other sources of city revenue streams are typically fees associated with planning and development, fines and fees for specific services, state shared revenues (liquor and tobacco taxes, etc.), franchise fees levied on utilities (another taxing mechanism on the residents), special levies and bond sales as approved by the voters and grants.

The Steering Committee claims this study is a community-based effort citing a survey and "outreach" efforts. The survey, as reported during the Steering Committee and Scope of Work Consultant meeting, was of 86 people. As far as I can tell there has been no report produced regarding the survey content or responses. If it exists, it should be made public. If it doesn't exist, the Steering Committee should explain why.

The community also is entitled to know who created the survey, whether it was created using professional survey protocols and how participants were selected. The sample size does not indicate community-based participation, nor does it indicate a sample size that would make it statistically useful. I note that at the video meeting available on YouTube there only appeared to be five members of the steering committee present and only two seemed to actively participate. Calling this a "community-based" study appears disingenuous.

One of the projects cited by the Steering Committee on Nov. 4 in this newspaper was the Concord Library. It is not clear why this is a motivator for the study as there has been a library in the Oak Lodge community for many years. The library is a component of the county's library district and is funded by a separate permanent property tax rate levied on all property in Clackamas County except for Johnson City, which is not part of the district.

It is interesting to note that one of the unintended consequences of statewide Ballot Measure 50 (1997) was to convert any temporary serial levies in existence at the time into the permanent tax rate. In the case of the county's library system, a serial levy existed at the time of passage of Ballot Measure 50, which was subsequently added to Clackamas County's permanent tax rate, as the Library District did not exist until 2008. A similar "unintended consequence" may have occurred with the original Enhanced Law Enforcement District.

Another cited reason at the project COURTESY PHOTO - Clackamas County officials are eyeing the former Concord School in Oak Grove as a site for a new library and park.scope meeting is "local control," specifically as it relates to land use. One does not have to spend much time in the Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge communities to see that they are fully developed. Certainly there will be continued, albeit limited, infill and some redevelopment. But these activities are unlikely to lead to any significant change in land-use patterns.

Further, land-use plans must comply with the state of Oregon requirements as well as those of Metro. The existing county comprehensive plan for the Oak Lodge area is unlikely to be altered in any significant way.

What strikes me about this study is its lack of purpose and the lack of knowledge of its participants. When it comes to governance I believe there is real value in the "form follows function" philosophy. This appears to be a study to look at a very limited set of governance options with no identified purpose for doing so. I suggest much broader engagement, a determination of community interests, and a study of whether change in governance is even warranted.

Of course, there couldn't be a worse time to seek community engagement. The COVID-19 pandemic makes the kind of community engagement one typically would desire in a study like this virtually impossible.

While Metro has been a frequent target of some, its existence is crucial to the region and to Clackamas County. I am surprised Metro would issue a grant for this poorly defined study. I think the money could have been better spent identifying community values, needs and wants and then assigning costs and options for achieving them. As it stands, this appears to be a study looking for a purpose.

R. Kent Squires, a resident of the Oatfield Ridge area in unincorporated Clackamas County, was the general manager of Oak Lodge Sanitary District from 1981-2008. He also served as director of Clackamas County's Water Environment Services for three years in the early 2000s.


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