New mayor and councilors take oath of office on Tuesday

by: VERN UYETAKE - Jack Hoffman stands at Sundeleaf Plaza, the city's newest park, in December, as his term as mayor drew to a close.

He championed the creation of two new urban renewal districts, helped overhaul longstanding natural resource protections and, for awhile, was known as Lake Oswego’s “biking mayor.”

As Lake Oswego Mayor Jack Hoffman leaves office at the start of the year, he can point to a list of accomplishments that could reshape Lake Oswego in the coming years. But it wasn’t an easy term for the mayor, even though he had nearly a decade of council experience under his belt when he landed the top position in 2008.

Hoffman acknowledged in a wide-ranging interview that he was caught off guard by a few issues emerging as he prepared to take office: an uproar over updates to natural resource protections on private properties, the magnitude of the streetcar project, which was “coming down the track quicker than anticipated,” and the national economic collapse.

“I think that affected a lot of what we did in ‘09 and ‘10, in terms of people’s attitude toward government, toward taxes, toward finances and public expenditures,” Hoffman said. “I don’t think Lake Oswego was immune from the effects of the economic collapse of 2008.”

The streetcar project and sensitive lands discussions dominated many city council and community meetings, with critics raising additional questions about whether the council was paying proper attention to core services such as road maintenance and drinking water infrastructure, and whether officials were too friendly with real estate developers.

Demanding term begins

Meanwhile, Hoffman continued to feel the heat from decisions made while he was a city councilor — including the purchase of the West End Building, the former Safeco Insurance property that the city bought for $20 million in 2006, shortly before the building’s value REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Jack Hoffman leads his final council meeting as mayor of Lake Oswego in December.

When Hoffman was elected to the mayor’s seat, he had plenty of experience with city issues. He served on the council from 1998 to 2006. He grinned as he recalled deciding to run for the city council back then.

“I was chairman of the parks and recreation advisory board,” Hoffman said. “I just saw it as another community public service.”

In 2009 he began a demanding term as mayor. His full-time legal practice took a backseat over the past four years.

A partner at Dunn, Carney, Allen, Higgins and Tongue specializing in land-use, environmental, condemnation and general litigation, Hoffman said he cut back his hours working at the firm by about half to deal with a heavy load of city business.

His schedule included weekly meetings with the city manager and city recorder to discuss upcoming council meetings and plan future agendas, follow-up discussions with department managers, council meetings on Tuesdays and Metro Policy Advisory Committee meetings every other week, plus the occasional board, commission or committee meeting. There was the monthly gathering of regional mayors, discussions with citizens and time spent responding to their questions and complaints. For awhile the redevelopment agency board, made up of the city council, held its meetings separately, adding an extra meeting on some evenings.

In addition, Hoffman tried to meet with neighborhood leaders one Saturday morning each month, and he held community roundtable discussions on some weekends.

“It’s a full-time job,” Hoffman said.

Otherwise on Saturdays and Sundays, he typically would try to enjoy the fruits of some of all that labor — visiting the farmers market in Millennium Plaza Park, bicycling around town and looking at the city’s collection of outdoor public sculptures. He helped create Lake Oswego’s Gallery Without Walls more than a decade ago.

Proponent of urban renewal

Hoffman characterizes much of the ongoing political tension in the community as “an ideological split ... between those who are concerned about change and those who want to continue moving forward.”

In his view, urban renewal is the biggest issue separating him from many of his critics.

While he’s in favor of using urban renewal to spur redevelopment, many others don’t think it’s such a good idea.

“People will say, ‘I don’t want a change; I like it the way the city is now; I moved here for what we have here now and the character of the city now.’ I respect that,” Hoffman said.

At the same time, he said, “The things that bring people to this city are a direct result of decisions that I participated in as a city councilor” — things like the farmers market and public art displays.

“Those would not have occurred but for urban renewal,” Hoffman said. “Urban renewal increases the value of surrounding neighborhoods.”

He said he, too, isn’t a fan of paying higher utility bills to fund public infrastructure projects, one point of contention these days.

And he shares concerns about private property owners’ rights — although his take is a bit different than that of many critics.

Private property rights are “a bedrock of our society,” he said. “It’s the balance between economic self-interest and the greater community good. It’s always a balance. Some people think they’re affected disproportionately.”

However, he added: “Regulations are designed to protect your private property rights.”by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Jack Hoffman stands at Sundeleaf Plaza, the city's newest park, in December, as his term as mayor drew to a close.

But despite a major overhaul scaling back the sensitive lands program, and despite the city’s eventual withdrawal from the streetcar project, divisiveness has remained in the community.

Hoffman has said that political strife factored into his decision not to seek a second term as mayor. Sally Moncrieff and Mary Olson, two of three city councilors up for re-election in 2012, also opted out of the November races. Bill Tierney, the only councilor to seek re-election this past fall, lost his bid for a second term.

A ‘city of chiefs’

Still, despite all of the friction, the council managed to make progress in some key areas, Hoffman said. He pointed to some big accomplishments that could have a major impact on the city in the future:

  • A new urban renewal plan to fund public projects in the Lake Grove area;

  • A new urban renewal plan to fund public projects in the Foothills area, between downtown Lake Oswego and the Willamette River;

  • An expanded downtown parks system, including Sundeleaf Plaza, one of the city’s lakeside parks;

  • A chain of decisions that put a new indoor tennis center within the city’s reach; and

  • A one-time contribution of funding to buoy Lake Oswego’s renowned public schools from state funding cuts.

    In addition, during Hoffman’s tenure the city completed the Lake Oswego Interceptor Sewer project, at the time the city’s most expensive public works project to date, on time and under budget. He highlighted restoration of the historic iron furnace and buying riverfront property to obtain an easement as additional achievements that will provide benefits in the future.

    The council also advanced some less controversial but nonetheless far-reaching plans for the city’s wastewater infrastructure, for protecting its streams, for parks and recreation programs and for Luscher Farm. Efforts to overhaul the comprehensive plan are also forging ahead. The long-range plan for maintaining and expanding Lake Oswego’s drinking water system is plodding along, although it’s increasingly mired in controversy.

    “There are no easy solutions to all of the complex issues the city faces,” Hoffman said. “Just being a community of very sophisticated, very well-educated and economically secure — for the most part — people, makes it incredibly difficult to be an elected official in this city, especially in these times. You have a city of chiefs.”

    He said he isn’t sure what will happen to some of the initiatives moved ahead during his tenure — there are discussions of reversing course on urban renewal plans for Foothills, for example — but he does believe he helped move the city in the right direction.

    “There’s this metaphor: The council or the mayor is given the keys to a car, they get in and drive it for some time,” Hoffman said. “They may move it a little bit left or a little bit right, but they keep moving it forward, and eventually they get out and hand off the keys.

    “If you understand your place in time, then you realize that you have to start now for the next generation. I don’t care personally whether people remember my name in Lake Oswego. What’s important to me is during my time ‘driving the car’ I was able to continue moving things forward.”

    New mayors, councilors to take oath of office

    The Lake Oswego City Council will inaugurate new councilors and the new mayor at an upcoming special meeting.

    Mayor-elect Kent Studebaker and elected councilors Karen Bowerman, Jon Gustafson and Skip O’Neill will take the oath of office at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

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