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Parks, pathways, climate, housing make Lake Oswego City Council's list of 2017 goals
Lake Oswego city councilors set an ambitious agenda for 2017 at their annual retreat on Saturday, compiling a list of tentative goals that focus on climate change, development planning and outdoor resources such as parks and pathways.
The gathering also included a significant discussion of affordable housing and transportation issues, reflecting a new dynamic created by the arrival of recently elected Councilors John LaMotte and Theresa Kohlhoff.
"There are people whose voices are not being heard," Kohlhoff said at one point, "and I'd like to be their voice this year."
By the end of the meeting, councilors had settled on a tentative list of eight main goals, which are likely to be adopted at a City Council meeting on Jan. 24 or Feb. 7. The exact wording may change in the final version produced by City staff, but the goals include:
1. Developing a Climate Action Plan;
2. Putting available parks funding to the highest and best use;
3. Developing a strategy for dealing with PERS cost increases;
4. Deciding the future of the municipal golf course;
5. Developing bike and pedestrian pathways;
6. Continuing to make progress on infrastructure, including road maintenance and the Boones Ferry Road project;
7. Assessing housing strategies; and
8. Crafting a cohesive redevelopment policy.
Transportation came up early in the meeting, when Kohlhoff reiterated her support for improvements to the city's affordable housing options and transportation systems. Councilor Joe Buck also expressed concerns about a lack of affordable housing for people who work in the city and the limited availability of public transit.
"The market is taking things in one direction," he said, "and if we're not pulling back a little bit, we're going to be in dire straits."
Councilor Jackie Manz added her support for addressing transportation issues, but she called for a focus on traffic solutions as well, with better signalization and other ways to avoid rush-hour gridlock.
Councilor Jeff Gudman cautioned that City officials would need to bear in mind the cost of efforts to improve public transit and couldn't count on significant help from TriMet or state lawmakers. He also reiterated his support for maintaining the city's roads.
"We're on our own in terms of transportation systems in this city," he said.
After that initial discussion, the council began the actual goal-making process by individually rating their support on a 1-5 scale for a series of potential goals, with the results averaged to determine the collective highest priorities.
Several previous goals and ongoing efforts ranked near the top of the list, such as a goal to raise the city's average Pavement Condition Index to a "fair" rating of 70 (on a scale of 1-100) over the next six years.
A potential bike path along the Willamette Shore Trolley corridor received an average score of 4, as did the goals of adding turf to Waluga Park fields, funding increased PERS costs and developing new bikeways and pathways. Business development in the Southwest Employment Area and the sale of an unused City-owned waterfront property near Tryon Creek both scored an average of 3.9.
There were also a handful of potential goals that revealed differences of opinion among councilors. Developing "strategies for housing needs for all income levels" received one score of 1, three of 3 and three of 5. And "promoting mass transit down Macadam/Highway 43" received three scores of 1, one of 2 and three of 5.
In the afternoon, the council began to narrow the goal list, based in part on the results of the morning voting.
The first issue to be discussed was the development of a Climate Action Plan, which had been strongly advocated by the City's Sustainability Advisory Board and the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network but had only received an average score of 2.7 in preliminary voting.
Supporters of the idea emphasized that the goal would only call for the start of a planning process, not the adoption of a specific document.
"No one is advocating for a big, expensive professional study," LaMotte said. "We're just asking, 'Does our staff have a little bit of time?'"
Gudman objected to the idea, arguing that existing groups are already able to encourage action and make recommendations on climate change, and that they ought to continue to do so without involving staff time.
"We don't have to sanction a group of passionate people to get together and do work," he said.
"But they want us to," replied both Buck and LaMotte, and the council ultimately voted 4-3 to adopt the goal.
For the second goal, the council voted to focus on putting available parks funding to the highest and best use. Some examples included selling the property near Tryon Creek and adding turf to Waluga Park fields.
The development of a PERS strategy was added as a third goal, although there was little discussion about the issue.
"Decide the future of the municipal golf course" ranked second-highest in preliminary voting and became the fourth goal. Despite its popularity and the introduction of new sports such as foot golf in recent years, the course continues to be a financial drain on the City.
"We're stuck on that thing," said Mayor Kent Studebaker. "We can't raise fees (without losing guests), it costs a lot to maintain and we don't make a lot from it."
Development of bike paths and pathways became the fifth goal, incorporating a plan to use the money generated by the sale of a City-owned property along Kruse Way to fund more bike path development. Continuing progress on infrastructure and road maintenance projects was added as the sixth goal.
One of the longest conversations focused on housing, which eventually became the seventh goal for 2017. Kohlhoff raised the issue, saying the City couldn't put off addressing it.
"My bottom line is that I would like for us to look at what's available to us and see if the need that's in our city can be met with the other goals available to us," she said.
LaMotte suggested a goal of "assess housing options," and Kohlhoff countered with "assess housing strategies," saying that she wanted to avoid the issue getting "stuck" as a task force project. O'Neill expressed concern about the selection process for any potential affordable housing units.
"Who picks who gets into these things?" he asked. "Do we have a board? Who determines that?"
The housing discussion eventually transitioned to crafting a redevelopment policy, which became the final goal. LaMotte said he wanted to see the City reach out to property owners and explore redevelopment opportunities, but emphasized that he didn't want to see City money put toward the exploration process.
"Our capital is our time in that meeting (with property owners and developers) — our leadership," he said.
Kohlhoff also expressed support for the more proactive approach, saying that the City can encourage good projects by working more closely with developers. She cited the Wizer Block as an example.
On the other hand, O'Neill advocated for the City to communicate with developers about design concepts that will get "buy-in" from officials and neighbors, but to avoid telling them that "this is what you have to build."
"I think one of the things that scares developers away is the fact that it could be very difficult," he said, "because of what Gene Wizer had to go through."