During a work session on Jan. 4, the Lake Oswego City Council considered formulating a new ballot measure to correct some unintended consequences of a charter amendment designed to prevent development at 15 parks and natural areas.
Measure 3-568, which was put forth by the citizen-led group Love LO Parks and ultimately defeated the city's competing Measure 3-575 in the November election, prompted the repeal and replacement of city charter language covering development at local parks. While both measures had similar intentions of protecting the city's parks, Love LO Parks claimed its measure would protect the parks in their most natural element, while the city said the competing measure clarified some of the wording in the Love LO Parks measure that could present future concerns.
While all councilors seemed to agree that Measure 3-568 included flaws that needed fixing, Lake Oswego City Councilor Aaron Rapf was particularly empathic in his denunciation.
"If you voted for this, shame on you. Do your homework. Don't listen to people who are loud on the internet and Nextdoor. You are hurting the community. You are hurting our ability to protect people and our kids," Rapf said at the meeting.
"I'm not politicking here … but these are problems. When we were voting most of the voters did not know those these things were going to be problems," Councilor Massene Mboup added.
The approved measure disallows the cutting down of trees to build athletic facilities, parking lots, roads or trails for motor vehicles, and ensures that development is limited only to what is necessary for the enjoyment of natural spaces on 235 acres worth of land at Bryant Woods Park, Canal Acres, Cooks Butte, Glenmorrie Greenway, Cornell Natural Area, Hallinan Woods, Iron Mountain Park, Kerr Open Space, Lamont Springs Natural Area, River Run, Southshore Natural Area, Springbrook Park, Stevens Meadows, Waluga Park-West and Woodmont Nature Park. The failed city measure included similar restrictions but used the word "new" instead of "any" in terms of the disallowed development, and the citizen measure stated that any projects outside of the ground rules set forth would need to be approved by citizens via a vote.
City of Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation Director Ivan Anderholm said that the approved charter amendment restricts the replacement of telecommunications infrastructure, and whether or not the replacement of utilities is allowed is open to legal interpretation. He added that removing and replacing a reservoir like the one at Cooks Butte would not be permitted under the measure, but they could fix it if it needed repair.
"We're not able to change it in a way that would further impair it or be inconsistent with the natural conditions," Anderholm said.
The parks director added that the measure would mean two existing projects — adding parking on Childs Road at the lower portion of Stevens Meadows and the rerouting of a pathway through Hallinan Woods — would have to be tabled.
However, the construction of trails for hiking, picnic tables and sanitary facilities will still be allowed on these properties.
Rapf described the telecommunications issue as an unintended consequence, citing the recent security incident at Lake Oswego High School and the importance of communication technology in such an emergency.
"For those of you who voted for this, you were duped and lied to about the unintended consequences of what this does for the city. It puts lives in danger," Rapf said.
Mayor Joe Buck said the debate over a telecommunications tower used for emergency communications at Cooks Butte "got away from" the city and that being able to maintain infrastructure is critical. That controversy was one of the driving factors that led to the ballot measure.
The leader of the Love LO Parks group, Scott Handley, also led a petition against the installation of the communications tower at Cooks Butte. After the Save Cooks Butte group gathered about 900 signatures for the petition in November 2019, the Emery family — who sold the property to the city in 1975 — withdrew its consent for the city to build the tower.
Newly-appointed Council President John Wendland graded the failed city measure as an "A" and the grassroots measure a "B," and said the city now has the opportunity to reflect and determine issues that need to be corrected. One thing he's concerned about is the difficulty for the city to install security cameras in the parks if there were to be instances of vandalism. Anderholm explained after the meeting that the city can install security cameras, but only ones that do not have an internet connection (unless the connection had already been established).
"This has real consequences for our community and I guess (the) big picture is, I would like to be an efficient and safety-oriented city," Wendland said. "And we can correct anything if we want to put it on the ballot for any of these parks, but the citizens need to know that costs time and effort and education."
For his part, Councilor Daniel Nguyen said having an election during a pandemic when people aren't able to engage in person may have led to misunderstandings.
Buck indicated that the City Council would discuss the issue further at the council retreat in February and emphasized that community engagement would be important in any future measure.
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