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Petitioners submit 2,714 signatures to the city on July 25 for verification; some are rejected

PMG FILE PHOTO - An effort to stop the city of Newberg from creating housing for homeless people without a vote of the people, as well as barring such facilities within 1,500 of a school, reached a milestone late last month.

An effort to stop the city of Newberg from creating housing for homeless people without a vote of the people, as well as barring such facilities within 1,500 of a school, reached a milestone late last month.

The initiative mounted by Newberg residents Robyn Wheatley and Bill Rosacker submitted 2,714 petition signatures to the city elections officer on July 25. In order to place the initiative on a future ballot the petitioners must have gathered 2,426 verified signatures. Attempts to contact Wheatley and Rosacker for comment went unanswered.

The ballot initiative will not appear on the November general election ballot but could qualify for the spring 2023 primary election.

"The deadline to qualify for the November 2022 ballot was July 18 to allow enough time for the county to process the signatures before a state mandated deadline of Aug. 10," city elections officer Sue Ryan said in an email. She added, however, that ballot initiatives can qualify for elections over a two-year period.

Of the 2,714 signatures submitted, Ryan rejected 24 signatures on two electronic petition sheets and three printed ones.

"One E sheet was not dated or signed, one E sheet was dated before the petition was approved to circulate, one (printed) sheet was not signed by the circulator and two (printed) sheets did not have the cover sheet on the back side, which is required," Ryan said.

She explained further that the city and the county clerk's office share the duties for verification for initiative petitions. She verifies that the cover and signature sheets meet the state's requirements.

"Local election officials will reject unapproved sheets and will determine if the petition has more than 50 signature sheets which are not sequentially numbered; determine if the circulator's certification (signature) is sufficient, and for city initiative petitions only coordinate with the county elections official for verification of original signatures," Ryan said.

The county then steps in to determine the final number of valid signatures and puts that in writing.

Ryan transported the July 25 batch of signatures to the county, who has begun the process of verifying that the petitions were signed by registered Newberg voters.

The signatures that Ryan has received from Wheatley and Rosacker since July 25 will "remain on hold at the city for processing until the county finishes the verification process for the first batch," Ryan said.

What would the initiative do?

The initiative, according to the ballot title, would limit city support of temporary housing near schools or without a public vote. The effort is in initiative form as it is generated by citizens themselves and then referred to voters. A referendum, on the other hand, is a local law that has already been approved, but "that citizens don't agree with, so they want it referred to the voters," Ryan said in a previous email

Cause for consternation

The cry of opposition came about after North Valley Friends Church unveiled plans for Peace Trail Village, a project to build nine tiny homes for transitional housing. The church is partnering with Providence to utilize $400,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds granted by the city toward realization of the project. The funds will pay for case and project manager's salaries and also cover some infrastructure costs such as engineering, design, excavation, water, sewer and electrical utilities.

Peace Trail Village will be located within a few hundred yards of Veritas School, which is situated on land sold to the school by the church. Some parents of Veritas School students have raised concern, primarily on social media, that their children will be exposed to residents of the village who could be a threat to the students.

News of the project had been circulating through the community for some time, but the pushback against it really heightened at a City Council meeting in late June. The council heard a report from a group of graduate students at Portland State University on the issue of "car camping" in the community. The church is exploring the idea of hosting multiple vehicles for several nights in hopes of alleviating the housing shortage in the community.

Rosacker vowed at the meeting to stop the city from being part of fostering car camping or homeless facilties, hence the petition and the threat of litigation against councilors and administrators contained in the ballot title: "This measure makes public officials liable to reimburse the city for unauthorized expenditures and allows any taxpayer to sue on the city's behalf."

The wording of the initiative is specific in its intent to bar the city from using public resources to promulgate "homeless encampments" locally.

"'Homeless encampment' means any property approved for use as an outdoor living space where tents, cabins, yurts, automobiles, recreational vehicles or any housing structures lacking a permanent foundation or modern indoor plumbing facilities are used for transitional housing, or any section of public right of way where camping is allowed for purposes of temporary housing," the initiative reads.

The pushback against the city and the church's plans progressed in mid-July after the website was launched and local residents began receiving professional-quality mailers from "The Newberg Kids Not Camps Team." Both the mailer and the website carefully walk residents through the process of signing the petition and also recruits petition gatherers.

Church responds to initiative and mailer

North Valley Friends Church Pastor Leslie Hodgdon Murray countered some of what is being claimed on the initiative petition, website and mailer.

"(Peace Trail Village is) definitely not a homeless camp," she said. "It is a 'cottage cluster' of homes that are on foundations and have indoor plumbing.

"We do have three tiny homes now onsite that are not on foundations, but we are working with the city to bring those into compliance, which is difficult since there isn't code for tiny houses."

She added that the emergence of the mailer and initiative petition has not caused the church to consider altering the project as "we already felt like it was solid in its original format."

"Before we received the ARPA grant, the Peace Trail Village was part of our long-term planning as a church," Hodgdon Murray said. "We have shared in our meetings with Veritas representatives that PTV was on the distant horizon.

"We applied for the grant as if it were a pipe dream and then were pleasantly surprised when we received the grant and then we realized we had some work to do to make sure the community understood the project in its entirety."

Hodgdon Murray pushed back at the claims on the initiative petition, website and mailer that Peace Trail Village diverted ARPA money from other more worthy entities. "When we presented our ARPA grant requests there were 22 projects presented by businesses in Newberg ..," she said. "We were not 'awarded over all other grant requests' as five or so other projects were also awarded — we were also the third round of ARPA grants to be dispersed."

The church has not wavered in the face of disinformation that has been spread about the Peace Trail Village project, Hodgdon Murray said.

"I would say (it's) more like disappointment that folks in the community would believe some of the outlandish claims about our project," she said. "We are proud of the Peace Trail Village and what we are trying to do on our private property. We sold the property to Veritas and are discouraged that this is the way they are responding to our faithfulness to God and the mission of Jesus."

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