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City will continue to explore issue while petitioners revamp efforts to abolish zone

TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - The council opted not to take action on a 'compromise' resolution that would have opened up some streets for student parking near West Linn High School. A three-and-a-half hour discussion about the West Linn High School parking situation Monday, Aug. 6 did not conclude with any formal action from the West Linn City Council.

Whether that was good news, bad news or somewhere in between was a matter of perspective. Concerned residents who lived near the high school were relieved that the council opted not to adopt — or even vote on — a compromise resolution that would have removed the longtime restricted parking zone during school hours on several streets near the high school, including West A Street. Others — mostly students and parents — were frustrated by the lack of action from the council, more than a year after concerns about the dearth of student parking were first brought to City Hall. City staff and the council, meanwhile, expressed optimism about the slow-but-steady progress, while also attempting to play a peacekeeping role in a debate that was becoming more hostile by the day.

So as attendees filed out of council chambers just after 10 p.m., the glass — or parking lot in this case — was either half-full or half-empty.

"I don't think there's any reason to apologize for the amount of time it's taken to arrive at this point," City Manager Eileen Stein said. "This discussion tonight is indicative of (the fact) that there are itsy bitsy pieces of the picture coming together."

The compromise on the table Monday came in the form of Resolution 2018-19, which was constructed and championed primarily by Mayor Russ Axelrod. The resolution called for six changes to the residential parking zone, the majority of which would alter the zone so it would only apply to one side of the street. The changes would have applied to sections of Broadway Street, McKillican Street, Buse Street, Easy Street, First Court, K Street and West A Street.

However, in the early moments of Monday's discussion, Axelrod said he'd been told that his vision of the district assigning spaces on those streets to individual students (which he felt would create more accountability and foster community relations) was not possible due to logistical and potential legal issues. Thus, he was uncomfortable with proceeding with the resolution as it was written.

"I'm personally uncomfortable with opening the streets to open parking (without assigned spots)," Axelrod said. "I think it would be disruptive."

The City did have a significant victory to point to Monday, as it announced that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) had approved a proposal to open up parking on the West A Street and Broadway Street bridges over I-205. It is estimated that those bridges can accommodate about 60 parking spaces that will be open for student use during school days. While the bridge spots are a healthy start, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District's stated target is 100 spots.

Yet for WLHS graduate Rory Bialostosky, who first brought the issue to the council last year, Monday's meeting marked an abrupt fissure on the road to compromise. Earlier this year, Bialostosky filed a lawsuit at Clackamas County Circuit Court challenging the legality of the neighborhood parking restrictions, and he also gathered signatures for a petition to place a measure on the ballot that would entirely remove the parking zone.

Bialostosky dropped the lawsuit and suspended the gathering of signatures in advance of the Aug. 6 meeting, hoping that what he saw as a "good faith" gesture would prompt the council to adopt resolution on the table.

It was not to be.

"City Council once again demonstrated as per usual that they are incapable of making a decision on the parking zone after three more hours of unproductive banter," Bialostosky said in an email. "We are moving forward with our initiative petition to eliminate the parking zone as a compromise wasn't reached. We are confident that our thousands of supports will prevail and will be finishing up the signature gathering process shortly. This council will be remembered in the community for its disgraceful leadership on this issue."

With the deadline to place the issue on the November ballot passed, the petitioners will aim for a spring vote if they obtain the required 2,829 signatures.

The residential parking zone has been enforced for the last 22 years, and limits parking near the high school to those with residential permits between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on school days. Student and parent advocates say that kids are unfairly burdened by the zone, arriving at school as early as 5 a.m. to find an open spot or even paying residents for the right to park in a driveway. Others who live near the high school say that opening up more parking for students would create safety, traffic and livability issues.

At the special meeting Monday, about 20 residents testified to the council. Many resided in the Bolton neighborhood near the high school, while others were students or concerned residents who felt the parking restrictions were unfair.

Ron Chappell shared what he termed a "unique perspective" as a teacher and coach at the high school who also lives in the neighborhood.

He said that as a coach, he had never experienced issues with kids not being able to come to practice because of parking problems and that he and his wife Janet were concerned about preserving the livability of their neighborhood.

"We feel a deep sense — a need to preserve the same wonderful, quiet, safe, livable neighborhood of ours," he said.

Another resident, Pam Martin, said she'd experienced issues with student misbehavior near her home and was disappointed with the school district's response to the issue. She added that she liked the idea of assigned parking spaces.

Resident Joe Durbin, meanwhile, criticized both the council and Bolton residents.

"It's disheartening that certain members of our community think our kids are scofflaws," he said. "These kids work hard, and they have every right to drive as much as we do and get their work done. The safety issue is a straw man — if it's unsafe, then it's unsafe for everyone (to park), not just kids."

In the end, council members agreed that there was more work to be done.

"It's all of our problem — it's our problem up here, it's a school board problem and a problem of the citizens," City Councilor Bob Martin said. "(We need) to all work together to solve this."

"I see both sides of this," City Council President Brenda Perry said. "I don't like to see everybody painted with the same brush."

The councilors diverged, however, when it came to what exactly the next steps should be. City Councilor Rich Sakelik said traffic studies should be done before exploring potential solutions.

"We have not done a traffic study," he said. "I haven't seen any experts, and I don't think we have any experts in this room who can give us any guidance."

"Until we have zeroed in on one potential solution, I don't understand how we can do a traffic study," Martin said. "I'd rather wait until we've focused in on one solution."

City Council Teri Cummings spoke extensively about the need to explore alternative modes of transportation for students, as well as carpooling. She also suggested forming a work group to further research those ideas, but the majority of the council rejected that idea due to questions about timing and effectiveness.

Moving forward, the City decided to engage with the Bolton neighborhood and search for residents who might volunteer to have a student assigned to their space in a manner similar to Axelrod's original proposal, but on a smaller scale. The City will also get to work on striping and putting signage up on the newly-opened bridges.

School District Superintendent Kathy Ludwig attended the meeting and spoke with Stein during a brief recess. While neither provided details of the conversation, Stein did elaborate a bit.

"There is room for additional movement by the school district — maybe not exactly what you're thinking, but the possibility of more parking," Stein told the council. "We want to explore that more."

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