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SONA wants a smaller play area, and the money instead used for daylighting Bernert Creek

PMG FILE PHOTO - The City has been working on plans for a natural play area for several years, but will now go back to the community for more input. After spending nearly $12,000 on planning and concept designs for a natural play area in the White Oak Savanna, the City of West Linn will now go back to the drawing boards to replan the play area, at the request of the City Council.

Because grants for the Savanna the City received from the state of Oregon and Metro require local children to be involved in the play area planning process, community members of all ages were included in the planning and brainstorming. The City hosted a number of workshops with local kids to see what they might like in the play area. Once the parks department had a better idea of what might work in the play area, the plans were approved by the West Linn Planning Commission in 2017, with broad community support, including from the Savanna Oaks Neighborhood Association, according to recently retired Parks and Recreation Director Ken Worcester.

Recently however, members of SONA, led by SONA President and Secretary Ed and Roberta Schwarz, have expressed frustration with some of the elements included in the plans for the play area, which were approved by the planning commission in 2017.

In a presentation to the council Monday, Nov. 4, the Schwarzes explained their uneasiness about some of the play area elements and argued that some of the funds for the play area should be diverted toward daylighting Bernert Creek (which now runs as a piped part of the City's storm drainage system beneath the Savanna).

The Schwarzes argued that additional water from some of the proposed play area elements—a mud pit, a water play area and an outdoor shower—would harm the white oak trees that the Savanna is named for.

Testifying as a citizen, Worcester pointed out that the plans place the play elements featuring water far from any white oak trees—if those elements even end up in the park, because things could change in terms of adherence to the park design.

The Schwarzes also said that the proposed drums and xylophone included in the plans would disturb wildlife in the area, though Worcester said that having people in the park is what will disturb wildlife, no matter what they are doing in the park.

Worcester also noted that none of the plans for the play area are likely to affect wildlife more than the other ambient elements of the park that can't be changed, such as traffic noise from I-205.

The Schwarzes also took issue with the fact that the plans include a permanent bathroom structure for the park and suggested that the City instead go with porta-potties and a wooden privacy screen.

Interim Parks Director Ken Warner pointed out the high monthly costs of maintaining portable toilets, and also noted that many people just are not willing to use them. Warner explained that the restroom doesn't have to be large like the ones at Willamette Park.

In his testimony, Worcester also pointed out that the White Oak Savanna is not a neighborhood park. "In fact, most West Linn residents are paying the same amount for the Savanna Oak Park as those in Oregon City, Milwaukie, Sandy, everywhere else through the Metro Greenspaces bond measure. There's not a lot of real West Linn tax money going into this," said Worcester.

Near the end of the discussion, Roberta Schwarz expressed great frustration that the council was weighing whether to go back and re-plan the play area.

"The kids are going to say, 'let's have drums and let's have xylophones' and all the things that are not conducive to a natural play area. Why would we go around and around and around just to end up there again?" Roberta Schwarz asked. "This is so frustrating. This is why people quit coming to these meetings. This is why people quit engaging. Are you not listening to the citizens? What the heck?"

The Schwarzes told the council that in September the SONA passed a resolution requesting the City to daylight Bernert Creek. Roberta Schwarz said she has talked to local assisted living facilities who have told her that the residents would enjoy going to White Oak Savanna to observe the creek.

Not for the first time, Mayor Russ Axelrod, a geologist, expressed reservations about daylighting the creek.

"This is one of my concerns about spending money with the feasibility (study), is you're going to have to build a large rock impounded structure. It's not going to be your pretty little creek that people would go necessarily sit around. It would be a large drainage facility," the mayor said. "You're not going to be able to daylight all that drainage and put it out on the surface in a safe manner without it being a super robust structure and this would cost at least $1 million."

Confining the creek to this structure takes away a lot of the benefits that make creek daylighting attractive, he explained.

Axelrod also said the construction of the creek structure could greatly impact the environment around the stream. The way storm systems are designed are changing due to more frequent severe storms brought on by climate change, he added.


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