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At third meeting of year, West Linn City Council discusses old City Hall, Airbnbs, racial tolerance education

PMG FILE PHOTO - The West Linn City Council held its third meeting of 2021.  After its relationship with the Willamette Falls and Landings Heritage Area Coalition (WFLHAC) seemed to sour last summer, the city of West Linn may be on track to renew that partnership and plans to restore the historic City Hall building.

Members of the coalition joined the 2021 council for the first time at a work session Tuesday, Jan. 19.

Mayor Jules Walters asked Community Development Director John Williams to bring a lease agreement for the council to discuss and consider to a future meeting. Last August, Williams presented the council with a lease agreement that would allow WFLHAC to manage the building as a chief tenant after restoration efforts to turn the building into a multicultural center.

The former City Hall building, which is still owned by the city and sits next to the Arch Bridge and Willamette Falls, has been the focus of plans between WFLHAC and the city for several years. Those plans remained on track until the August 2020 meeting when former city councilors and current councilor Bill Relyea decided they may want to change course.

Following that meeting, WFLHAC Executive Director Siobhan Taylor and Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Tribal Council Secretary Jon George (also a WLFHAC leader) expressed feelings of betrayal and disappointment at the council's backtracking on the plans.

Taylor told the new council at Tuesday's meeting that the coalition wants to partner with the city in the original plans for restoring and running old City Hall.

"We definitely have skin in this game," Taylor said. "We've put too much time, effort, talent, commitment and resources into this project. We hope that you feel the same way and want to continue to partner with us."

The original plans for the building included office space for WFLHAC and other local nonprofits, a community meeting space and gallery space for local artists.

Williams and City Attorney Tim Ramis also reminded the council of a legal memo the previous council received in November, which advised the council on the flexibility of GO Bond funds. This was after councilors questioned whether the $2 million the council had allocated for old City Hall restoration in February 2020 could legally be spent on the project.

City considers transient-lodging tax for short-term vacation rentals

Also at the Tuesday work session, the council also heard from Finance Director Lauren Breithaupt and Rob Moody, a certified public accountant, on proposed changes to the city's municipal code as it relates to transient-lodging taxes (TLT).

Breithaupt said that though the city has no hotels or motels, the council has suggested amending the TLT several times over the past couple of years as to include short-term rentals like Airbnbs as they have grown in popularity.

Moody, whose firm was hired to propose changes to the code, said he suggested changing the code to encompass all forms of transient lodging like hotels, motels, RV parks, bed and breakfasts, tent sites and short-term rentals, to accommodate future growth. His proposal would allow the city to monitor short-term rentals to make sure they were in compliance with the code, he stated.

According to Moody, the proposals align with the state's code language on transient lodging taxes.

Breithaupt said the current code, which only accounts for hotels, sets the tax at 4%, which she said is lower than most cities. If the city raised that percentage, the additional revenue from the increase would have to go toward tourism, she explained.

Council talks tolerance education, police negotiations

During the council's discussion on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), Relyea mentioned a desire for the council to reconnect with Michael Fesser, the man to whom the city paid a $600,000 settlement last year following a racially-motivated false arrest by WLPD.

"I wanted to figure out where we're at with Mr. Fesser and if we're going to continue to try and schedule meetings with him," Relyea said.

Walters mentioned during this discussion that the council was preparing a statement regarding recent events at the nation's Capitol and comments from Clackamas County Commissioner Mark Shull. The council will share that statement at its meeting Monday, Jan. 25.

Walters said she recently spoke to a Jewish family in town, whose under-construction home was vandalized with swastikas. She mentioned a desire for community education on tolerance.

Councilor Mary Baumgardner noted her growing concerns about white supremacy. She said white supremacist groups are much more prevalent than many people realize and added that they can be especially influential to young people who feel alone and disconnected during the pandemic.

Baumgardner said she'd like the school district and community at large to learn more about the situation.

City Manager Jerry Gabrielatos said that all city staff recently received a survey about DEI issues.

Relyea added that, as the city heads into police union negotiations, he'd like to reflect on information learned from that survey.

In case the city's Police Oversight and Accountability Task Force has suggestions for the council to take into those negotiations, the council will speak with the task force at its Jan. 25 meeting.

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