Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"What's next for Damascus" (as published on OregonLive.com 5/18/11

Interesting perspective and we would like your thoughts.

The citizens of Damascus voted Tuesday night, and the results make clear that the great majority is not happy with the Comprehensive Plan developed to guide the future growth of our city. Whether the voters are displeased with the actual plan, the process by which it was arrived at, the direction it drives our city, or the council and staff who put the plan together, it is now painfully clear that our community does not support the current Comprehensive Plan.

Given that simple truth, it seems unavoidable that some changes are going to be needed to gain the trust, and approval of the people of Damascus. Ultimately, it may be that changes to the plan itself will not be sufficient. At a minimum, this council is going to have to do a far better job of communicating with the citizens than they have to date. The council and staff have spent much time and effort declaring that efforts to involve the citizens were top notch. They regularly wave around the Citizen Involvement Plan, and declare that it was accepted by the state, and has won awards. Missing from that narrative is the simple fact that no plan ever guarantees actual good performance, and this plan is a perfect example of that.

State planning Goal One, requires citizen involvement in all phases of planning for a city. But unlike every other state goal, Goal One is not judged by the results at the end of the process, it is judged by the plan at the beginning. This illustrates very plainly that only lip service is required to meet Goal One, and the Damascus history clearly shows the downside of the current focus on a plan, and no concern about the actual implementation of that plan.

The City Council has been asked time and again to spend more time just having conversations and discussions with the people of Damascus. Until recently, when the Committee for Citizen Involvement basically forced their hand by scheduling a Town Hall without waiting for council to agree, the current and former councils have been extremely reluctant to engage in open, unscripted dialogue with the people. This lack of communication has led our city to where we are now, and either the council will change how they and staff have handled communication, or the current division will worsen, with some very serious consequences for our city. It is time to spend as much effort actually talking to citizens, as the effort that has been put into claiming that they have.

Another critical area of evaluation that is required is whether the city has the right people in place to develop a plan that has the support and approval of the citizens of Damascus. Damascus is the first city in the State of Oregon to develop a plan for a new city. That alone should be enough to indicate that the people working on the plan should be experienced, knowledgeable, and well versed in the communication skills needed to discover the community’s desires and mold those into an acceptable plan. Oregon’s land use process was designed to be applied to the cities that were already in existence when the land use laws were adopted. By definition, the process in Damascus was going to be far different from that, and would by extension, require an even better strategy and plan to guide the work of both the staff and council.

That in-depth, well thought out strategic master plan to guide the process and work of so many people was never done. After a council retreat this year, the new city manager has been forcing the planning department to develop just such a strategic schedule, but the fact that massive amounts of time and money have been expended in a disorganized process should, and must, have consequences.

The lack of such a vital tool clearly shows that the management of the planning department either did not understand the necessity of such plan, or they did not value the resources they were trusted with enough to initiate such a basic concept to avoid wasting both time and treasure.

At a very minimum, the two things discussed here should be evaluated for ways to change the paradigm Damascus is in. The council must initiate and commit to better communication and informational dialogue with the citizens. If people do not feel they have been kept informed and involved, they will react badly. They showed that last night.

Second, and likely more important, changes to the staff are going to be necessary to regain the confidence and trust of the people in the process. Having watched the Ship of Damascus Planning be crashed into the rocks over and over for the last few years, it is time to put someone else behind the wheel. The citizens of Damascus responsibly pay their taxes every year. They should be able to feel confident that those in charge of expending those resources are behaving as responsibly.

Chris Hawes

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What will tomorrow bring?

Well, today is the day and we still have no idea what tomorrow will bring. The City Council added a work session after last nights meeting and our hope was that they were finally going to have a dialogue about the "Next Steps". Our hopes were quickly dashed.

Since we have no idea what the Mayor and Council are thinking and there has been no discussion, what do you think should happen? What do you think should be the "Next Steps"? What would you say to Council?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Just what are the "Next Steps"

The Tuesday evening election is looming large, and there are still many questions as to just what will happen depending on the result of the referendum.

For those who are still not clear on what the referendum actually does, it basically calls for a repeal of Ordinance 2010-45. That is the ordinance that the Damascus City Council passed and subsequently accepted the Comprehensive Plan, and gave the go ahead for it to be sent to the Department of Land Conservation and Development for the beginning of their review process.

This referendum does not get rid of the Comprehensive Plan, only the ordinance in which it was accepted. This raises the interesting question, “What’s next?”

Since it appears that there is either little interest or desire on behalf of the Council to set aside their differences for the sake of our city and our citizens, we will once again ask, “What’s next?”

What will the Council do depending on the result of the vote? By this time we would have hoped they could have recognized the political ramifications, or at a minimum the perceptions that will come by a knee jerk reaction or a lack of recognition by those that may vote on the other side of the pending result.

Our hope was that weeks ago, they would have sat down, acknowledged their division, agreed to put aside which “side” they have politicked for, and talked about the “Next Steps.” A simple discussion of what the Mayor expected or desired the Council to do, what the council expected or desired the Mayor to do, in focused terms regarding what it will take to review, gain some level of consensus, and craft a new ordinance to accept the Plan, or a modified one. A simple discussion of how the entire Council would acknowledge the concerns that have been raised during this referendum process and if there is a willingness to look and listen to those issues for possible change or implementation as the current Plan would then move forward.

This type of activity basically comes out of leadership. Some have said that we are where we are because the Mayor does not have the needed leadership skills. We are not going to pass judgment on that statement one way or another, but would ask the then obvious question. If that is the case, then why have not one of the other six members of Council stepped up and taken that leadership role? A role that would have tried to pull the Council together to discuss those “Next Steps.”

There has been discussion about the reality that the Mayor, and each Councilor, is individually only one vote. That is truly the case, and we would argue then, why isn’t anyone on Council willing to step up for the good of the citizens that they are elected to represent? All the citizens of Damascus! Not just the ones that may have voted for them, or now either voice support of them or have acted as a voice against others on Council. They are responsible to represent each and every citizen of Damascus.

Since the seating of this current Council, there have been new faces that have emerged in the crowd at the variety of Council meetings and work sessions. We applaud and encourage those new faces and would like to see more. But have those new faces brought forward constructive ideas, or have they just surfaced to create opposition to individuals on Council and further deepen the divide in our community? Only they can answer that question, but our observations are that these truly passionate people have yet to use that passion as constructively as we think would be helpful to us all.

Writing posts on local media web pages, creating blogs and web sites for the purpose of attack are nothing new. They also very rarely make much of a difference, as they are only viewed by those who are either on that “side” or those of the opposition who look for the opportunity to oppose a view. And the majority of those responses and the subsequent dialogue that takes place are very rarely constructive.

We are asking those of you who are visiting this Blog either as an active participant or a behind the scenes viewer, to talk to your Mayor and Councilors. At first, encourage, and if that does not work, then demand that they sit down and attempt to work together. It is too late to identify effectively the “NextSteps” based on the result of the referendum. It is however, not too late to discuss how they can best move forward to develop some way to acknowledge the statements and concerns that have been made during this rough campaign. There have been some reasonable statements and concerns raised by both sides, does the council have the desire and will, to acknowledge them and work them into their plan moving forward?

Time is running out and we encourage everyone regardless of your “side”, to educate yourself, ask questions, and most importantly, VOTE!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Cost Debate and Campaign Rhetoric

There has been significant debate during the referendum discussion, over the claims regarding infrastructure costs. Included in the Boring/Damascus Concept Plan, were estimates for infrastructure costs at total build-out that ranged from $1-4 billion. The current argument by the opponents of the referendum is that Council did not opt for that plan and subsequently developed a new one so those numbers are no longer applicable. While it is true that the new Comprehensive Plan is inclusive to Damascus, keep in mind those earlier numbers were developed against estimated costs based on 2003 dollars. Thus, knowing that the cost of petroleum based products for roads has risen, changes in prevailing wage laws, the falling value of the dollar, and cost escalations on just about everything else related to infrastructure development, you could reasonably estimate that actual costs could certainly fall within that range if not possibly higher.

It is difficult to use alignment with one group or another as any judge whether negative or positive. It’s widely known of the Mayors alignment with one of the “sides” here in Damascus, as it is of at least four of the members of the current council have also publicly aligned with the other “side”. So we would prefer to take alignment with one side or the other, at least for this election, off-the-table as a yardstick of accuracy or credibility. We feel it would be beneficial to have all members of the City Council; the Mayor included, refrain from ‘taking sides’ on future issues, or limit their activities to placing their own individual or group statements in the voter’s pamphlet. But for this election, unfortunately that horse is already out of the barn.

In any given election, one side will just about always say that the other side’s information is misleading, lies, or worse. The members of one “side” obviously feel that property rights are not well enough protected in the current version of the Comprehensive Plan, while others feel they are. Disagreement with another person’s opinion does not make the other person wrong, or mean that they are necessarily lying.

Possible methods for financing early development could be General Obligation, or Revenue bonds. These are bonds that would be issued by the city and would obligate the city to pay the buyers of those bonds back, with interest over time. While not technically called a ‘mortgage’, they do obligate the citizens, through the city, to pay back these funds, and one way to illustrate that concept in a way that most people will recognize, is to refer to them as a ‘mortgage’. We are not saying this is wise or the best term that could be used, but campaigns do this very regularly, from all sides of the political spectrum. Issues are displayed in a way that the campaign hopes will make them resonate with voters.

One poster here made the comment that the other side is looking for an emotional vote. It is likely that a more accurate term to use would be that the proponents of the referendum are looking for a sympathetic vote. Frankly, that is what campaigns do. Just as when the opponents of the referendum use the phrase, ‘Our Values, Our Plan’. They are trying to portray an inclusive message, and have people identify as being part of the ‘Our’. Plainly, there may be those in Damascus that do not feel that the values in the current plan reflect their values. So for them, the opponents of the referendum are also trying for an ‘emotional’ vote. It doesn’t necessarily mean that side is trying to be misleading, it is simply how election issues are framed and votes are recruited.

It should be noted that we could not find any State law that would force a city to build infrastructure wherever a developer might like it as was referenced in an earlier post that was deleted by the poster. For example, if a property owner on the eastern edge of Damascus went to the city with a plan for development, neither they, nor the State, can force our city to build a sewer line clear across the city to connect with the sewer on 172nd. That is why the master plans and the zone phasing will be done to plan an orderly progression of areas to develop.

We thank all whom have commented and for using this site. We hope the clarifications here will help others understand the process and create a desire to get involved!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Town Hall Forum Brings Folks Out

It was an interesting Town Hall Forum this evening at Damascus City Hall. The positive aspect was that there were folks who stated that this was their first city event. The negative is that there were some in attendance, that rather than ask questions pertinent to the current situation, they tried to take the opportunity to go after certain individuals on Council.

Moderator Louise Nielsen, did a good job of keeping the event on task, even though we felt it could have gotten started a little more quickly.

Most of the questions related to the Comprehensive Plan process, status and the future impact it would have on taxes and System Development Charges (SDC's). There was discussion about the estimates of costs and how they are being reported by the "sides" in the current campaign.

There was an interesting comment by the Mayor regarding his opinion that the referendum vote would have no effect on the Comprehensive Plan. That it would just keep "rolling along," or may "slowed a bit". A question from the back of the room of why then were we voting went unanswered.

One of the most pertinent questions of the evening, was if the Council was coming together enough to talk about the next steps after the elections results. Did they have a plan depending on the result?" That question also went more or less unanswered and showed the deep divide that exists.

There also appeared to be some inconsistencies from Councilors Ledbury and Shannon in regards to whether or not development would take place, whether or not a Comprehensive Plan was in place. Both painted a picture that developers could come in and develop without paying any SDC's and would take advantage of or city. Councilor Shannon did expound that development would probably only take place near existing infrastructure, primarily sewer and in the Carver area and along the 172nd corridor. A question was asked if that were truly the case that developers would be getting away "scott free" regarding fees, and whether or not there would be fees collected by Clackamas Co. and not the City of Damascus. Councilor Shannon stated that yes, he felt that at a minimum they would have to pay sewer and water SDC's. Councilor Ledbury wandered off into a comment about one home per parcel with septic. This can happen at this time with County approval and really added nothing to the discussion.

There was discussion about the Strategic Plan and Critical Path. Both Council and City Manager Dan O'Dell did their best describing a complex issue. There was also discussion about high density housing in which Councilor Helm shared her opinion that it would be spread out throughout the city and not condensed into pockets such as Rockwood. This is an admirable idea but may not be able to be reality. High density apartments are normally along traffic corridors and not nestled into Villages or Centers as proposed on the Comprehensive Plan map. This is another item that needs to be monitored closely moving forward.

All in all, it was a decent discussion. The Mayor at times took to making statements rather than answering questions and folks in the audience needed to be put back on track that they were there to ask questions and not make statements. For only the second of this type of event, it went well and we hope that the Committee for Citizen Involvement (CCI) will continue to host these events and we would suggest moving them around the city and into different venues. This would reach others in the city and break the stigma that some may have about coming to City Hall.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Welcome to The Damascus Citizen Coalition Blog, we hope that you will visit often and find it to be your site of choice for the most accurate and unbiased information regarding the activities in our community. The goal of our group is to encourage fact based discussion and the sharing of ideas, comments and concerns. There is a great divide here in Damascus and it is continuing to grow. We have two groups who seem to have little interest in working together for the betterment of our community. Their message often includes misinformation and scare tactics in order to get you to come to agreement with their "side" We are not a "side", we are a Coalition! We are Damascan's! We believe that we have far more in common than either "side" seems to realize. We believe that as citizens, we have a pretty good idea what we do not want Damascus to become. Together let us discuss these issues with fact based information and calm, sensible reasoning. With that power, we can truly create change and direct city policy that will build a Damascus for the future that is in alignment with our citizen crafted Core Values. While at the same time, respect the Damascan's who are here now! We want to ensure the quality of life that we moved here for and that ensure neither "side" can or will direct our city policy or council with their own interest and agendas. Welcome, we look forward to hearing from you and starting constructive dialogue with fact based answers.