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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Ask Damascus and the Mayor state that this comprehensive plan takes away property rights of land owners and will cost from 1 to 3 billion dollars to build, so citizens should vote no on the referendum. Let me clarify why I put the Mayor with Ask Damascus. Orestar shows the Mayor gave an in-kind donation of $3,600.00 to Ask Damascus for the yard signs you see around the city. This is not a cash donation. It can only mean that the Mayor paid to have these signs printed and then donated them to Ask Damascus. But that is not my issue. My problem is that these signs are not telling the truth about the issues. They are signs to get an emotional vote based on fear by using the words “mortgage” and “protecting property rights” as well as the patriotic vote by using US Flags.

    The truth is, any comprehensive plan passed by our Council and Mayor will in fact cost a billion or more dollars over time to develop and will impact personal property. Isn’t it true, the real issue for some is the 100 to 200 foot riparian corridor and stream setbacks that they feel are to restrictive they want to be able to build up on the bluffs and near streams? It really boils down to those land owners who want to make money by developing their property without restriction.

    The citizens of Damascus voted to become a city, and with that vote comes the responsibility to development a responsible comprehensive plan and build infrastructure to support development and economic stability. Besides, it is state law for each city to have a comprehensive plan.

    To the citizens who did not vote to become a city and do not want to see Damascus change - a NO vote will not stop the comprehensive plan nor the development of the city. To protect what you love about Damascus, get involved and help us development a city that keeps the character and beauty of Damascus.

  3. Arbuckster: Thank you for your post and for stating your thoughts about the current environment in Damascus. We agree with you 100% that more people need to become informed and get involved. That is large part of what we are about.

    We are however, not advocating that these citizens simply choose sides. They should educate themselves on the issues, think about the ramifications for the future, and possibly use this blog and our Facebook page as a resource or a place to ask questions. We are committed to clarity and getting out the correct answers, not aligning with "sides" as neither has proven to be 100% accurate to date.

    There is no doubt that the Mayor is aligned with the Ask Damascus group. We do not think that has ever been in question. However, a quick review of ORESTAR shows considerable donations to the Save/Livable Damascus efforts by at least two of the sitting Councilors and four sitting Councilors are identified as supporters on their own web site.

    Our preference would be that neither the Mayor, nor ANY of the Councilors, be aligned with either "side" or group. We would completely support that as either individuals or a group, they state their opinions, and presumably those are based on the facts as they know them. A group or individual statement in the Voters Pamphlet would be acceptable as well. But aligning with, or giving money to either of these groups does not benefit the entire city, or adequately deal with the fact that they are responsible to represent all of our citizens, not just the ones they agree with. We are not expecting them to agree with all of our citizens, but be open to conversation and productive dialogue that has the opportunity to enlighten one or both.

    Thanks again for your post.

  4. It does not concern me that the mayor or councilors are associated with their groups as long as they are not supporting inaccurate or untrue information.

    Looking at the voters guide - Arguments in Favor:

    Help me understand where Save Damascus is providing accurate/inaccurate information.

    Were Damascus citizens given the opportunity to develop the core values or were they just written by the past mayor and councilors?

    Did the citizens of Damascus participate in the development of the comprehensive plan?

    Does the Comprehensive Plan protect property values?

    Does it protect natural resources?

    Is it possible, if the city does not move forward with a comprehensive plan, that the state could impose one?

    Where does Save Damascus miss the mark in their statement in the voters pamphlet?

    Now lets look at the Arguments in Opposition:

    Help me understand where Mayor Spinnett is providing accurate/inaccurate information.

    Was the formal plan decided on after last summer’s coffee klatches, if so, why is that an issue?

    Did the city invite all the citizens of Damascus to participate in a Coffee Klatch? Was this opportunity announced in the city news?

    Were there opportunities for the citizens to view and ask questions about the city’s new adopted plan?

    Did the Citizens Involvement Committee resign because the our city council refused to do a survey of the citizens?

    Were the Planning Commission’s recommendations disregarded by city council?

    Did the Planning Commission request more time and it was refused by the city council?

    Taxpayers Association of Oregon: Arguments in Opposition:

    Is it true that each household will pay $500,000 if this Comprehensive Plan moves forward or if resolution 3-375 is approved by voters?

    Was it important at the time the city council passed the Comprehensive Plan to have a discussion about the cost of the plan?

    Randy Shannon stated that the decision about the method of payment for future development in Damascus would be a political one that would occur later in the process. The Taxpayers Association of Oregon seems to imply this is a negative situation, but in light of the fact that the citizens voted down SDCs and taxes can’t be raised without a vote, won’t the citizens be making most of these decisions which makes this a political decision?

    The Taxpayers Association of Oregon states that the comprehensive plan is a “Cash-Eating-Monster.” Isn’t is more likely that the comprehensive plan will save us money because it promotes sensible, thoughtful development so that we are more likely to do things right the first time and don’t have to go back and correct mistakes?

  5. First, we are not here to try to help anyone understand the statements or assertions by either “side”. It would be inappropriate for us to answer for them. It is interesting however, that you do not have concern with the Mayor or Councilors aligning with “sides” since that appears to be working so well for the citizens of Damascus as whole. That and the fact that both “sides” have stated or published accurate, inaccurate and misleading information.

    As was mentioned in an earlier post, just because someone disagrees with a statement, it does not mean that it is false in its entirety. If you would like to ask a specific question about a specific statement, we will then do our best to answer with what we believe to be the factual answer.

    It is well known that the Core Values were developed by our citizens and that there was citizen involvement in the Comprehensive Plan process. However, there will always be some who feel that there was not enough opportunity as there will be those who feel that there was ample opportunity. We are not going to get into a “how high is up” debate as there are different perspectives on the issue.

    In regard to the Comprehensive Plan and property values, who knows? We personally have heard Metro in one statement say that expanding the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) increases property values and then just minutes later state that UGB expansion does not increase property values. The purpose of a Comp Plan within an UGB as defined by State law does not define anything regarding property values. It is a plan for orderly development to provide for future population growth and protection of natural features. Of course ideally, good planning would hopefully increase or stabilize property values. We feel that some may fare better than others and others may not even see a difference. We also feel that some who are concerned about whether or not they can develop, may not have any desire to do so; they just don’t feel comfortable with someone telling them they can’t or don't have the same opportunity of an adjoining parcel.

    Does the Comp Plan protect natural resources? It has too! State Planning Goal 5 addresses natural resources and provides somewhat of a template. The law requires that “significant” natural resources be identified and inventoried. This was started by the Natural Features Topic Specific Team (TST) with the assistance of Winterbrook Consultants. Phase two consisted of that committee crafting a recommendation to Council of how much protection should be given to those areas. This too is public record in regard to what the committee recommended and what was Councils final decision regarding those protections. There is however, reasonable concern with whether or not the inventory was fully completed as the consultants were dismissed prior to its completion. This issue is still an ongoing discussion both with Council and the Development Code team which has to work these recommendations and decisions into policy.


  6. (cont.)
    Is it possible, if the city does not move forward with a comprehensive plan, that the state could impose one? Yes, it is also possible for the state to leave us under the county guidelines as we are now. To impose a plan, would require that we still develop a zoning plan, development code, infrastructure master plans, in short, do everything that we would have to do for the plan we are working on. And in either case, once Damascus passed a comprehensive plan, the imposed solution from the state would be null and void. Which likely means that while the state could do that, actually doing so would seem to make little sense.

    We are not going to delve into the statements in the voter’s pamphlet as frankly there are many, and as stated earlier, both “sides” have made accurate and inaccurate statements. And once again, interpretation of those statements will probably not change the minds of those that are entrenched with one of the “sides”.

    In regard to the Mayor, if you would submit specific questions, we will do our best to answer. We would suggest that a far more effective thing in the long run would be for you to ask him yourself. But do so with an open mind and a willingness to listen. We would also request the same from the Mayor if you choose to speak with him. We would also suggest doing this in a one on one fashion and not in a public display that normally puts both parties on the defensive and very rarely yields anything productive from the exchange.

    Yes, the plan was adopted after the Coffee Klatches and the Public Hearings. The issue that we hear from those in the community is that there were changes made after those processes that were not on the table for discussion during them.

    In regard to the resignation of the first Committee for Citizen Involvement, we feel the public record in the media both electronic and in print speaks for itself. We don't think any of us, other than those members of the CCI could ever know exactly what all the issues that drove them to resign were. We have heard mention of the resistance to the survey, non-cooperation from some staff members, and a general feeling of being overly controlled. At the other end of the spectrum, we have heard a member who resigned, state that they were not involving themselves in city activities because they trusted their representatives, and thought everything was going just fine. For some reason, they also felt compelled to resign from CCI during that same period. Understanding all the motivations is likely never going to be possible.

  7. (cont.)
    In regard to your question about the $500,000 cost per household, no it is not a fact based statement. As mentioned in an earlier post, the cost of infrastructure that had previously been modeled was based on build out of the entire city. To take that number and divide it by the current number or households is not a true or factual statement or a reasonable assumption. (cont.)

    We do not believe that the Council had to pass the plan to discuss the cost. We believe that these could have been developed in parallel with the master plans required by each type of infrastructure. However, due to the questions from citizens at a variety of meetings as of late, we feel that it would be helpful for the citizens to have a clear understanding (not hard and fast numbers that are unavailable at this time) of the additional costs exclusive of SDC’s that the city and its citizens may be responsible for.

    We disagree with Councilor Shannon’s statement regarding this decision being a political one as this is not strictly the Council’s decision to make. Due to the City Charter amendments, funding mechanisms, including System Development Charges (SDC’s) will need to be ratified via vote by the citizens of Damascus. We feel however the success or failure of those measures will be in the way they are presented. If they are presented with transparency, clarity and honesty, they will stand a far better chance of being accepted. What will have to be disclosed is the fact (which Councilor Shannon is well aware of), is that development does not pay for all of the cost of growth. There will be some type of burden on the city and subsequent possibility, our citizens.

    We aren’t going to validate or invalidate statements by either “side” or any outside group as we are not prepared to judge motives and may not have all of the facts regarding why they made certain statements. As we comment on in our next Blog post, statements are made to stir emotion and win votes.

    Thanks again for your post.