Preserve nature area, but follow due process

Published in the West Linn Tidings and Oregonian:

There is a gem in West Linn – the White Oak Savanna. The 14-acre park boasts a stand of rare white oaks and at the top of its slope, a stunning view of the Willamette River and the Willamette Narrows. As you walk the nature trail, the towering majestic white oak trees are inspiring and humbling.

Thanks to the work of Neighbors for a Livable West Linn (NLWL), this nature area, which sits along Tannler Drive, is a refuge for a variety of animals and native plants.

NLWL has been working to expand the park by attempting to raise $1.72 million to purchase 5.65 additional acres adjacent the park. The group recently asked the city to support a grant request for $250,000 from Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

However, due to a lack of public process and the potential for future costs to the city of West Linn, I felt it was my duty to reject a resolution to approve the grant application.

By trying to expedite the process in order to meet the grant application deadline of April 4th, NLWL circumvented the city’s typical process, thus resulting in a lack of transparency and skipping the public hearing step.  This first came before the council on March 17th during Community Comments. Staff were given direction to research and do due diligence on the issue. During the March 31st work session, we held a special meeting to address the resolution.

Transparency and citizen involvement are my top priorities for the city. To bypass these steps and set precedence of not following due process does not align with these goals.

Another concern for me was the number of improvements that would be required at the city’s expense — $2 million for street improvements, $100,000 for a parking lot, trails and a play area and another $10,000 for the rezoning application. All the while, there are still outstanding improvements that need to be made to the existing White Oak Savanna to satisfy prior grant and City of West Linn requirements.

Also, if the City Council were to submit this grant request on behalf of NLWL, it would unfairly push back other projects already identified on the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP).  We have spent the last four years budgeting and prioritizing our projects so the public understands when these will occur and how they will be funded.  Reshuffling those projects already queued up would set another precedence of poor budget planning and a disregard for the citizens who participated in the processes to prioritize the Parks CIP.

There are other options for NLWL.  Ideally, NLWL could partner with a third party, such as a conservancy, to secure the property. That entity would then be responsible for the associated improvements as well as maintenance and upkeep of the land, with no cost to the city. There are several examples of these types of partnerships in West Linn, including an area in Barrington Heights between Riverknoll Way and Barrington Drive. Pursuing this option, NLWL could achieve its goal of expanding the White Oak Savanna without costing taxpayers any money.

I look forward to seeing NLWL’s future endeavors with this gem.


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