Local government changes community character when we allow it

Dave Berg_thb

by Dave Berg

“Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier ‘n puttin’ it back in” – Will Rogers

Twenty three years ago we moved to our community because it represented many of our core values. It was clear to us that the community character was represented by unique people and local institutions. The school system was excellent, the library was widely supported, and local government encouraged residents to invest in their properties, rather than burden them with fees and red tape. Low density uniquely typified our city in what is now often referred to as a “village” culture.

Back then the city focused its efforts on public safety, parks, and street projects versus expanding its influence in non essential areas. It just seemed to be a very well run city that had enormous support from its citizens. With its stellar reputation, it sure seemed to us to be very unique.

Over the past ten years we’ve seen dramatic shifts in these elements of community character, all initiated by local government. I began hearing about these changes five years ago from citizens who were telling me the library wasn’t necessarily the pillar of the community as it just didn’t meet their needs with its current distribution of services and the prominence of the internet. Two years later a new library bond, part of an urban renewal scheme, failed miserably. It was a symbol of community discontent.

The pillar of an unobtrusive local government has changed dramatically. It’s no secret that many residents now believe our local officials over reached their authority by trying to impose their agenda on our community. They continued to pass ordinances including those imposing restrictions on our property rights under the guise of environmental programs (“Sensitive lands”). They wasted millions on unused assets and studies like one for a new streetcar. At the same time they dramatically increased our fees and water rates to the point where they are now the second highest in the Portland area.

In the end though, the result of all this is simply that our former pillar of an unobtrusive local government was shattered. How? It was shattered by a well defined political ideology, coming from Portland and carried through by local officials. Spending, debt, restrictions on our property, and visions of light rail cars connected to massive apartment bunkers dominated the decisions of our officials. Many now ask did those officials have loyalty to our community or to a regional strategy imposed upon us? Given that several officials have moved from our community shortly after their term expired, I think we know the answer to that question.

Today the final pillar of a low density community is under attack. Despite electing several “fiscal conservatives” and terminating the streetcar charade, we find our officials paying for and promoting high density once again. Now, the question is will our citizens allow that final pillar to be taken down? If they do it will change our community character forever and we will just become another suburb of Portland.

Hopefully, residents will continue to engage and dissuade elected officials from making decisions which impose a new community character upon them. Good governance requires that officials act with the informed consent of the community. That’s something past administrations thought they could avoid. Thankfully they failed, but let’s see if this continues in Lake Oswego.

Our community can be an example of what to watch out for throughout Oregon. There were distinct signs we missed over the last decade. The lesson learned is the pillars of your community only remain strong when citizens support them through actions which ensure not only your institutions but also your elected officials don’t over extend their “allowed” authority.

Dave Berg is a 23-year resident of Lake Oswego a board member of COLA LO, Chair of the Lake Oswego Budget Committee, and Co-Chair of the Legislative Committee of the Clackamas County Republican Party