If We Do This, What Don’t We Do

By Jeff Gudman

City Council is in a bind, mostly, of their own making. Over the past few years, Council more or less promised to build a wonderful aquatic/recreation center; remodel the municipal golf course and club house; make significant improvements at the Raseekh property including a multi-use athletic field, playground and picnic area and a skate park; and pickle ball courts somewhere in the city. Despite warnings received in public and by the city manager, the council proceeded as if there was a money tree in the back yard and never seriously exploring the question of …..…”if we do this, what don’t we do” and “how do we pay for this”. In early 2021 various inflation figures jumped to double digits and remained in double digits year on year since. Council continued to add new unfunded projects or expanded existing projects without determining if there were sufficient funds for existing projects. The result…….raised and now dashed expectations for a wide spectrum of residents, deferment of the Raseekh project, no pickle ball courts and possible reducing funding for roads and other needed projects for the next few years. Lake Oswego roads are worse than most other cities in the metro area.

In 2019, in an opinion piece in the Lake Oswego Review, the latest iteration of a pool proposal first included as a $7 million line item in the Lake Oswego School District’s May 2018 bond measure noted the Council left the most basic questions unanswered: What will a new aquatic/parks/rec facility cost to build and operate, and who/how will pay those costs? What does not get built and what program(s)/service(s) gets reduced/eliminated if a bigger facility is built?

These challenging questions were not answered before the Council and school district embarked on what was, at that point, a rather nebulous idea – one with ever-changing plans for the aquatic/park/rec location and a price tag for building that could reach $45 to $50 million or more. The predicted cost has come home to roost.

In 2021, in an opinion piece in the Lake Oswego Review, Council and Lake Oswego School District (LOSD) noted Council had previously agreed to evenly split the capital construction costs of an aquatic and recreation center ($30 million not including transportation improvements to surrounding roadways, etc.) on Stafford Road. That it not the way it was working out, with the City on the hook for an increasingly larger share of a rapidly growing price tag, estimated by Council to be $36 million and change.

And in both opinion pieces, the concept that as the price of the aquatic/recreation center rose, other projects would have to be put aside is now coming to pass. Council had been warned. No one on Council should not realize that all of this shouldn’t come as a surprise. A $45 million and change pool complex with the city on the hook for almost all of the increases. The Council is facing choices that it should have foreseen and were advised of.

And Council continues moving ahead without asking basic questions. These actions include but are not limited to:

  1. A McVey Avenue study from State Street to Overlook Drive where the consultants first report says 1) there is no funding identified for any improvements and 2) McVey Avenue is constrained 3) It should be safer to travel – who knew!
  2. Building new pathways when there is a backlog of existing pathways not up to standard.
  3. Creating a 21st century visioning task force for our wonderful library but not charging the task force with how to pay for 21st century library services or where it should be.
  4. Buying open space at $800,000 an acre when other open space can be purchased for $150,000 an acre.
  5. Adopting a long-term economic development strategy with elements where there is no funding after year one. Using one time ARPA federal funds to fund ongoing Chamber of Commerce operations is not a sound strategy.
  6. There has been no discussion about PERS contribution rates for retirement going up in 2023 – 2025 and again in 2025 – 2027. There is no choice paying those dollars.

Again and again, Council moves ahead with admirable goals without asking and answering basic questions including……… “if we do this what don’t we do.”

It is easy and a lot more fun to say what you are for, especially when the shiny new thing is something like a recreation/aquatic facility which has value to the city. But it is not so easy or fun to explicitly acknowledge what will not be done. And saying that we will “let staff figure it out” or that “we have always worked it out before” are unsatisfactory answers. We heard that too many times before, most notably when it came to the streetcar between Lake Oswego and Portland.

The best quality of politics at its best is prudence: adjusting tidy principles to untidy realities. In other words…nuance. This requires making judgements that balance competing interests. In other words…..trade-offs. This the council has been avoiding although the City Manager has been warning them. Pleasing everyone is impossible.

There is a difference between want and need. Council appears to be in favor or everything – which means they are in favor of nothing. Council must think more about what is needed and what are the trade-offs. You anticipate what might happen, good and more importantly, bad. You can win a lot with candor. It is a lot easier, very much easier, to visualize the future than to get there. Execution and implementation is hard.

For the projects to be completed, what is to be done going forward? The least-worst decision is:

  1. Mea Culpa – Acknowledge the previous errors in judgement.
  2. Acknowledge nuance and trade-offs.
  3. Recommit to finishing the four projects identified above.
  4. Do not take money away from maintaining roads or other needed projects.
  5. Purchase land in Stafford to address long term needs, not wants.
  6. Ask the voters, with a bond measure for additional funds.

Elected officials can’t hide from residents the cost of its wishes. Trying to do so is an attempt to produce the end without identifying the means to an end.

Jeff Gudman
4088 Orchard Way
He can be reached at JGudman7150@msn.com
Jeff Gudman served as a Lake Oswego city councilor from 2011-2018.