State of the Cities 2016

State of the Cities 2016

January 27, 2016

Each year the North Clackamas Chamber hosts the Annual State of the Cities luncheon at the Monarch Hotel.  Around 230 people came to hear from their city Mayor’s about their past successes and future plans.  Present were Mayor’s Lori DeRemer of Happy Valley, Diana Helm of Damascus, Mark Gamba of Milwaukie, Dan Holladay of Oregon City and the Acting Mayor of Gladstone, Tom Mersereau.

Mayor DeRemer started us off by talking about the success of Happy Valley. The rapid growth they’ve been seeing and being named the fastest growing city in Oregon. With over 300 single family dwellings built in 2015, another 600 anticipated homes being built in 2016 and possibly another 600 in the next few years.  Their police levy passed by 82% in 2015; they took over the library and over 3200 new library cards were issued; they celebrated their 50th Anniversary; were honored with a Gold Leadership award for Sustainability; broke ground on the new Fred Meyer and retail development off 172nd; and are spending a great deal of time on business development and growth in their city.

When asked who to attribute the positive growth to, she gives the credit to her city staff and the community that has come together to make it a desirable and vibrant area.

Mayor Helm took over as Mayor of Damascus in 2015 with the unknown of whether or not the City of Damascus will remain a city. That will go to vote on May 17, 2016 but until then it’s been business as usual. Last year one of her first actions as Mayor was to do away with the citizen law suits that were pending; they held hearings to de-annex into Happy Valley – over 1000 acres has de-annexed but only some of that transferred to Happy Valley and some of it still remains in un-incorporated Clackamas County. Their council continues to hold meetings w/ their citizens and are readying themselves w/ a comprehensive plan should they vote to stay a city; Mayor Helm states the importance of listening to their citizens and doing what is right for them and in their best interest. If they do vote to dis-incorporate and no longer stay a city, she will honor that vote and not fight it.

Acting Mayor Tom Mersereau took the stage on behalf of the newly resigned Mayor of Gladstone. Which had happened just the night before during their city council meeting. Tom stepped up and did a good job representing them.  Tom provided their year in review. In 2013 voters approved a new library; in November 2015 a new city hall and police station has been approved and they are beginning that planning process. They have taken strides to hire new city staff to continue on their path of growth. A new city manager was recently hired, Eric Swanson who is hard at work already. They are close to hiring a new fire chief and are performing other city infrastructure upgrades that are necessary to continue meeting the needs of their citizens. A new code enforcement officer, police and communications systems; Sewer master plans and paving projects are under way; a new process for determining their next Mayor is being carefully considered by Council.

Mayor Gamba bragged on the new light rail in Milwaukie, their new bike and pedestrian paths; the paths being connected between the Trolley Trail and the Springwater Trail by using MTIP grants; the city hosted the Vietnam Memorial Wall that brought in thousands of visitors; a new boat launch and dock (which is currently closed due to rain storms weakening the bridge to get into the new park); creation of new trail systems connecting city parks; and the creation of the new Monroe Street green space. They are looking at simplifying zoning for developers to build mixed use properties; trying to create 20 minute neighborhoods that are mixed use, crossed for retail and residential.  Their city manager will be retiring in 2016 so they are also looking into their options to replace him. Possibly with in-house and a contractor combination.

Mayor Holladay out of Oregon City joined us again this year.  Last year was his first State of the Cities and a lot has happened since then. Six months into his term their city manager left. They had some major landslides from the storms causing some apartment complexes to slide and cause evacuations, which the community rallied around and helped out the families. Other partners were instrumental in helping, Clackamas Fire District #1, Clackamas County Emergency Services, the Red Cross and many community members were there to help.  They are moving forward with the Willamette Falls Legacy Project; the Carnegie Library addition is under way; the new $18 million police and courthouse complex will be taking over the old Mt. Pleasant school campus and much more is going on.

Mayor Holladay took a moment to plead with everyone to stand against IP28 Corporate Tax on Gross Receipts. Our legislature is considering this and it will be harmful to all businesses and consumers. They say it will generate over $5 million over a two-year period but the money isn’t designated to go to anything but the State’s general fund. It is not going directly to schools or senior program like they keep talking about.  This must be blocked by this community!

All the Mayor’s voiced their concern over the waste sewer treatment plant that is reaching the end of its life. The systems aren’t going to hold out for ever and there will have to be new digesters and systems built at the cost of $50-75 million dollars.  There is no way to avoid it – it is an absolute necessity but the cities would prefer working out the details amongst themselves and not have the County step in and take it over.  They are considering their options and it appears, still waiting for some reports and facts to help them with that decision making process.

Urban Growth Boundaries are a concern. Mayor Helm mentions that she was trying to “give land back” to Metro, so they could redistribute to other regions that have developable land. Damascus is not anywhere near developing any land that they have designated in the UGB but Metro wouldn’t change their plan. They say it’s the State law that prevents them from doing it, but the State says it’s Metro’s plan and they can change it.  So the land stays locked up and no one else can have any extra land that they need.  This will also keep the cities that can expand from doing so because Metro also has a rule about the number of homes that must be built on an acre of land. Its normal to build about 9 units per acre, but Metro is insistent that people build 20 units per acre but they won’t expand the UGB for the cities that can grow so their hands are tied.  But Metro themselves have land to build multi-family dwellings – meaning apartment buildings – so they are forcing people to move into Portland for “affordable housing” when that is not the life style all our citizens want or desire!

Laws needs to change to allow cities to trade designated, buildable land but maintaining reasonable and acceptable practices that don’t exceed the capacity that we have for waste water and other services they will need for new neighborhoods.