In spite of the adage that three is a crowd, a new group of citizen activists believe that a third grassroots effort is needed to protect local taxpayers.
The Results Through Representative Government political action committee is asking county residents to help stop the passage of two ballot measures. They are seeking donations to launch an educational campaign about the pitfalls of one citizen initiative to preserve the waterfront for a park and another to stop development in a forest zone.
“We decided on our name because we felt the fundamental flaw of these measures is that the process of government is being hijacked,” said Richard Lee, who will co-chair RTRG with Felix Tomlinson.
“We are trying to do something positive and not negative, we’ve got enough regulations for land-use, it’s really a slap in the face of our elected representatives to try to throw another layer in,” said Tomlinson.
Lee decided to step forward after receiving strong public support for a letter he wrote to the News this spring. In that editorial, Lee asked the “CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) People” to cease and desist in their quest to stop economic development within the county.
“I honestly think these measures will not pass if people are made aware of what the true issues are,” he said.
Lee teamed up with Tomlinson after they learned that the Citizens for Responsible Waterfront Development were only going to bring the park issue before 2,957 city voters. That move, said Lee, would squelch the voice of the other 6,828 taxpayers who lived within the borders of the port district.
“The ironic thing here is that the CRWD, in spite of its name, is doing a very irresponsible thing by alienating the majority of the voters and that’s a monumental issue,” said Lee, who lives within the city’s urban growth boundary and will not be able to cast a ballot himself.
Michelle Slade, spokesperson for the CRWD, said the group decided to bring the issue before city voters since the municipality is responsible for waterfront zoning. However, she said 10 percent of the signatures gathered to qualify the issue for the ballot came from county residents who were also supportive of the measure.
Lee said another point of what he believes is the irresponsibility on the part of the CRWD is that the group is asking voters to take uninformed action since the ballot lists no options to pay for the park. Dave Harlan, port director, said the average cost to construct a basic park is $200,000 per acre, with an additional $74,000 per year for maintenance.
Lee also said the riverside park measure was proposed without consideration for the number of family-wage jobs that would be lost by blocking any development along the shoreline.
“Quite honestly, when you look at the issue it seems rather elitist and selfish, and that’s unfortunate,” Lee said.
He said the port is already dedicating 44 of its 76-acre property to trails, parks and green space under the current planning process. Lee agrees with the stand of the port board that the remaining parcels need to have mixed-use development for job creation — especially during these tough economic times.
“The direction the port is headed right now addresses both ends of the spectrum and that’s fair to everyone,” said Lee, who regularly attends port meetings to stay briefed on waterfront planning issues.
Slade said the community of Hood River has historically shown a high level of support for more park space on the waterfront — including the recent purchase offer by resident Andy Von Flowtow. She said that property owners within the port district currently pay .03 percent of their home valuation in annual taxes to that entity. Slade said the typical home valued at $152,000 house brings $4.52 in revenue to the port — a total of about $36,000 each year — and that money would be well spent to develop 10 acres of park on Lots 6 and 7. According to Slade, a park that fostered more recreational opportunities would increase tourism and attract new businesses — thereby creating more jobs.
“We are more than willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work to make this (park) happen. Let’s keep looking at the long-term solutions for the waterfront,” said Slade.
Tomlinson said the RTRG is in the process of outlining its arguments against the Let the People Decide initiative concerning forest land, which just qualified for the ballot. He said both measures are probably not legally enforceable since they circumvent statutory processes for rezones. The LPD political action committee wants to give voters the right to affirm or deny any county approval of 25 of more homes or overnight units on property zoned for a forest use. Lee said county taxpayers will likely end up footing the bill for challenges that result from the passage of either measure.
“You can qualify just about any initiative for the ballot but whether it’s legal or not doesn’t get addressed until after the vote and that can really get expensive,” said Tomlinson.
He and Lee both feel that a lot of “misinformation” was spread during the signature-gathering drive for both measures. For example, Lee said numerous people appear to have been told that the port is seeking to “line the shoreline with 640 condos.” In actuality, Lee said there are no firm development plans for the waterfront since master planning has not yet begun — and that process will include ample opportunities for public comment.
“It’s frustrating to hear that the port is not allowing the public to be involved in waterfront planning. Some citizens don’t seem to realize that the port commission has been elected by the people and makes its decisions at open meetings, every one of which sets aside time for public comment,” he said.
“We need people to step up and say, ‘let the process work,’ there’s just too much polarization here,” Tomlinson said.
For more information on the RTRG and its political platform call Lee at 386-5876 or Tomlinson at 386-1802.