Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Council Summary: 11/13/06, with dirty pictures

These aren't official minutes, but here are my highlights of this evening's City Council meeting:

Height Reduction:

Council completed deliberations on new building height restrictions. They like the proposal to reduce building height from 35' to 28' in R1, R2, and R3, except to allow 35' for multifamily (>3 units) in R3. Remodels, additions, etc. will need to be within the 28' even if your house is >28'.

They want to allow a "conditional use" up to 35' in R3 for single family or duplex/ triplex, but that involves a hearing at which you will need to prove compatibility. As it was explained to me, you can only use "conforming uses" surrounding you-- ie., multifamily structures. Existing single family or duplex/ triplex structures >28' will be considered "legal non-conforming uses." They cannot be used to prove your 35' addition will be compatible with the neighborhood.

City Council asked Planning staff to prepare an ordinance stating all of this, so they can vote on it at the next meeting. After they pass an ordinance, it becomes law in 30 days.


Yes, it smelled even worse than it looks. Sewers have been a real problem lately, with some very dramatic system failures. There was a "special meeting" of City Council a few weeks ago to enact a new ordinance requiring residents to install backwater preventers in certain circumstances. This ordinance apparently helps shield the city from some liability in these failures. I thought these devices would not be necessary if the city replaced old pipes and cleaned them regularly. Wrong! One of the recent failures occured on newer sewer lines when a stick and a pipe piece jammed in a manhole. This could have happened the day after a cleaning. The problem is that it isn't completely clear who needs backwater preventers and who doesn't. If you can't figure it out from the diagram in the Hood River News, you should call Public Works at 386-2383. They'll take your name and get back to you with a definitive answer.

To deal with the broader issue of decaying sewer pipes and an aging system the council approved an ordinance to raise the residential sewer rate for most people from $36 to $40. There was a corresponding increase in rates for commercial and industrial users. This will fund projects which were identified in 2001 as critical to the continued operation of the system. For example, the clay sewer mains on Columbia Street will be replaced. This rate increase comes on top of the stormwater fee earlier this year, and the water rate increases last year-- it's been a very tough year.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Back To Work

Now that the election is over I'd like to continue to share my reflections and opinions on city government. I will probably rename my blog and open it up to comments so it becomes more of a dialogue than a monologue.

While I don't take office until January, there are some pretty pressing issues facing the city. There is a City Council meeting Monday (November 13) with two big items on the agenda: Sewer rate increases, and a building height ordinance deliberation.

With several serious sewer failures in the past year the city is revisiting a 2001 CFP (Capital Facilities Plan) which recommended increasing monthly sewer charges from the current rate ($36 residential) to a new rate ($48 residential) over several years. The 2001 CFP recommended a series of projects to shore up the system, none of which have been funded because current rates just cover basic maintanence.

Discussion will continue on a proposal to limit building heights to 28 ft instead of 35 ft in R1, R2, and R3 zones. 35 ft may still be allowed as a conditional use, or for multifamily dwellings (in R3). I think the public hearing has been closed on this subject, so if you still have comments you might address them directly to the sitting city councilors before the meeting.

Finally, I'm pretty concerned about the effect of the Highway 35 closure on our city. Right now we just a have a flurry of speculations about when parts of the road may be accessible, but the economic effect could be anything from devastating (long closure, no ski traffic or seasonal jobs) to a real economic boon (all traffic through Hood River for a while). If you haven't seen pictures of the damage it's hard to imagine a speedy repair. But Dave Riley, COO of Meadows Ski Area has a more upbeat assessment. We'll have to hold tight and wait for news from ODOT over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Many Happy Returns

Tuesday evening I was given the following preliminary results. The top three were elected to a four year term on City Council:

Paul Blackburn: 1197 votes
Arthur Babitz: 1163 votes
Carrie Nelson: 920 votes
Martin Campos-Davis: 796 votes

I could say many things, but tonight I'll just say one: It is both gratifying and overwhelming that 1162 people formed enough of an opinion about me in the past 8 weeks to mark the oval next to my name. Tomorrow morning I need to start taking down lawn signs, write some thank-you notes, and start doing my homework.

Update: Final updated results were published in the Hood River News Wednesday morning.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

For Political Junkies Only

I've used my blog for a pretty candid discussion of my campaign, but I decided to leave the strategy discussion for election day. I wrote this post a few days ago so I wouldn't be either smug or full of second thoughts.

The election math: We have less than 3200 voters in the city, of which I expect about 2000 to cast ballots. I expect ~35% of the voters who cast ballots will not vote for city council. With a 4 person race for 3 seats, that means I need about 1000 votes to get a seat. Here's my strategy to get >1000 votes:
  • get name recognition
  • convert name recognition to support
  • get out the vote
First, some details on Oregon election law (note-- there will be some major changes in 2007). State law requires you to form a Candidate Committee if you plan to spend more than $300. This requires a few forms, and a dedicated bank account to handle all moneys collected or spent. If you keep your total income/ expenditures under $2000 you have much simpler reporting rules. My total expenditures were ~$1750, so I was allowed to follow the "light" reporting rules.

I funded my campaign with money contributed by friends, most in $50 chunks. $50 is a magic number in Oregon-- the state allows a $50 credit on your income tax for qualified political contributions, so many of my friends will get their $50 back when they file their Oregon state income tax next year. It's surprising how few people actually use their $50 credit each year. It allowed me to raise the money for my campaign relatively painlessly.

To get some name recognition I put up about 60-70 lawnsigns (~$300), trying to get at least one on every main street or neighborhood. I also put up 3 larger signs (~$90)-- 2 opposite Safeway, and one at the intersection of Front St and State St.

I then printed door hangers (~$300) and started the door-to-door ($27 for voter list). I started by talking much too much-- while I learned a lot I didn't cover enough ground. I also learned some simple math for canvassing: The ideal team is one man and one woman. No social commentary intended, just observation-- On days when I went alone or with another man I made far fewer positive contacts than on the days I had a female helper. Another lesson I learned-- the color picture on the door hanger was really worth the extra money. You have so few ways to make a real connection with the voter. A good color picture creates that positive first impression, which can hopefully be converted to support.

I did three major waves of emailings to my known supporters ($0), asking them to contact friends and colleagues. I think this was pretty successful, since several people told me they received notes from several people telling them about my campaign.

Through my canvassing I found that my name recognition was pretty good (people had seen the signs), but they were wondering who I was. Several of my friends "volunteered" to send Letters to the Editor ($0) to the Hood River News, so I got a bit of free advertising as well as some public endorsements. This helped to give people a little bit of an image of what I stand for-- or at least who supports me.

I put a lot of effort into my submission for the Hood River News Q&A on the city council race($0), as this would be the only chance for voters to make a direct comparison between the candidates. I believe a large number of voters read this "interview" carefully and weigh the responses heavily in their choice.

I wasn't nearly as good canvassing as I had planned, so I decided I needed to do a direct mailing to the 3300 registered voters. I did a small postcard (~$1000 w/ postage) which was timed to arrive in the mail with the ballot. Again I used a color photo, a brief message, and pointers to my website and other contact info so they could find out more.

My hope was that my website could do the conversion from name recognition to support for some percentage of the voters. While I don't have much proof, I had ~500 site hits and numerous people have told me they read the website. I think it was well worth the effort (and the price($0)). By tracking the day-to-day hits, I think the letters to the editor were the most effective way to get people to my website, followed by canvassing, with the postcards trailing.

I've spent the past 2 months going to just about every public event to get my name and face out there. But by far I feel the most productive way to convert the name recognition to support has been by courting the opinion leaders in the city. Since so little info is available about city council candidates, many voters will ask someone they trust who they should vote for. I tried to get to as many of those people who people trust so I would be one of their recommendations.

I also did a few "meet and greets" where friends invited neighbors over to meet me and discuss the issues. I wish I had done more of these-- while you only meet a few people you can really make a strong contact. If I were starting again I would put more effort into the meet and greets than canvassing, on the theory that those strong supporters will convert their friends and neighbors.

Turning out the vote has been difficult-- I don't want to do random phone calls because I think they are annoying-- so I have been trying to do a phone tree/ email tree with my supporters contacting their friends. I'll admit that my energy has declined a bit in the last days of the campaign. With vote by mail you know there are fewer and fewer voters to convince each day, so it becomes harder to put energy into the campaign.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Election Day, 1857

On the second Monday of November, 1857, the voters of the Oregon Territory had a ballot with just two questions:
  • Do you vote for the Constitution? Yes or No?
  • Do you vote for slavery in Oregon? Yes or No?
The Constitution passed and slavery failed, paving the way for statehood in 1859.

This November 7 there are 10 statewide questions for voters to answer "yes" or "no." Your mark will decide these questions, just as the voters did on that ballot 149 years ago.

On the Waterfront

Debate about uses of Hood River's waterfront probably predates the city's incorporation. Going door-to-door I've heard a lot of opinions on the latest incarnation of this discussion: the Lot 6 waterfront park. There are the two major schools of thought:
  • We need to build this park for the future of our city.
  • How can we spend money on a park when our sewers are collapsing?
To me, development of this park is only a small part of the story. For years we've had an underutilized industrial park in our city's front yard. The City and the Port have butted heads, creating a difficult environment to make anything happen. For the first time in a long time I think the will is there to move forward-- carefully.

A little history: The Port of Hood River is a corporation chartered to promote the economic development of the port district-- initially by purchasing and maintaining the Hood River Bridge. They own much of the waterfront land, but the City controls zoning of those lands. City government answers to city voters, the Port answers to voters in the port district (most of Hood River County less Cascade Locks). City voters have expressed strong support for park development along the waterfront. Many county residents have been more interested in bringing industry to the area to generate jobs. These divided interests have been at the core of the conflict for many years.

It seems like we're finally seeing the elements of a compromise. City and port district residents both seem to see the value in mixed use development on much of the port lands-- and the dedication of a part of that land as a city park is the cornerstone of this compromise. I don't want to oversimplify the remaining challenges, but as the park moves closer to reality I think it will become easier to line up the political will to agree on the framework for developing the land near the park. Yes, there are funding issues, riparian protection issues, zoning and planning issues-- but the number of people arguing for 100% industrial development or against development of any sort seem to be dwindling. A compromise promises the aesthetic, environmental, and recreational aspects demanded by city voters, while providing the real economic benefit that empty industrial land has been unable to provide.

I've addressed the funding issues in the Hood River News and I'm sure we'll have plenty of additional chances to discuss the details, but for now I'll just make a sweeping prediction: the funding will happen, because so much more is involved than just a waterfront park. This is one of those rare instances where the actions we are taking will create a real legacy for the future residents of our city. Remember what the waterfront looks like now, because it will soon be history. Our job now is to make sure the end result will have been worth the wait.