Monday, June 15, 2009

Community demands thorough public involvement process in stadium decision

With a formal proposal to construct a professional baseball stadium in Lents Park expected any day, Lents community members from all over the spectrum are demanding the Urban Renewal Advisory Committee allow for adequate public participation.

The URAC has scheduled an open house from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, June 18 at the Mount Scott Community Center in the working-class southeast Portland neighborhood. After that, the URAC is scheduled to discuss the proposal and decide how much money to allot toward the project.

A rally of Lents residents upset with the lack of transparency and public involvement is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday outside the center.

“We welcome Thursday’s meeting as an opportunity to get a first look at the plans for our park,” said Friends of Lents Park spokesman Nick Christensen. “But we also acknowledge that many of our members work during the day, and may not get to the Mount Scott Community Center in time to comprehensively evaluate what’s being planned for their neighborhood.”

As of Monday, no second reading of the proposal was scheduled — whatever a majority of URAC members agree to will be forwarded to the city council without public comment on whatever proposal the URAC drafts.

Just as important, URAC members will not be able to go back to their respective constituencies to see if the proposal is acceptable to the neighborhoods and interests they represent. The Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Area includes significant properties in five neighborhoods other than Lents, and portions of three more neighborhoods.

URAC leadership has refused to establish an adequate public participation process, saying a vote will only be delayed if a majority of board members ask for that.

They’re in lock-step with the city. In a June 1 e-mail, Amy Ruiz, an advisor to Mayor Sam Adams, wrote that if the URAC approves funding for the stadium, “the council will consider a plan for further public involvement” on the stadium’s aesthetics.

In other words, they’ll have public participation on how to build a professional stadium in a park used by thousands weekly — but not if a stadium should be built at all.

Friends of Lents Park is asking that the Lents Neighborhood Association hold an emergency meeting Wednesday, to allow Lents residents to vote and give guidance to its representatives to the URAC.

And the organization is calling on the city to use all of its resources to provide the Lents neighborhood with information about such a meeting.

“This is a city council that somehow, in this economy, thinks it can find $88 million to keep Merritt Paulson happy,” said Friends of Lents Park organizer Kathleen Juergens de Ponce. “We expect they can find a few measly thousand for adequate public involvement."

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