Thursday, August 23, 2012

Urban Renewal Passes the New Library Project: My Statement

On Wednesday, August 22, the Urban Renewal Agency board voted to move forward with the most recent plan for a new library, city hall/offices, and additional parking downtown.  As a member of this board, I was part of the meeting, heard the presentation, and listened to feedback from various citizens.  After many months of studying this plan, looking at the statistics, and strategizing sustaining this project for the long term, my vote was “no”.  Please let me be clear:  my vote was “no” to the plan presented.  I did not vote against the library. 

As an agency, we approved the funds for the library project.  But much like any undertaking of this size and impact, careful planning must take place.  Do you think every blockbuster film that has made millions of dollars was perfect with one take?  To use an old, but tried and true, cliché:  was Rome built in a day?  No plan will be 100% perfect, I understand that is a reality.  Let me outline some of the key parts of the plan that, after thoughtful and careful consideration, I had questions and concerns with.  These points are what provoked my vote of “no” and to explore addendums and improvements to the proposed project.

  1. The Vision of Downtown.  I love our town and am passionate about Canby.  I patronize the downtown businesses on a regular, weekly basis.  My family visits the library many times in a given week.  If the true purpose of urban renewal is to “relieve blight” and “stimulate economic growth”, a library alone will not do that.  What are the other plans and foresight for the rest of downtown?  Are there plans for economic stimulus incentives for new businesses?  Will the façade improvement program be revamped?  All of these issues are supportive parts of the picture to truly make urban renewal successful.  If the citizens of Canby elect me as mayor, these are some of the main questions I will address and programs I will consider to help support the evolution and success of downtown.

2.    Sustainability of the New Library.  One concern of mine is how will we pay for the operations of the library once it is built?  This last budget cycle, the city cautiously added $70,000 to the library to meet their short fall in operating costs.  There is a high probability that the city’s budget will not afford this next year or in year’s to come.  The city budget is tight.  It’s my concern that we will either have staffing issues or other departments in the city will suffer due to the staffing needs of the library.

  1. Community Input.  With previous projects of this size, we have had a more involved and planned community input.   We sought the advice of property owners, business owners, fire chiefs, and community member’s input on plans like First Avenue and the police station.  My hope was that we would have this same level of input from citizens with the library.  This was not the case.

  1. Parking and Loss of Viable Economic Real Estate.  Mr. Ellis shared with me the statistics of a parking study that showed Canby had ample parking, even with a new library added.  Why build a parking lot when we have a prime piece of real-estate that could be used for businesses to further enhance our 1st Avenue development and draw people from 99E?  Parking lots do not provide economic growth or revenue.  They don’t provide jobs.

In my opinion, it was evident at the meeting that everyone had a passion for our community and the library.  I do not disagree that a library, of all the public buildings, can help with economic development.  I am a library fan!  My family are fans of the library.  If you asked my daughter, “Should we build a new library, sweetie?”, her immediate answer would, of course, be “yes”.  That is the emotional side of the debate.  We cannot forget the financial and execution side of the debate either.  Although citizens’ taxes will not be affected by this project, it is taxpayer money that we are spending. 

Furthermore, I had concerns with the "cart being before the horse" in this plan.  We haven't secured all the land that the proposed library will be built on; that lands still belongs to Canby Utility.  This is just one example of possibly not being as prepared as we can be to make sure this is the best project it can be.  I would hate to see things unravel due to technicalities.

Moving forward, I support what is going to be a beneficial and integral library in our downtown community in Canby.  As mayor, it would be my intent that we build the best library that we can and the rest of downtown is not left behind.

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