Frank O'Donnell for Oregon City Commission

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Oregon City stands firm on voter approved annexations

Raymond Rendleman


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Incumbent candidates on November ballot consider another appeal of state law trumping city policy.



Oregon City commissioners facing election in November want to enlist other cities in a fight to retain voters' rights to weigh in on annexations, despite a new state law that effectively erases such provisions in city charters.

Commissioners Denyse McGriff and Frank O'Donnell, facing a Nov. 3 decision by voters, insisted the city stand firm on its position to reject annexation proposals that aren't referred to the ballot. They received support from the other two commissioners during a Oct. 13 meeting; Mayor Dan Holladay, a supporter of the state law trumping city authority, was absent from the meeting.

In 2016, the Oregon House of Representatives voted 32-28 to approve Senate Bill 1573, which allows annexations to bypass voter approval if certain criteria are met. Following various reversals on annexation policy, McGriff sees home-rule authority as particularly important for Oregon City, which was established in 1844 — 15 years before the state in 1859.

"We have, like, super home-rule, I guess, if there is such a thing," McGriff said. "I have always been either of the informed opinion or the uninformed opinion that that had some merit."

O'Donnell said that he isn't going to compromise his long-held values just because Oregon's Court of Appeals rejected an appeal this May from the cities of Corvallis and Philomath.

"I always feel that the state continues to infringe on home-rule in many venues," O'Donnell said. "I'd love to have a review by League of Oregon Cities and see if there's any collective interest."

O'Donnell's opponent in the November election, Jeff Akin, is endorsed by the Home Builders Association of Metro Portland, which sees voter-approved annexations as another potential hindrance to maintaining a buildable supply of land to meet regional employment and housing needs.

Commissioner Rachel Lyles Smith said the land within the urban growth boundary is intended to become part of the city within 20 years anyway, potentially making voter-approved annexations a moot point.

"I do support home rule; I just wouldn't want to do the legal battle all by ourselves," Lyles Smith said. "It's a legal battle that we're going to lose, but it's one we could go in on."

Commissioner Rocky Smith said that it's Oregon City's time to take the lead, having saved some legal expenses by not taking part of the original lawsuit.

"There were a lot of people in this city who thought that we should have joined on this lawsuit to begin with, and I'm one of them," Smith said. "We let them do it on their own for us, and maybe it's our time to step up, and maybe that would generate some more interest in it."

If they're interested in challenging the appeals court decision, Oregon City's attorney recommended that commissioners work to remove a provision in the charter about annexations going to voters "unless mandated by law." The attorney said that another potential way to address concerns of voters would be to strengthen the codes and regulations that developers need to meet to receive annexation approval by the Oregon City Planning Commission or city commissioners.

For now, Oregon City's website will keep a statement from elected officials that the city won't approve annexations without a vote of the people. Emergency sewer annexations are exempt from this policy, but city officials are now bracing for a potential legal challenge from a developer seeking a larger annexation of buildable land into the city.




Oregon City breaks ground on Public Works complex

Raymond Rendleman


Thursday, October 01, 2020

$12.8 million construction project kicks off at former General Distributing Inc. warehouse on Fir Street

PHOTO COURTESY: KRISTIN BROWN - Oregon City commissioners Rachel Lyles Smith, Denyse McGriff, Rocky Smith and Frank O'Donnell kick off construction of the city's Operations Complex located at 13895 Fir St.

City officials on Sept. 29 kicked off construction of an Oregon City Operations Complex at 13895 Fir St., the nearly 5-acre site of a former beverage distribution company's shuttered warehouse.

Oregon City's $12.8 million construction project has secured planning permission to proceed and is expected to be completed by the end of 2021. City commissioners unanimously voted in 2018 to approve the $7.1 million purchase to create this development for the city's Operations Complex.

John Lewis, Oregon City's Public Works director, acknowledged that it's been a long road to groundbreaking, in a process fraught for years with controversy trying to expand at another location. Now city officials are hoping the investment provides the opportunity to return Public Works' current Center Street property to the tax rolls and resolve the question of Waterboard Park.

"The Operations Complex will house the Public Works Department, Engineering and Operations, and Parks Maintenance together and will create efficiencies, continuity and cost savings," Lewis said.

In 2018, a county judge determined that the current Public Works area was never dedicated as parkland, even if thought of as parkland by local residents. Neighbors had threatened to appeal the decision that would have cleared the way for construction at the site without a public vote, but another site on Fir Street was found for the expansion, just in time.

Oregon City has been saving funds, approximately $12.5 million, over 15 years to provide a modernized Public Works Operations Center. While both public works and parks departments provide important services, the old facilities were poorly located and ill equipped to keep up with Oregon City's growth, said City Commissioner Frank O'Donnell.

"The centralized location and size of this facility allow significant savings by downsizing the Parks Maintenance Facility, providing service efficiencies for both the present and future, while improving the quality of life by moving this facility from a residential neighborhood to an industrial area," O'Donnell said. "Prior planning and saving, combined with tireless efforts by the city staff and construction team who reviewed every aspect of the project has resulted in a project that will be delivered on time and under budget. My compliments to all involved."

Seismic reinforcements will be part of the renovations on Fir Street to protect emergency response personnel housed in its building. Modifications to the 26,000-square-foot office building will provide for a reception area, customer service counter, training room, conference room, enclosed offices, open workspaces, storage and break room.

Another more than 8,500 square-foot space will house a fleet workshop and vehicle wash-down area, indoor storage for material and equipment. Equipment involved with the construction, maintenance, and operation of the city's transportation network, sanitary sewer and storm water systems, and parks maintenance will have 51,000 square feet of covered storage areas.

The lot includes two 10,000-gallon fuel tanks with pumps, and all existing warehouse facilities are equipped with heat and fire suppression.

Although they fought the lawsuit, city officials had never been completely happy with the previous location for a Public Works expansion, which is a constrained site that would

With a lack of large parcels available for purchase, Oregon City worked to create a master plan for the current Public Works Operations Center, near Waterboard Park at 122 S. Center St. Building the operations center at the site next to the park would have cost more than $21 million, officials estimated.

PlanB Cost Consultancy LLC, Scott Edwards Architecture and Emerick Construction Company are under contract with the city to complete this Operation Complex project on Fir Street.




Oregonians stand strong throughout tough year

Frank O'Donnell


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Oregon City Commissioner Frank O'Donnell: I'm proud of our communities and proud to be one of you in this place we call 'home.'

COURTESY PHOTO: DAVID PIERCE - A friend of Oregon City Commissioner Frank O'Donnell's took this photo of an American flag in the wake of West Coast wildfires.

COURTESY PHOTO: DAVID PIERCE - A friend of Oregon City Commissioner Frank O'Donnell's took this photo of an American flag in the wake of West Coast wildfires.


It's been a tough year, first with the COVID virus, and now with widespread fires. We've suffered losses of both our loved ones and precious possessions, including our homes. We've seen a small amount of people at their worst, but a great number of our people at their best — giving, caring, sharing.

My friend took this picture, and it made me think of all of us: tattered, a bit worn-out, but still standing strong. I'm proud of our communities and proud to be one of you in this place we call "home." Stay strong and continue to look out for each other.

Frank O'Donnell is a city commissioner for Oregon City.




Oregon City to pay off urban renewal debt, saving $500,000

Raymond Rendleman


Thursday, August 20, 2020

COVID-19 economic pressures push city in the direction of following will of most voters

Oregon City commissioners voted unanimously on Aug. 19 to use urban-renewal funds to pay off the city's remaining debt and save more than $500,000 in taxpayer money on interest payments.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Frank O'Donnell is chair of the Oregon City Urban Renewal Commission.

In recognition of how the national economy under COVID-19 has increased the cost of its urban-renewal debt, Oregon City will finally head in the direction of following the will of most city voters who authorized a citizen-initiated charter amendment in 2016. However, a Clackamas County judge ruled in 2017 that state law gives power to the Oregon City Commission, not to voters, to shut down the city's urban-renewal program.

Oregon City's move to pay off its debt falls short of the 2016 vote's request to close down the urban-renewal district completely. While they are not shutting down the district at this time, Oregon City officials will hold another hearing in September to change the city budget and pay off the debt by Dec. 1.

In paying off the debt, Oregon City's Finance Director Wyatt Parno said the risk to the city was low of losing out on a great project, giving the example of Intel offering to solve all of the city's problems through a development proposal. In ending the urban-renewal program, Parno said the city will address remaining debt that has interest payments now significantly higher than interest earnings on invested reserves.

"If you pay off the debt today, you'll save over $500,000, about $510,000, and anytime you could borrow from the city if anyone came in and you needed access to those funds," Parno said.

Commissioner Frank O'Donnell, chair of the group overseeing the urban-renewal program, pointed out that the city will still accumulate about $3 million annually from the urban-renewal district that could be used toward development projects.

"Why not pay ourselves rather than pay a higher rate to an outside banking industry?" O'Donnell asked. "To me it's basic household management: If I owed $10,000 on my car at 4% (interest) and had money earning nothing, I'd pay it off."

Mayor Dan Holladay said the current urban-renewal politics are forcing "a long community discussion" before any development projects could take place using tax-increment funds.

"I'm not terribly worried about having the money to do a project in this three-year period," Holladay said.

Over the coming year, Oregon City's Urban Renewal Commission has pledged to engage a wide range of citizens in planning what should happen next with the program. On Aug. 5, the agency voted 4-2 (with O'Donnell and Commissioner Rocky Smith voting no) to engage Leland Consulting in a $82,911 contract to facilitate a public process for the community to learn about urban renewal and provide input about whether it should be used as a development strategy moving forward.






Why city commissioners support recall of Mayor Dan Holladay

Frank O'Donnell


Monday, October 05, 2020

Frank O'Donnell: Oregon City can 'heal, regroup and refocus on the community we wish to be' 


The first duty of any government, national or local, is to provide for the safety and welfare of its citizens — not only their physical safety but their welfare by providing a setting where they can go about their lives, raise their families and earn a living in a safe and prosperous setting.

Faced with not one but a series of mayoral actions that were enumerated in the June 17 censure motion, my fellow city commissioners and I unanimously voted to censure the mayor and issue a vote of "no confidence."

We did so to protect Oregon City from the very turmoil that was and is tearing apart Portland, to protect our neighbors from the ravages of COVID-19, to demonstrate to the state of Oregon that Oregon City is not a bunch of outlaws and to demand that the mayor act as a member of the City Commission and not as a dictator. We were in danger of being labeled as racist, intolerant, unattractive to business development and encouraging of civil disobedience to state of Oregon legal actions designed to ensure our safety.

Thankfully, four of our five previous mayors joined with local civic organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Oregon City Association and prominent citizens in our educational community to both make clear to the world our true nature and to support your commissioners whose ability to control the actions of a mayor were limited, by law.

Out of an ugly and endangering series of events the exciting and empowering actions of our citizens resulted. Despite the coronavirus, widespread fires, smoke and rendering assistance to others who were displaced, Oregon City citizens took action to successfully gather signatures for the recall of the mayor.