Friday, June 28, 2013

Baker City's Contribution to Democracy, Citizens On Patrol, Land Use Planning--Transportation Plan

I comment to Baker City government when I can and I ask for information routinely. Sometime my comments are treated with respect and responded to, usually by City staff, as opposed to Councilors. Often, certainly in the past, my comments to Council go down the memory hole, somewhere near the bottom of the digital trash can. Currently, at least prior to the last week or so, they are just ignored and never see the light of day, even in the local papers.

Just recently, Baker City has improved their ability to take comments from citizens.  I for one, have great difficulty speaking in public--especially to powerful people who I believe do not understand or  respect me--thats why I write a lot.  Others also do not feel comfortable expressing their opinions to Council at a Council meeting for various reasons, perhaps similar to mine, or, perhaps related to the class they find themselves in.  Now, anybody can post their concerns to the city on their website.  Just go to the "Latest News" link on the website and scroll down through the news to a subject that interests you. The website is currently very slow on my Mac, but maybe you will have a different experience.  They had a Google virus alert a few weeks ago during the transportation plan process when people were trying to access the necessary documents, but it seems to have been taken care of. It might take some patience. When your subject of interest shows up, read the info and at the bottom you may find a comment or two and an opportunity to comment yourself.

For example, for the "Citizen On Patrol Volunteer--Community Information Meeting" that occurred on June 20, 2013, they have:

The Baker City Police Department is seeking volunteers who want to make a difference in our community.

What Is The Citizen On Patrol Program (C.O.P.)? The Citizen on Patrol Program is a volunteer program that works hand-in-hand with the Baker City Police Department for the overall safety, health and vitality of the Baker City community.

What Do Citizen On Patrol Volunteers Do? Administrative Office Assistance; Emergency Evacuations; Elderly Checks; Vacation Property Checks; Ordinance Compliance Checks; Foot Patrol; Community Events; Evidence Room Assistance; Speed Monitoring.

Is There Training Available? YES! We offer regular and ongoing training opportunities! There is a new Training Program starting in July for qualified applicants! Don't delay!

To learn more about the Citizen on Patrol Volunteer Program (C.O.P), don't miss the community information meeting on June 20, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. at the Baker City Police Department , 1768 Auburn Avenue.

Everyone is welcome to attend.

For more information, please contact Lori McNeil, C.O.P Coordinator, or 524-2014 ext. 105.
My comments there are:
refugee2000 • Mike and City Council, I think "Ordinance Compliance Checks" should not be one of the duties of Citizens on Patrol. That sort of enforcement should be left to a hopefully professional police officer on the force, or better yet, to neighbors familiar with the situation. There is too much room for abuse due to political, personal, religious, and other agendas, or due to over-zealous volunteers.
More today:
My recollection is that when the Council passed the property maintenance ordinance, they said enforcement would target only the most egregious cases. I believe that was the word they used. It appears to me that those cases have been, or are in the process of being taken care of. Egregious cases are also easily spotted by the current code enforcement officer. Having a troop of volunteers snooping around the neighborhoods looking for violations seems to ratchet code enforcement up to a whole new level that was not intended by the Council that passed the property maintenance ordinance. Poor people might get the impression that they are living in the old Soviet Union or with the East German Stasi.
Yesterday I photographed a property on Dewey that Officer Davidson had requested a property maintenance case number for [the day earlier]. It seemed to me that they were in compliance because they had obviously kept their property up and the lawn looked like it had been mowed in the last week or two. They had a garden on the parkway that had some weeds like sweet clover in it, but some people don't consider them weeds, and those kind of gardens grow higher that the 10 inch requirement in the property maintenance ordinance in any event. If the City is going to target them for a violation, then they might as well target half the city. Is that where this is going???
I might mention that someone I know who had a husband In Iraq was given a citation, but it never turned up in the Press Log and was later dropped.
One person I talked to suggested that the City drop the punitive approach, and have the volunteers help these people with the volunteer's concerns, rather than turn them in for a suspected "violation" of the ordinance.
Christopher Christie
Propert recently cited for PM Violation

Thinking about "property maintenance," it was interesting to see Bill Uttenreuther, 1410 Dewey, Baker City, in the city video at the Council meeting on June 11, 2013. Mr. Uttenreuther is a retired city firefighter (Family PERS income 38,000+/yr according to the Oregonian website) with a lot of time on his hands apparently, so he went before the Council to report on properties that, in his estimation, didn't pass muster. I'm surprised that he had the time, because I was under the impression that he spent a lot of it on our heavily subsidized golf course.  You know the one, it's the City golf course that Councilor Button and Kata Bulinski's back yard backs up to. Why Kata rarely, if ever, identifies herself as Clair's significant other when she's ranting to the Council, that her significant other sits on, about burn barrels and etc., is something I'll never quite understand. But then I've never understood either why Councilor Clair Button doesn't declare a potential or actual conflict of interest when he advances ever more taxpayer money to the golf course, which in my estimation, props up his property value, as it sits on the back nine holes. It's not like we need the money for all our ongoing and looming basic infrastructure expenses--we can always stick it to the ratepayers and we gotta keep that back nine green and gorgeous!

In response to the City Council's non-response about my concerns with the new transportation plan, I wrote:
May 29, 2013
RE: Public Hearing Testimony: Draft Update to the Transportation System Plan (TSP) 05/29/13

Dear Mr. Chairman and Members of the Commission:

While I believe the Draft TPS is a very good effort, I am here tonight speaking against it, as it is currently written. I speak for myself although I am aware of the opinions of a dozen neighbors who share my sentiments. My home has been on 15th Street since the summer of 2004, and during my time here I have experienced several detrimental changes in the way ordinances affecting private property and its use are written, interpreted, or implemented. Some of these ordinances have been imposed by people who know doubt meant well, but who do not share the economic, social or other values and interests related to land and land use that are shared by myself and most of my neighbors. Overly burdensome property maintenance and burning ordinances are two that come easily to mind, as well as a bombshell or two contained in the new Development Code.

I have two problems with this otherwise decent plan:

1) I did not know about the plan or that sidewalks were planned for 15th Street until I followed up on a recent notice that did not mention the sidewalks, and my neighbors did not know that sidewalks were planned for 15th Street until I mentioned it to them. That is
because Baker City does not really comply with Goal one for statewide planning, which is good communication of planning issues through a functional citizen involvement program.
2) My neighbors and I do not want sidewalks because they are not needed and some of us simply can’t afford them. The burden for sidewalks should fall on all citizens because all properties and the pedestrians served by them benefit somewhat equally from a sidewalk system. In some cases, including mine, there is no perceived benefit to the property owner because they are getting along fine as things currently are.
In more detail, I oppose the plan for the following reasons:
It is not consistent with Statewide Planning Goal 1 CITIZEN INVOLVEMENT, i.e., OAR 660-015-0000(1) which is “To develop a citizen involvement program that insures the opportunity for citizens to be involved in all phases of the planning process.” The goal, as well as ORS 197.160 (b) includes a requirement for “an officially recognized committee for citizen involvement (CCI) broadly representative of geographic areas and interests related to land use and land-use decisions.” Goal 1 also requires, that the CCI "involve a cross-section of affected citizens in all phases of the planning process." There are many other requirements to ensure public involvement and understanding as well, including the establishment of “Mechanisms . . . which provide for effective communication between citizens and elected and appointed officials,” with effective being the key word. The Goal also requires the establishment of an actual citizen involvement program. I believe that Baker City has clearly not complied with many of the requirements of Goal 1.
Baker City chose to assign the responsibility for the committee for citizen involvement to the Planning Commission, and to also use a Technical Advisory Committee and group of so-called “Stakeholders” to fulfill the citizen involvement requirements.
Both Goal 1 and the Oregon Revised Statute require that committees flowing from a "program for citizen involvement,” including the CCI, be "broadly representative of geographic areas and of interests relating to land uses and land use decisions." None of the committees, including the Planning Commission itself, comply with that requirement.

The Planning Commission, which is also the CCI, essentially comes from two geographic areas out of at least five or six in the city. One group of three Commissioners all live up on the hill in the high rent district of the South West area which looks down on the city. Two of those members are actually neighbors. They can not be said to share the economic, social and land use interests of a majority of the people in the areas near 15th Street or much of the rest of the city, and in fact, the low areas on the West side are not represented on the Planning Commission at all.

Three of the other four Commissioners live within a few blocks of each other in South Central Baker City, and the other lives about a mile to the North East in a very nice home worth many times that of his neighbors.
The Planning Commission, which is assigned the responsibility of the committee for citizen involvement, cannot be said to be “representative of geographic areas and interests related to land use and land-use decisions” in the City of Baker City.
The same can be said to the “Stakeolder” group and the Technical Advisory Committee if they are if fact included as an attempt to provide committee involvement that is “broadly representative of geographic areas and interests related to land use and land-use decisions” for the Citizens of Baker City.
I was told by the Planning Department that the PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT AND PROCEDURES FOR PLANNING section of the Comprehensive plan is supposed to be Baker City’s citizen involvement program. The fact is that there really isn’t any serious and effective citizen involvement program. That is why almost no one I spoke with on 15th Street knew that the plan called for sidewalks on their street.
The public involvement portion of the Baker City Comprehensive plan simply states:
1. The City will make all reasonable efforts to publicize planning issues and meetings where these issues will be discussed and decided upon.

Page 4 of the Baker City Comprehensive plan also states:
9 b) The City will attempt to gain media coverage of the issues and public notice of the proposed change will be advertised.
While the citizen involvement Goal requires involvement to include "a cross-section of affected citizens in all phases of the planning process" and asks that “Newsletters, mailings, posters, mail-back questionnaires, and other available media . . . be used in the citizen involvement program” to help establish “effective” communication, we get “reasonable efforts to publicize . . . issues and meetings” and “The City will attempt to gain media coverage. . . .”
I believe the efforts to communicate the specifics of the plan that are relevant to each affected homeowner have failed. The only written communication from the Planning Department to individual property owners, during what apparently has been a months long process, went out a few weeks ago, and it did not specify how the owner was going to be affected or how they might be financially threatened by the plan. Everyone I’ve spoken with did not realize they were facing potential financial risk. The Herald delivers to around 1900 homes and businesses. This would be about 41% coverage if all of the deliveries were to homes but less if one included the approximately 1,197 businesses. Of course, a percentage of these deliveries are going to renters, and etc, so actual coverage of property owners is difficult to gauge. In any event it is not likely over 50%. Many of these subscribers do not always read the paper or a particular article, as was the case for a neighbor in the next block. The radio ads are similar as many don’t listen to the station that the city uses. About the only nearly sure-fire way to get someone’s attention is a notice with a specific attention notice on the outside and specific information showing the nature of the potential threat to the homeowner. The suggested questionnaire with a map showing where particular projects were being planned would have shown a true desire to communicate the potential affects of the draft plan.
Of the twelve people in my neighborhood I spoke with in the last few days, only two had the slightest notion that a new TSP revision was in the works, and none, I repeat, none, knew that sidewalks were planned for 15th Street. In addition, none of them thought sidewalks were necessary. Several thought it was a foolish use of money because there are few pedestrians on 15th Street, and that the needs, if any, are on 16th and 14th Streets. Those I spoke with think our limited funds should go to the many other expensive higher priority infrastructure projects facing Baker City.
The existence of Head Start Baker school and the old Churchill School building in the 1900 block of 16th, and Blue Mountain Community College at the corner of 14th and Baker Streets were also discussed by neighbors and we wondered why the streets adjacent to these destinations were not slated for sidewalk development or ADA compliance.
It is puzzling that the plan chose 15th Street instead of 14th and 16th with their schools and institutional buildings, given that Table 7, on p. 40 of Volume 2, which lists “Potential Improvement to Bicycle and Pedestrian Conditions” states that the plan should “Prioritize sidewalk improvements along a network of routes that provide access to schools….” Hmmm, sounds like 16th or 14th might need [sidewalks] for schools if the path on 17th isn’t judged adequate.
It doesn’t appear that the planners have any objective data in the form of actual pedestrian counts for 15th Street. I can testify as one who spends a lot of time in front of a computer looking out the front window that it is usually between 3 and 10, with 6 being the most frequently observed number. More people walk up 15th to Court, then over to 14th, and up to Broadway. ODOT may have traffic counts, but they too are low, especially compared to 17th or 16th near the Head Start program.
The plan also states in Volume 2, that “On roadways with low traffic volumes (i.e., less than 3,000 vehicles per day), roadway shoulders can be adequate for pedestrian travel. These roadways . . . should have shoulders wide enough so that both pedestrians and bicyclists can use them, usually six feet or greater. ( p. 24, Baker City Transportation System Plan Volume II – Appendices)
The draft states “…many roadways in the outer portions of Baker City lack sidewalks. Many of these streets are wide and have light traffic, making them comfortable for walking and bicycling.” ( p. 28, Baker City Transportation System Plan Volume II – Appendices)
The Baker City Comprehensive Plan also says on p. 26:
Transportation Goal Finding 10
10. Sidewalks are now found in nearly all areas of town with streets developed to primary standard. In other areas, existence of sidewalks is spotty, but less critical due to the nature of the development and, in general, the volume of foot traffic.
The above three statements from the two different planning documents are good descriptions of 15th Street. The shoulders are adequate for the few pedestrians to get off the road if they choose and the traffic is light. There is no need for unaffordable sidewalks on 15th Street, and the paths planned along Auburn and up 17th would serve as adequate neighborhood connectors. Removing some of these unnecessary sidewalk plans would put fewer people at financial risk and make it more likely that funds can be found to complete the projects that are actually needed. The prevailing attitude in my neighborhood is that if it ain’t broke, don’t spend large sums of money or saddle people with unnecessary debt to “fix it.”
I hope the Commission will both reconsider the plan and comply with the intent of Statewide Planning Goal1, for true communication and citizen involvement.
Thanks for listening,
Christopher Christie
OK, so they cut me off and all those comments were pretty much ignored by the Planning Commission--that's Baker. There was certainly no rational response, and my comments seemed to be completely ignored by the Council too, as they too didn't respond. (I guess the message is, "Hey, that's Baker, get used to it poor boy. Too bad you don't have the $400.00 it takes to start an appeal.")

The Planning Department has continued to send relevant information, after the local  transportation plan process is over, and which I had asked for some time ago. At least they are belatedly trying! Turns out that Mr. Tim Collins, a current member of the Planning Commission and PERS retiree (annual family benefit $85,106) who lives up on the hill above the golf course, was involved as a City Attorney back in 1981, at which time he and the Council had the duties of the Committee for Citizen Involvement turned over to the Planning Commission. The Planning Department and I are currently trying to find evidence of whether Mr. Collins ever received a letter from the state with recommendations, and which also approved the change.

I.E. The Statewide Planning Goal 1 requires that: 

a letter shall be submitted to the Land Conservation and Development Commission for the state Citizen Involvement Advisory Committee's review and recommendation stating the rationale for selecting this option, as well as indicating the mechanism to be used for an evaluation of the citizen involvement program.
There is, as of now, no evidence produced that indicates a review by the state that would justify the Planning Commission serving as the Committee for Citizen Involvement, and in any event, the current Planning Commission is not "broadly representative of geographic areas and interests related to land use and land-use decisions” and does not "involve a cross-section of affected citizens in all phases of the planning process," so could not in any rational mind be construed to comply with the requirements of Statewide Planning Goal 1 for the Committee for Citizen Involvement.

In response to a note from the City on the matter, I responded:

Thank you . . . .,

I do realize that most residents are not yet aware of the opportunity to comment on the City website, just as they were not aware of the specific changes being recommended by the transportation plan. I think what you and the city administration have done to facilitate this communication is great progress for Baker City democracy if and when people become aware of it. The more Baker City enables people to become involved through the communication advances provided by the internet and etc., the better off we will be in understanding what Baker City citizens would like to see happening in their city and in their neighborhoods. One problem, of course, is that many of our older or lower income citizens may not possess a computer, or may not be computer literate.

I gave my comments to the Planning Commission at their meeting on May 29th, and I was told that the comments were included in the packets for the Council at the June 11th meeting. I also sent my comments to the Council prior to the June 11, 2013 meeting using the email addresses available on the city website at None of them have responded to date.

I have received additional information today from the Planning Department, but they have yet to find a response on the the final recommendation from the CIAC concerning their assigning the Committee for Citizens Involvement to the Planning Commission, which is, as I read it, required by law. As the Planning Commission membership changes from year to year, one might hope that the City would seek the CIAC's approval to make sure that the Commission is in compliance with Statewide Planning Goal 1, which is that the CCI "involve a cross-section of affected citizens in all phases of the planning process." Additionally, both Goal 1 and the Oregon Revised Statute require that committees flowing from a "program for citizen involvement,” including the CCI, be "broadly representative of geographic areas and of interests relating to land uses and land use decisions." None of the committees, including the Planning Commission itself, comply with that requirement. As I note in my comments from May 29 above, the current Planning Commission is not "broadly representative" of the citizens of Baker City, and most certainly is not representative of those of us who live west of the tracks and south of the railroad overpass on Dewey/Hwy 7.

I would recommend that the City arrange for a Committee for Citizens Involvement that "involve[s] a cross-section of affected citizens in all phases of the planning process." and that is "broadly representative of geographic areas and of interests relating to land uses and land use decisions." Some neighborhoods do not share the land use values of those who choose to live downtown or in the newer neighborhoods, and we still cherish our rural, not so spic and span, rural atmosphere. Sometimes the City has to personally ask people from the various neighborhoods to be involved, or otherwise they might not take announcements of calls for committee membership seriously--that is as actually include them. There are those who have opinions but who are reticent to give them for various reasons. That is why questionnaires sent to citizens, as recommended by the State's discussion on Planning Goal 1, should be used early in the process. I would also recommend that the City inform citizens not just about a process that is occurring, but that the City inform citizen property owners by mail of the specific changes being suggested for their neighborhood as soon as those changes are floated by the connected folks involved on the committees creating the plan.

I appreciate you for your response and would thank you for fair consideration of my comments,

Christopher Christie
1985 15th Street,
Baker City
OK, enough of the opportunities for comment--you really should use the City's comment facility if you have concerns.  They do require an email address, which may be a problem for some that are afraid of retribution, like City employees or. . . .

No comments: