Dear Mayor McDonnell: I must express disappointment to your answers to my May 4th Council questions posted in Friday’s video. It seems to be another example of the “inevitability” doctrine: once started, a Camas project cannot be changed. That’s the way this town runs. It also shows when things get tough, the City stops listening.
Where’s Downtown? I did not hear “Downtown” mentioned once in your response. Per your video response, we care about “what the look and feel like of the buildings can be, of the materials used,” of a future North Shore neighborhood. Apparently, we don’t care about the look and feel of our Downtown. You insist we need “rules” for the North Shore, but your silence suggests it’s ok to just “piece-meal” our Downtown where individual property owners have been doing their own thing without a cohesive vision. Have you seen neighborhoods in Portland where ”boxes” have marched from the river up Hawthorne or Division? Do we want to piece-meal our Downtown? If anything, shouldn’t Downtown’s “look and feel...and materials” be as important as a North Shore that many Camasonians will never visit?
Shortly after you took office you shared the lovely video “How to Make An Attractive City”. Shouldn’t our Downtown benefit from those kinds of considerations rather than piece-meal? I hope you haven’t forgotten or given-up those ideals.
Where did this “time-capsule” come from? I take exception to your characterization of my efforts to pivot the City away from North Shore planning. Your video response said the alternative to this plan ls a hope that the handful of owners will put their land “locked in a time capsule”. That characterization is disrespectful to the many people, myself included, that have spent significant time participating in trying to make this City better. This is not what I have been saying if you will recall our previous discussions. This depiction is neither transparent nor accurate. It is, however, dismissive. I first wrote you four months ago when I authored a Guest Column in the Camas-Washougal Post Record about the North Shore and Downtown relationship. Nothing in what I wrote advocates a “locked time capsule” for the North Shore, Mayor McDonnell. It suggested that all of Camas must be planned, including the downtown. Most considered it a well-presented discussion of the North Shore not becoming the de facto center of Camas, as the Mill further languishes. To have four months of volunteer work dismissed as a fool’s errand keeping the North Shore a “time capsule” shows me not much has changed even with the results of the November election, where the key issue was listening to the citizenry. To make it worse, you use this time-capsule analogy to justify spending public money. You then suggest we do this because they are long-standing Camas families and deserve our tax money. Many got bought out at a gracious price. The remainder have generous entitlements. Isn’t that enough already? You also imply should they sell their property the new owners must following the zoning. Yes, but they can submit changes and new plans as well. That is, after all, what landowners do, and they can do that with or without a North Shore plan. Why does it appear that the City’s Planning Department functions as the North Shore owners’ personal design firm at taxpayer expense? This is not the way the planning process functions in other places, where typically, the owners submit a plan for the City’s consideration, and not the other way around. This use of taxpayer money is both perplexing and frustrating.
Now that you mention it, there is a real “time capsule” Meanwhile, our Historic Downtown, the heart and soul of Camas, suffers from a lack of planning. Our General Plan clings to a largely shut-down paper mill. Camas 2035 presumes the Mill will still be there in 15 years. Now there’s your real time-capsule view. Speaking of the Mill, most agree the 27-acre lab site is surplus, and in fact has been on the market in the past. Should all or part of it be sold the only City guideline is Heavy-Industrial. One of the most visibly prominent properties in all of Camas has no guidance about future development‘s “look or feel”...let alone a use best suited for Camas’ future. Why not spend just a small percentage of the time and effort poured into the North Shore to change the depiction of the 27 acre parcel, thereby making it more attractive to potential development? Can’t you divert some resources for that? I’m not getting it. Let’s be honest about costs. Back to the North Shore, I asked about how much staff time had been spent to date. No answer. I asked if there was an overall budget to the sub-area plan. Again, there was no answer.
You did tell us the "visioning" process has already cost taxpayers $88K on consultant study. This taxpayer-paid for report is supposed to consider public contributions from the visioning workshop. That will be interesting given workshop results.
We taxpayers will spend more money as staff prepares a recommendation for a North Shore vision for our Planning Commission then your approval. But wait. This only starts the real planning process. $80K was in a contract signed by former Mayor Turk. You signed a $14.3K extension because like good consultants, they needed more money.
I get why you didn’t publicly answer these other questions. But I was given the answers, and will now put them in the record:
First, the City has no way to track how much money has been spent to date on City staff for North Shore planning.
Second, and even worse, there is no budget for the North Shore sub-area plan. It is an open- ended process. If nothing else, Mayor McDonnell, you should insist staff give you and the Council a budget for the several years it will take to complete a North Shore Plan. This budget would include both staff/city resources and consultant resources. You may be surprised by the answer. The public deserves to know. It’s the Aquatic Center all over again. Mayor McDonnell, does this have a familiar ring? Let's start a project and hire some consultants. Let's not bother with an end budget but instead pursue the lofty goal of a plan worthy of an architectural magazine. Let's treat the taxpayers of Camas like an open bank account to build that legacy. Let’s go all in on a project that will only benefit a small group of
Camasonians, those who could/would pay for services already available in the region, but burden everyone.
Familiar? The Aquatic Center process that took away our longstanding neighborhood pool and would have turned our budget upside-down in a post COVID-19 world. Started by the same former Mayor (and the majority of this Council) that brought us the Aquatic Center, the North Shore sub-area plan creates another monument. Unlike the fortunate demise of the Aquatic Center, the North Shore process lumbers on in the background of a COVID-19 sequestered City government, with no apparent limits and budget. We had an election. I am grateful for your selfless act to step forward and challenge the Aquatic Center. I am grateful for how you listened to my suggestion at ensuring comments made at Council meetings are answered. All questions should be answered.
Your answers in the video did not include the biggest: the likely cost to Camas taxpayers running beyond hundreds of thousands of dollars to finish this plan. A half-million dollars wouldn’t surprise me. Post-election we are left with former Mayor Turk's last North Shore legacy: to craft an upscale enclave through an expensive, consultant heavy planning process. That process has no budget limit. A project to benefit the kind of development the public, while considering it inevitable, doesn't seem to want, for landowners already having what they need. Best of all, we get the bill left on the table. Really? I see a hangover in our future. It's not too late for to turn that ship around. Imagine what $100K of consultant money could have done for a Downtown planning "visioning" process? How much longer will we put Downtown second in line? How much longer will the City devote unaccounted for time and treasure for the benefit of a few North Shore owners at the expense of the rest of Camas? If the owners don’t like their current entitlements, let them spend their money to work up a proposal. It’s what you and I would have to do to change the use of our property. Let the North Shore owners submit their own amended plan to the City for review, along with the appropriate review fee (again what you or I would do). That’s the least they can do. Then we can consider it.
Again, I’m not suggesting North Shore planning stop. I’m questioning whether ALL of Camas’ public resources should be spent there at the expense of Downtown.
Don’t forget it’s our money. Beyond the immediate North Shore issue is tracking how the City spends our money. A straight-forward tool of government and business are project accounting codes. All it takes is a system for staff to assign their time/costs a proper accounting code. The City of Camas should consider this so we can know how much money is spent on major projects like North Shore planning. Moreover, if we start a major project like a North Shore plan, or an Aquatic Center; we should have an overall budget in mind with proper accounting to keep within that budget. We’ll never know how much money was spent on the Aquatic Center, will we? Nor will we know how much was spent to close the Crown Park pool. 90% of Camas voters rejected the Aquatic Center. We should reject its related public-funded planning project on the North Shore as well. We should insist on proper accounting for future projects like the Aquatic Center and North Shore.
Then again, maybe that saying is true: Lightning doesn’t strike twice. Proposition 2 may go down as a footnote in history,
A way ahead. I submitted a proposed City Resolution for consideration. It is not legally binding so the lawyers should be ok. It is a “sense of the community”. It speaks to the perspective of “history, present and future” you spoke to in prefacing your response to my North Shore comments. Please consider this a formal request to schedule this on a coming agenda for vote by the Council. This is binary: it is either on an agenda, or you are making a decision that Downtown doesn’t deserve even consideration of this Resolution.
We’re not in Camas anymore. Anna Norris, a talented Camas artist, did a painting now showing at Natalia’s of a deserted downtown Camas. She named it “We’re not in Camas anymore.” Both the Camas-Washougal Post Record and Lacamas Living did an article about it. If you haven’t take a look. It conveys the thought, as only artists can do, of what we all feel: without our Historic Downtown, we’re not in Camas anymore. Like Dorothy’s view of her home in Kansas, Camas exists because of ourDowntown. It is our soul. It is comfort food.
Let’s hope Anna’s depiction is temporary and Downtown bounces back. Long-term, however, our Historic Downtown needs help. It needs Housing. It needs a stronger anchor employment base. All things I’ve talked about. To deaf ears it seems.
The public deserves for you and each Council member be on record as his or her position for needed planning of our Downtown to assure it remains Camas’ heart and soul. I hope you use your four-year term to be the Mayor who recognized this, recognized the changes at the Mill, and took bold action to protect our Downtown.
That should be your legacy. Not the Mayor who presided over the development of the North Shoe, which while inevitable, no one really felt good about, and which ended up impacting the lives of Historic Camas. Sorry but I’m not seeing the former. Please tell me that I am mistaken.
Randal Friedman Attachment: RESOLUTION TO RECOGNIZE AND CONSIDER FUTURE OF DOWNTOWN CAMAS Copy to: City Council Camas-Washougal Post Record