Astoria has a relatively new rule in it's code that effects commercial area proprties that become vacant. In came into effect with the derelict building codes established by the city. The code (posted on the city website) states:
Buildings located in commercial areas shall have some street presence by the display of goods in the storefront windows, interpretive displays, or some other activity that give the appearance of the building being occupied.
Displays in vacant buildings shall be reviewed and approved by the Community Development Director prior to installation. Displays shall be reviewed for the following:
a. The goods and/or interpretive displays should encompass a minimum of approximately 25% of the window area.
b. The displays shall be maintained in good condition and notfaded or deteriorated.
c. Content of the displays shall be in compliance with allowable uses within the zone.
d. Displays shall comply with the requirements of the Sign Code if applicable.
As rundown and obviously derelict as the Flavel-owned properties may be, you do see some pictures of old Astoria hanging in the windows which constitues a display of sorts. I doubt that the Community Development Director actually approved the display because it's kinda sad but at least it's something.
Empty storefronts became a more important issue with the awareness that came through the ADHDA's Building Blocks program. Empty windows create "blanks" that discourage walking which is key to a healthy downtown. Empty storefronts just shout the wrong message. This is obviously true for a downtown that is a darling of the Oregon Main Street program. It's not even a choice for building owners in commercial areas of town to comply. There is nothing ambiguous in the code, it's quite clear. I think it's probably a matter of communication.
As I write this there are empty windows in the commercial area of Astoria and that has been the case for months. The question this raises will be uncormfortable. Especially in view of the attention the Flavel properties have received and the massive fines levied by the city for non-compliance with city code. Granted, in the Flavel properties the city had to build a whole new derelict building code and the situation provides an extreme example but it's also true that laws that are not enforced are ignored. Laws that are not equally applied attract unending litigation. Actually, it's a little funny that the window display rule is just about the only code Mary Louise did comply with.
How many empty windows do you count in downtown Astoria?
It has been awhile since I blogged but it's been a very busy time in the Freel household with my daughter's wedding and dealing with long distance details since she lives on the other side of the country.
Now it's time to get back to business and I'll start with this upcoming election.
A few years ago I wrote extensively about my objection to Cindy Price running for the Clatsop County Commission. I pointed out that there were probably going to be several conflicts of interest considering she is the wife of District Attorney Josh Marquis and at the time Mr. Marquis was locked in a battle over budget and his county stipend.
Ms Price running for Astoria City Council is a different matter. Even though this will mean a solid vote in favor of citing Astoria's DUII's into Circuit Court instead of Municipal Court, as the D.A. has asked for, ordered, demanded and gone to court over, this is a relatively small conflict and I'm sure she will do the right thing. I tend to side with comments made by council candidate Zetty Nemlowill, "If he wants those cases...Let him have them". Let's move on. Other than that issue I certainly have no objection to Cindy Price serving on the city council.
At least Price admits she has some things to learn about the job and the many issues the city deals with every day. That's perfectly alright because city government is complex and require a great deal of homework, if not experience. She does not pretend to know everything and seems reasonable when commenting on issues at city council meetings. She has been actively participating by attending city council meetings beginning a few months before declaring her interest in serving.
As to the Ward 1 council position and the race between George McCartin and Zetty Nemlowill... Zetty is more than ready, George just doesn't stack up against her but I think there is potential there that should be encouraged. It would be good to see him getting involved at the committee level in those issues closest to his heart that would take advantage of his experience while affording him the chance to see that the City of Astoria isn't broken. Perhaps if he runs for council at some point in the future he will be less likely to waste so much time looking for things that are wrong upon which to base his next campaign. In a few years perhaps he will have a better understanding of how things work and why.
I'm not going to agree with either Arline LaMear or Larry Taylor on a number of issues. Arline has been working with city government for many years but I get the impression it's been more limited that one might expect from someone shooting for Mayor. She is very good when it comes to certain areas like the Library Board and the proposed new City Library. Libraries are her profession and passion. Parks and rec is another area where she shows some knowledge and involvement. Many voters will like her positions on economic development and urban planning. She would work to exclude the possibility of LNG plants, coal trains, oil trains..etc coming anywhere near Astoria. She voted to eliminate the possibly of high rise development along a considerable portion of the waterfront and seems to have a good handle on those issues. I'm confident she will quickly fill those holes in her knowledge about other matters.
The most important reason to vote in favor of LaMear is that you can't be the Mayor of our town by remote control. Can not.
The Mayor isn't just another vote on the council, or the person who runs the meeting. Our Mayor is the face of our town. Our Mayor has to listen to everybody. Our Mayor advocates for our town, lives in our town, loves our town..Warts and all. The person who wants to be Mayor here does so unconditionally.
Astoria has a City Manager form of municipal government rather than a "Strong Mayor" form of government. That means the Mayor doesn't run the day to day operation, or interfere with staff. The Mayor and the Council have just one employee they are responsible for directing, for hiring, and firing. That City Manager must be in the driver's seat in the decision making process when it comes to everyone else on the staff. He is then responsible for delegating authority to his department heads and setting the standard for policies that govern the staff operations. He is responsible for making sure his city council has access to complete and comprehensive background information for those policy and project decisions they must vote on.
In this form of government if the elected officials attempt to manage instead of lead the outcome is inevitably a disaster. That's what happened at the Port of Astoria. The Port is a perfect example of unrelenting meddling by the elected board into the day-to-day operations and decision making that should be the sole province of the Executive Director.
There are multiple problems with Mr. Taylor as Mayor. His comment at the recent AAUW/Daily Astorian forum that he would "empower" the councilors to take more responsibility is troubling. The councilors already have well defined responsibilities and while the Mayor runs the meetings, city councilors are independent in representing their Wards. Does he mean that as Mayor he would be less involved? That combined with his public comment that if elected he would move to Astoria fulltime would seem to suggest a rather cavalier attitude about the job he is asking for.
Taylor is the elected chair of the Clatsop County Democratic Central Committee which normally supports it's members who run for office. Even though City Council positions are non-partisan, LaMear is a Democrat and one would think Taylor's job as party head would be to support her run instead of attempting to take her out of office. Why is he doing this?
Josh Marquis. He is a major force in Democratic politics in Clatsop County.
While I'm less that eager to once again put myself in the D.A.'s sights, reporting this relationship and what it really means is the responsible thing to do.
Taylor is strictly a one issue candidate running to reverse a decision by the Astoria council to keep DUII cases cited in Astoria in the Municipal Court. Mr. Marquis was successful in defending his role as the top prosecutor in the county and so those cases are already his to deal with but he was not successful in skipping the municipal court step and going directly to Circuit Court. Personally, I agree that these cases don't need to go to Muni court. The D.A. wants them, let him have them and do so as effectively and efficiently as possible to ensure equal treatment of these cases throughout the county.
Unfortunately for us, because Marquis has been unable to convince Astoria to join all the other cities in handling DUII's in this manner the issue has now come down to the need to get three votes in favor of overturning the decision. Cindy Price is running unopposed for Ward 3 so that's vote #1. Regardless of who wins Ward 1 it's likely that person will be vote #2 because both candidates have said as much. That leaves the third and deciding vote in the Mayor's race. Arline LaMear has already voted against moving those DUII cases and says she is not convinced to change her mind. Larry Taylor would be vote #3.
If Larry Taylor is elected then the whole matter should be resolved in the first 30 days of his administration. Then what?
That's the real problem with Taylor as Mayor. So far in the few public appearances he has made he is less than impressive in his vision for the town, his four year role as Mayor, or his understanding of the issues and challenges of that role. His past involvement in the few organizations he has had contact with locally has been spotty and troubled. He doesn't like answering questions as he demonstrated at a recent Rotary meeting.
LNG isn't really an issue in Astoria. You don't have to be Mayor to help support the arts. Domestic violence does need to end but Taylor is less than clear about how he would do that. His campaign is an excellent example of smoke and mirrors and speaks to his ability as an organizer and backroom manager for the Democratic Party. However, saying the town is in financial trouble when it clearly is not, telling supporters that government transparency is the issue while admitting publically that the city council does nothing improper behind closed doors, and having no discernable desire to take an active role as the Mayor, instead saying he will hand-off more to the council, is not okay and provides a poor follow-up to Willis Van Dusen.
I strongly believe that if Arline LaMear is elected she will do her very best to serve the people of Astoria over the next four years.
It will be an important transition to what comes next.
Monday night Astoria City Councilor Drew Herzig gave another amusing performance attempting a bone-head play to gut the office of Mayor. His motion to change the city charter died for lack of a second but the discussion was interesting and rather telling. Herzig suggested the city attorney be directed to rewrite a line of the charter that would change one of the powers of the Mayor to appoint or dismiss members of city committees and commissions. The change would require consultation and approval of any appointment by the city council. As it stands, the Mayor bares sole responsibility for those appointments. Any change to the city charter requires a public election which gave Herzig the opportunity to play his now famous 'The people have a right to make this decision.." card. He trys to play that frequently because the man is always running for office.
From time to time over the years the Mayors have asked for input and suggestions from the city council, city staff, or members of the public but ultimately the Mayor makes the appointments. It is a reasonable responsibility for the town mayor and has worked well as long as anyone can remember. There are a lot of citizen committees not including those short term committees that are formed from time to time to tackle a specific issue. Suggesting that all those appointments be the business of the entire council is to put the focus on appointments rather than focusing on the business of governance.
It really doesn't matter what other cities might do when it comes to this and taking time to fix something that is not broken does nothing constructive. That much is clear. So why would anyone make such a suggestion?
In this case Herzig is obviously looking ahead. He sees a situation where a long tenured Mayor is not seeking re-election and an opportunity to steer powers away from that office before a new Mayor is elected. But again the question is why?
Herzig says "the people" should be allowed to vote on this issue he is creating and that might make sense if the general population had suddenly risen up protesting the process but there is no sign of that having happened. No, that can't be the real reason. When his motion to pursue the change in the city charter died for lack of a second, Herzig said "I hope people remember this in November". At that moment the reason for this ridiculous idea became clear.
Herzig is, most likely unwittingly, working for the democrats as a political agent attempting to discredit the council members who are up for election. That would be his old nemesis Karen Mellin and Arlene LaMear who is running for Mayor against Clatsop County Democratic Central Committee Chairman Larry Taylor. Taylor made a rare appearance at the meeting last night taking a seat in the back of the room. The council and mayor's race are considered non-partisan but make no mistake. Josh Marquis, his wife Cindy Price and Larry Taylor are keen to gain control of the Astoria City Council.
There is a planted story in the rumor mill about Herzig and Taylor having a parting of the ways. The story goes that the falling out occurred when Taylor caught Herzig in a lie over something. The story becomes rather vague after that. Given Herzig's reputation in the community at large this story is entirely believable but after last night's little show by Herzig with Taylor looking on, I have serious doubts about the truth of the rumor. It smells more like an attempt to give some separation between the tainted Herzig and Taylor in his run for Mayor.
Herzig is an outsider on the city council and not in a good way. He has terrible relations with city staff. He is a disaster for the party that designed his campaign to unseat Peter Roscoe. Just as soon as he ran out of his supplied talking points and started showing his true colors it became clear that he is dangerously wayward. I suspect Monday night's performance was payback for Taylors help in getting Herzig elected and would appeal to Herzig who has been gunning for the council ever since they slapped his hands over his inappropriate behavior with city staff.
But like everything else Herzig has done this was poorly executed and made Arlene LaMear look like a peacemaker when she suggested the council contact the League Of Oregon Cities for advice. It may have made her look weak from a conservative standpoint but remember she has lots of Democrat friends who like that kind of thinking. The suggestion shows she is willing to listen, gather the best information, and move toward an informed decision rather than rushing to an ill-advised vote that would have set the whole thing in motion. Good for her.