Digging Out & Leveling Up

Submitted By: ben.killen.rosenberg@gmail.com – Click to email about this post
Posting on behalf of Kim Rosenberg. loretta.kim.rosenberg@gmail.com

Digging Out & Leveling Up

There’s a children’s book called If You Give A Mouse A Cookie that kind of describes how I came to be involved in local issues here. The mouse gets a cookie and needs a glass of milk. One thing leads to another, as it has for me, but there have been no cookies for this mouse. Not yet, anyway.

I wanted to know about the clear cutting of the 3rd Street lot in Manzanita—who allowed it and why. Along the way, I discovered a lack of records, the violation of city ordinances and prohibited resource extraction from a marshy wetland designated as Open Space.

I read the city’s primary land use documents to find answers—the comprehensive plan and the ordinances—all of them out of date by decades. As I’ve met with land use lawyers, planners and developers, my list of questions about the way our city has operated in the past grew longer and more complicated.

Until this year it was like the comprehensive plan didn’t exist. I’ve heard it called a wish list but while the goals are indeed aspirational, the policies with mandatory language have the force of law.

The dune view grading application this year revealed that our Fore Dune Management Plan, part of the comprehensive plan, is also out of date and the moratorium on view grading people believed was in place wasn’t. It took a group of concerned citizens from all over Oregon showing up to Zoom meetings and writing letters to both State Parks and Rec and city government to put an actual moratorium on view grading until our land use documents have been updated.

The managed growth of our residential village and the preservation of our natural amenities that’s described by the plan have been ignored in a rush to develop. We have the lowest system development fees on the coast. Our ordinances have been amended so often they’re riddled with loopholes and not always aligned with the plan. Without enforcement and stiff penalties, ordinances don’t matter anyway.

We are like catnip to developers.

We find ourselves needing to level up out of this hole because the work of the city—things like the land use document updates, upgrades to infrastructure, system development fees, digitizing of records, wasn’t done for decades and now we’ve got a lot to do. Like I used to tell my students, “That homework isn’t going to do itself.”

I’ve learned that while we elect our city council and mayor, they in turn hire the city manager that makes the town operate with a staff of city employees. The city planner examines the zoning and ordinances for the developers applying to build here to see what’s allowed and what’s not and that creates the town we live in.

Our elected officials are responsible for the people they hire to make the trains run on time. If those people aren’t doing their job, it’s up to the elected officials to make a change. That’s their responsibility and residents count on being able to trust the people in charge to take care of the business of the city.

The council and the mayor and our whole Planning Commission are volunteers. They don’t get paid. If they’re doing their job, it’s a ton of work for each one of them. They show up at all the meetings. They put in hours the community doesn’t see and they take the heat when people are mad. And, girl, people will always get mad about something. They volunteer to do this for two years or four years, or for some, decades. I’m grateful to the people who have volunteered their time to do this work—even the folks I might disagree with.

We can’t place the entire responsibility for the hole we find ourselves in at the feet of our elected officials.

We as citizens are responsible for more than just voting the council and mayor in or out of office. I’ve had meaningful conversations with folks who’ve been here a long time who tell me that until recently only a handful of people ever showed up at meetings or spoke up in favor or in opposition to much of anything. I have to say that was true of me. For a long time in my life, I thought all I needed to do was vote and then I’d be done until the next election cycle. But like Oprah and my mom used to say, “Keep doing what you’ve always done and keep getting what you always got.”

Democracy is a verb—an action word. The work of a citizen is to get on up and do that work. Nobody is coming to do it for us and we can’t say we were too busy or it was too boring or we didn’t have the time—I’ve heard these excuses in the classroom and those kids flunked. This whole democracy thing we can’t let slide just because it takes an effort. What good things in our lives aren’t worth an effort? We have to stay informed and educate ourselves with facts. We have to write letters and go to meetings and talk with others who share our concerns and also those we don’t agree with. When nobody in charge seems to be listening, we have to speak up until they do. We have to show up and keep showing up and if we can do that with some grace and some humor, well, double points all around. Maybe we can get that cookie.

Kim Rosenberg. loretta.kim.rosenberg@gmail.com