Saturday, August 8, 2009

Words alone not enough to describe the proposal to sell off local control of Minto-Brown Park

Not much time left -- spread the word! Help wake people up to this strange, quietly handled deal.

Even if you like the underlying proposal, you should be appalled that the city would enter a deal of this magnitude with so little (essentially no) public involvement and awareness.

I guarantee you that if the Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board had recommended the staff proposal, the city staff would be trumpeting that at the top of every page and the start of every presentation. Instead, the SPRAB --- citizen-volunteers appointed by the city council --- unanimously voted to recommend that the city NOT sell these easements. So, poof, it's like it never happened and city staff never mentions the SPRAB anymore.

One of the most troubling things is that several citizens who support the easements idea are dismissing the importance of the Minto-Brown Park Master Plan, which calls for agriculture to be continued in the park. This is at the same time that the city has been working to revise the Parks Master Plan since 2008. Why bother? Why spend staff time and effort on master plans if we ignore them the instant someone offers us some money, even when they want to make us do something that is nowhere mentioned in the master plan?

Don't these citizens they realize how crucial it is for environmental advocates to insist that Salem respect and follow adopted master plans? Without that, it's "anything goes" in terms of development proposals.

Indeed, several easement advocates are arguing that we should ignore the plan because "the master plan is just a plan" and is somehow not a serious commitment or binding obligation. But if so, then citizens really need to know: What other plans has the City adopted that it doesn't really intend to follow? Do we have to start asking Council to make a "pinkie promise" to follow a master plan that they adopt when they're actually planning on taking it seriously? Is the city willing to post a list of all the current council-adopted plans that it doesn't intend to be bound by?

Along those lines, city staff claims that booting agriculture off 80% of the farmed land in the park still complies with the master plan (which specifically notes that agriculture is a benefit to the park and should be continued) because locking up 80% of the farmed acreage is less than 100%, so agriculture IS continuing. Ho ho!

If Council buys that argument and sells off these easements then we should "continue" the Public Works Department likewise by reducing its budget by 80%. After all, if city staff don't see a difference between "continuing" something and reducing it by 80% then we've definitely got an opportunity for some real savings there.