Forty Lents neighbors squeezed into the mirrored banquet hall at the New Copper Penny lounge last night, eager to discuss the controversial stadium deal with the Lents Neighborhood Association (LNA) Board. Unfortunately, it took 37 minutes for enough LNA board members to show up (six out of eleven) that the event could be considered an official meeting. Talk about starting off on a bad foot.
The only real agenda point of the meeting sounded mundane: to decide whether or not to schedule an official neighborhood association vote on the stadium deal. Not the vote itself - just whether to schedule a vote.
But that decision unleashed 30 minutes of rowdy debate between the neighbors and six board members. The Urban Renewal Advisory Committee is scheduled to vote next Thursday on whether to use $42.3 million in Lents urban renewal funds to build the Beavers stadium in their area and, as of yet, the neighborhood association has avoided taking a yay or nay vote on the project. Commissioners Randy Leonard and Mayor Adams say they will follow the lead of neighbors on the deal.
"What I hear the neighbors saying is we want to have input on the decision. If there's the remote possibility that the URAC is going to vote next week, then we need to vote before then," opined neighbor Gustavo Lanzas from the middle of the crowd. Some neighbors, including Lanzas, say pro-stadium Board Chair Damien Chakwin has intentionally avoided a neighborhood vote on the deal out of fear that it would turn out negative. Citing these beliefs and Chakwin's "divisive" demeanor, board member Jeff Rose has been pressuring Chakwin to step down. The mood in the crowded room was tense.
Chakwin says he is not trying to avoid a vote, but that the board needs more time to gauge neighborhood opinion on the deal. "There's 20,000 people, a whole neighborhood and a whole lot of money hanging on this. To make a knee jerk reaction is bad no matter which way you go," he explained, saying the board would go door-to-door before the vote to get input. Anti-stadium group Friends of Lents Park has already been going door-to-door over the past weeks — they have collected just over 400 signatures on their stop-the-stadium petition (pdf). Yesterday the group obtained a study (pdf) from Commissioner Saltzman's office revealing that a Triple-A stadium in Lents would have dismal attendance.
Chakwin and the board eventually agreed to schedule an emergency neighborhood association meeting and take a formal vote before the URAC meets.
So where were the five missing board members at the most popular board meeting in recent history? At least one was over at that locus-of-energy the Hollywood Senior Center, defending the stadium to Multnomah County Democrats. According to BlueOregon, the Dems basically shut down the little old lady LNA secretary.
As the Lents neighbors talked it out in the New Copper Penny and the Democrats debated in the Senior Center, Commissioner Amanda Fritz released her own harsh words on the stadium via a letter sent to her fellow commissioners (pdf). "Providing a $15 million loan to the Lents URA is the same as using General Fund resources to fund the stadium. This is a fundamental violation of the promise at the beginning of this process, that there would be no impact to the General Fund," Fritz writes.
The URAC meets next Thursday at Mt. Scott Community Center (5530 SE 72nd Ave), with an open house from 4-6PM and special meeting from 7-9PM. The group is scheduled to vote on the deal... assuming Leonard and friends hammer out an actual deal by then. As of last week, six of the 15 URAC members were on record with the Merc against the plan.