Mayor failed in handling of co-housing appeal.
Our elected officials' true character is often veiled by their public rhetoric and carefully calculated actions. But occasionally some event, out of the public glare, reveals the person behind the faade. So it was when Kitty Piercy recently faced what may have seemed to her just a minor event, but which put the lie to her mantle of "Mayor for all Eugene."
The story began last year, when Simon Trautman learned that Oakleigh Meadows Co-housing (OMC) planned a large housing development at the end of Oakleigh Lane, the dead-end street on which Trautman and his wife lived. Trautman worried that the projected doubling of traffic would inevitably increase conflicts between cars and pedestrians and bicyclists, making Oakleigh Lane unsafe for his family and neighbors. Trautman knew the risks well - only two years earlier, he had been seriously injured in an Oakleigh Lane accident.
The city soon posted a Public Works Department report that confirmed Trautman's fears. The report warned: "Without the additional right-of-way, Oakleigh Lane cannot be improved to the city's minimum street design standards and the 164 new vehicle trips per day generated by the proposed development, along with the additional pedestrian and bicycle traffic generated by the proposed development, will not be assured of safe access via Oakleigh Lane."
Alarmed, Trautman submitted testimony and a photograph of his accident as evidence that traffic from the proposed development would "create a significant hazard to pedestrian and bicycle traffic." Nonetheless, the hearings official approved the development, dismissing residents' concerns over street safety.
What happened next set the stage for the test that Piercy would face - and fail. The city staff neglected to send Trautman and numerous other project opponents the legally required notices of the hearings official's decision and the planning commission appeal that was filed by neighbors.
The city's errors meant that Trautman, who was working temporarily in Idaho, was unaware of the decision and local appeal, and thus was deprived of an opportunity to explain how the 2011 accident demonstrated Oakleigh Lane's dangers.
Not hearing any of what Trautman would have testified, the planning commission affirmed the hearings official's decision, mistakenly stating there was no evidence of safety risks on Oakleigh Lane.
The city staff once again failed to send dozens of people the required notice of the planning commission decision. Only after several deadlines related to further appeals had passed did the city send Trautman a notice advising him that he could still join the Land Use Board of Appeals appeal that had been filed by other residents.
Trautman quickly filed his formal request to join the LUBA appeal and sought to require the city to reopen the planning commission proceedings so he could participate. In response, OMC had its attorney go to extraordinary lengths to block Trautman's request, resulting in LUBA denying Trautman's appeal.
LUBA made clear in its opinion, however, that the board's decision was based on a narrow interpretation of a statutory deadline, and that the result was "arguably inequitable" because Trautman's delayed request was solely "a result of the city's record keeping and mailing errors." Trautman has now appealed LUBA's decision to the state Court of Appeals, arguing that LUBA ignored prior court decisions that protect an individual's right to participate in local land use proceedings.
Forty-three of Trautman's neighbors signed a letter to Mayor Piercy requesting that the city attorney support Trautman's appeal. The letter summed up: "Our case for Simon [Trautman] is very simple: The city has a moral obligation to assist in righting the wrong that resulted from the city's mistakes and ensuring the integrity of Eugene's land use processes."
Their plea was to no avail - the city's brief contained 14 pages assisting OMC in its attempt to circumvent city street standards, but not a single sentence in support of Trautman. That wouldn't have happened unless the mayor had acceded to the city attorney's decision to push aside accountability and a citizen's right to a fair process in order to further the interests of the developer.
The "Mayor for all Eugene" never offered Trautman or his neighbors any explanation. Behind the bumper stickers, underneath the rhetoric, Piercy's treatment of Simon Trautman's case provides a truer picture of our mayor that's not so flattering as her campaign slogan.
Paul Conte is a co-appellant with Simon Trautman in the appeal of the Oakleigh Meadows Co-Housing development.