Just like I predicted in "How Salem City Council handles Howard Hall will say a lot," only two people testified in favor of demolishing Howard Hall at last night's council meeting:
Salem Health, represented by Norm Gruber, and the City of Salem, represented by Kimberli Fitzgerald.
Everybody else who testified -- I counted seven, watching on CCTV -- were strongly in favor of affirming the decision of the Historic Landmarks Commission to preserve Howard Hall, a historic building that is the last structure remaining from the School of the Blind.
This included Curt Fisher, who spoke for the South Central Area Neighborhood Association (SCAN) where Howard Hall is located.
Fisher said this was a David and Goliath situation, with powerful Salem Health up against ordinary concerned citizens. Yet the process worked, he noted, adding that the City Council should respect the wisdom, talent, and expertise of those who volunteer to serve on the HIstoric Landmarks Commission.
He pointed out that Salem Hospital (part of Salem Health) wants many more parking spaces than is customary under City rules. So there is plenty of room to put an adaptive playground and commerative garden elsewhere on the property, rather than demolishing Howard Hall and using its footprint for those uses.
In other words, Howard Hall can be preserved and an adaptive playground can be built by Salem Health. This isn't an either/or situation.
However, a representative of the Oregon Council for the Blind, Willamette Chapter, testified that they have met five times with Salem Hospital staff. The hospital refuses to consider preserving Howard Hall, a building that has deep significance for the blind community.
Thus Salem Health and Salem Hospital came off looking like money-grubbing corporate meanies. Again, there was zero support for demolishing Howard Hall from anyone but themselves.
Not counting City officials. But they made the same flawed arguments that the Historic Landmarks Commission rejected. In fact, as I said in my previous blog post, the same person made the same flawed arguments.
A City staff report recommending reversal of the Historic Landmarks Commission decision was written by the same person who initially recommended approval of Salem Hospital's application. Namely, Kimberli Fitzgerald. This isn't immediately obvious, since the staff report to the Mayor and City Council is through City Manager Norris, from Community Development Director Glenn Gross, signed by Urban Planning Administrator LIsa Anderson-Olgivie, and, lastly, prepared by Senior HIstoric Planner Kimberli Fitzgerald. Yes, the same person who made the same points in a staff report to the HIstoric Landmarks Commission (HLC) before the commission voted 6-0 to reject the staff recommendation and deny Salem Hospital's demolition request. Again, this looks really bad -- to not have a new person take a fresh look at the application prior to the City Council review of the HLC decision.
Here's something else that looked really bad at last night's council meeting: Mayor Peterson ended the hearing somewhere around 10:30 pm, after people had waited four hours to testify about Howard Hall.
I'm pretty sure not everybody who wanted to got to testify. Pretty damn frustrating after sitting there since 6:30 pm; the Howard Hall hearing didn't even start until 9:50 pm. Today Geoffrey James, a local architect who favors preserving Howard Hall, left this comment on my previous post.
Council knows that the way to deal with the "public" is not to start this "public" hearing until late at night. Then just hear from the "proponents" i.e. Salem Health CEO etc., then go into recess to discuss with attorney the Mayor's conflict of interest with the huge photos of her that Salem Health published in the paper. Then on resuming to announce it's getting late and pass a motion to continue the "public" hearing for two weeks. That way the opposition to the demolition may not show up again, after being subjected to waiting 4 hours in council chambers (not even allowed to stand!) until some of them, including the blind, have to go home. Then tell them they will not get to speak. What an outrageous strategy to defeat the "public".
Well, I did count seven opponents of demolishing Howard Hall who got three minutes to testify after the Salem Health CEO.
Still, it was decidedly strange to have the Mayor call a recess after Gale Warner used her time to hold up a large ad featuring Mayor Peterson that Salem Health had run in the Statesman Journal close to the May primary election.
The City attorney asked to speak with the Mayor in private after Warner said Peterson should recuse herself because of a conflict of interest.
When the meeting resumed and Peterson claimed she didn't have to recuse herself, the hearing abruptly ended with no additional testimony from other proponents of preserving Howard Hall. Instead, as noted above, people who had waited four hours to have their say were told to go home and come back on July 28.
This is no way to run a City Council meeting. Mayor Peterson chose the convenience of herself and other City officials over the convenience of ordinary citizens, saying that the hearing needed to be closed so other business on the agenda could be completed.
Maybe that was the reason.
Or maybe the Mayor and City of Salem staff knew that if more people were allowed to testify in opposition to demolishing Howard Hall, the more difficult it would be to vote in favor of this bad idea -- given that no one other than Salem Health wants to tear down the historic building.
Lastly, as a continuation to this post I'll include two letters from Geoffrey James and Gene Pfeifer regarding the feasibility of "repurposing" Howard Hall. At last night's hearing City staff erroneously said this had been properly examined and rejected by Salem Health.
Apparently not. Read on.