If anyone doubts that top officials in Salem's City Hall -- notably including Mayor Peterson and a right-wing City Council majority -- are committed to kissing up to narrow special interests rather than the broad public interest, consider this:
Here's how the City's top legal guy reacted to the news that the Oregon Court of Appeals gave a big smackdown to an ill-considered variance for a Salem Hospital parking lot that gave this large corporation more parking spaces that it was entitled to, and permission to cut down more large beautiful trees than it needed to.
City Attorney Dan Atchison said the hospital has other avenues under city code to accomplish its original plan, he said, and it could reapply to get their parking plan approved.
Holy Corporate Cronyism Crap!
That was my reaction to how Atchison's gave the finger to citizens who live near Salem Hospital.
They were deeply disturbed at the hospital's lack of concern for ancient trees and a historic building (Howard Hall). Working through their neighborhood association, they have won two legal battles at the Land Use Board of Appeals and the Court of Appeals.
A newspaper story tells the tale.
Salem Hospital's plans to cut down nine trees and build 264 parking spaces on the former Oregon School for the Blind property remains in limbo, after the Oregon Court of Appeals issued a decision affirming that the city wrongly approved the hospital's application.
The trees that were felled in order to make room for development on the property at Church and Mission streets SE have been a sore subject for neighbors and conservationists. The hospital is building an outpatient rehabilitation center on the lot.
At the core of the issue is whether the city of Salem approved more parking for the hospital's outpatient rehab project than was legal under its rules.
The city approved Salem Hospital's parking plan for 264 spaces based on the interpretation that the proposal was for the entire campus of Salem Hospital. The South Central Association of Neighbors disagreed, saying the application only applied to the Church Street property, and that "excessive parking" was approved.
The decision was appealed to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, which agreed with SCAN and asked the city to reconsider.
...The court upheld LUBA's interpretation, and the city now has 90 days to issue a final decision.
If City officials cared about upholding the law and doing what is right, they'd say "Oops, we made a mistake. We respect the Court's decision and will work with Salem Hospital on plans for a smaller parking lot and more trees."
But it sure looks like attempts are going to be made to let backroom deal-making with Salem's version of the 1% carry the day -- just as happened with the U.S. Bank tree removal debacle in 2013.
Here's how I and some other commenters on the newspaper story reacted to this new outrage by City of Salem officials.
Brian Hines (me):
Wow, City of Salem attorney Atchison has confirmed the corporate cronyism that exists at City Hall these days.
Confronted with two legal rulings against Salem Hospital and the City of Salem, from the Land Use Board of Appeals and the Court of Appeals (both highly competent), his first reaction is to find a way to give Salem Hospital all of the parking spaces, and the right to cut down all of the trees, that have been determined by these two judicial bodies to be illegal.
How about obeying the law, Mr. Atchison, and Salem Hospital? Or is that too radical an idea for City officials who apparently have sworn an oath to do whatever large corporations and the Chamber of Commerce want, rather than what is required under the law?
It's no wonder so many citizens in Salem are fed up with Mayor Peterson and the right-wing City Council majority. They continually act to feather the nest of Salem's version of the 1%, rather than work for the benefit of everyone in this town. Time for a housecleaning at City Hall... past time, in fact.
Not pleasant to see your city leaders flaunting the rulings of the court. Makes you doubt your government on so many levels. This is not the way we want to see our City run!
Several important things to remember about this issue.
1) the city and the hospital knew that they had lost the case BEFORE they decided to go ahead and cut down all the trees! They defied the law.
2) it was never trees vs therapy center. SCV [Salem Community Vision] had a professional draw up plans for the parking lot that would have saved the majority of the trees. SH [Salem Hospital] would not speak to us about how this could be accomplished.
3) SH hired a construction company that either by negligence or by design ended up killing the rest of the trees.
4) yes, they will put in new trees, BUT they will be small and will always stay small. 300 year old heritage trees were lost forever. This did not have to be. A compromise could have been negotiated, but SH refused. It was there way or no way. This is why people are upset.
Time for the Salem Hospital and the City of Salem to do the right thing and redo the plans for the School for the Blind site to have fewer parking spaces and to save the trees. Why is that so difficult? The Mayor says we are the "Collaboration Capital." How about some collaboration with the neighbors to reach a compromise on this? Time for the Mayor to call off the dogs.
So what happened to the supposed playground for special needs children? That is what they claimed would replace the historic building(s) to make their proposal more palitable. Seems SH [Salem Hospital] has a problem being honest and could care less about what the community wants or needs.
How many historic properties have been paved over for parking in the city over the past 60 years? Don't get me wrong, I think the hosp is very important but they should at least be honest and not play these games thinking people are too dumb to notice. They can have their sacred parking and still maintain the trees and could have saved at least one of the buildings. What a shame.