After I wrote an opinion piece for Salem Weekly, "Larry Tokarski leaves the public with a $7.5 million development bill," an attorney representing Tokarski, James Vick, sent a letter to me and the Salem Weekly publisher taking issue with the piece.
In the current issue of Salem Weekly there's a story by Helen Caswell that delves into a couple of questions reflected in Vick's letter:
(1) Is it correct to call Larry Tokarski the Creekside developer?
(2) Was the City of Salem responsible for raising the cost of constructing a bridge over Jory Creek and an extension of Lone Oak Road?
Regarding the first question, here's part of what the story says:
In the first question of who was the developer of the property, the bulk of the documented evidence we could find, beginning with a 1991 letter to the City of Salem from Mr. Tokarski through a 2016 LUBA (Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals) decision document (LUBA No 2016-025) through the transcripts of City Council meetings this spring, indicates that the primary, commonly-understood “developer” is indisputably Mr. Tokarski. This includes his 1991 relationship (as General Partner) with Hawaii Ventures Northwest when he first initiated discussion with the City about stages of development.
This fits with my understanding.
Yes, the story also notes that several legal entities were set up as part of the Creekside development process, but Tokarski signed most of the documents I've been able to review as the General Partner, Managing Partner, or a similar title showing he was a "controlling member" of those entities (in the words of a 2016 Land Use Board of Appeals opinion regarding Creekside).
The second question wasn't addressed in my story, so I was interested in what Caswell's piece had to say about that issue. In short, not a whole lot that was definitive, which points to the complex, messy, confusing history of who was responsible for building the bridge/Lone Oak Road, and why the cost of the bridge supposedly escalated.
Although Mr. Vick asserted to Salem Weekly that costs shot up because City staff chose at some point to require a more robust bridge or a bridge with a different design or function, this is something we haven’t seen documentation on.
There is still no agreed-on bridge plan and no means of funding for it.
What is undeniable from City Council testimony by citizens, from the frustration of local homeowners in the Creekside HOA and from the letter from James Vick is that nearly every actor in the development feels a sense of injustice about either how this matter is understood or how the costs have been assigned.
That's an accurate portrayal of the situation. However, it seems really strange that so far no one representing the City of Salem or the Creekside developer has been able to answer questions regarding the cost of the unbuilt bridge and northern section of Lone Oak Road.
The Salem Weekly story has a photo of a culvert that was built over Jory Creek in 2007 by the Creekside developer. In a blog post I shared other photos of the partially completed bridge and road work that were in a City of Salem staff report.
Here's what I don't understand.
Caswell's story indicates that neither the City of Salem nor Tokarski's attorney was able to come up with documents that support the “bridge got way more expensive” explanation for why work was started on the bridge/road, then stopped and never re-started.
Hopefully more information will be forthcoming before the City Council hearing on March 26 regarding a reconsideration of the Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District proposal that was passed by the Council on a 7-2 vote, but which drew valid concerns from the South Gateway Neighborhood Association.
While saying that, as far as we can tell, Mr. Hines opinion is largely accurate, Salem Weekly acknowledges that this issue is more complex than the story we printed by him stated. It is also perhaps more nuanced than anyone lacking specialized knowledge or training could explain fully and fairly, especially in any way that is readable for the general public.
Salem Weekly remains open to further documentation on this matter that might be presented by any interested party.
This brings to mind something that I remember from my stint as a Research Associate in the Oregon Health Sciences University Department of Family Practice after I graduated from the Portland State University School of Social Work way back when.
Because part of my job involved patient satisfaction research, I got to sit in on seminars where Family Practice faculty taught the residents in the program (recent M.D.s getting specialized training),
A psychiatrist on the faculty was fond of telling the residents, "Explain things to your patients so your grandmother could understand what you're saying,"
OK, this is mildly sexist, so let's make it "grandmother or grandfather."
Regardless, in my Salem Weekly opinion piece I noted that there was a general consensus at the City Council meeting where the Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District was approved that the Creekside developer should have built the bridge over Jory Creek and the northern extension of Lone Oak Road.
Yet no clear "grandmother-friendly" explanations for why this failed to happen were brought forward.
City of Salem staff, in the person of Public Works Director Peter Fernandez, assured councilors that this development mess wouldn't happen again. Well, if no one can say why it happened with the Creekside development, how can anyone be sure that it won't happen again?
Steve Powers, the City Manager, should press hard on getting answers to questions such as why the Creekside developer started construction of the bridge/road, then stopped work before the Lone Oak Road work was completed. The goal wouldn't be so much to assign blame, as to learn from past mistakes so something like this doesn't reoccur.