In early August 2013, City Council held a Special Meeting to continue deliberations on the Master Plan for the redevelopment of the Kmart plaza, which is to be named Nyberg Rivers. Near the end of this meeting, the Council took up discussion of whether to include a condition in the Master Plan to require the construction of an extension of Seneca Street from Martinazzi Avenue eastward into Nyberg Rivers. This extension of Seneca would require the demolition of the Council Building and the bifurcation of the existing parking lot for the Library and Council Building. The decision to require the extension of Seneca as a condition of the Master Plan was approved by a vote of 5-2. Because the issue was taken up deep into the hearing, there was no opportunity for the public to make comments during the Council’s deliberation of the proposed extension.
The next day, both The Oregonian and Tualatin Life (via its Facebook page) ran items describing the Council’s decision. In the comments that followed those stories, members of the public expressed both surprise over the decision and anger that such a decision, potentially requiring the City to spend more than $5,000,000 in existing and borrowed funds for construction costs and related items, would be made without any input from the public. In early September, the momentum behind a public input process grew to the point where Council discussed whether to solicit input from the CIOs and other groups in the City. A few members of the Council retorted that the City’s recently completed Transportation System Plan was the source of public support for the extension and consequent demolition of the Council Building. Other members of the Council argued, and a majority eventually agreed, that seeking public input on the proposed extension of Seneca and demolition of the Council Building was desirable. Thereafter, a series of public meetings was held to determine the public’s opinion on the merits of the proposal to extend Seneca Street into Nyberg Rivers, which would require the demolition of the Council Building.
There are two elements to the question of whether public opinion supports or opposes the proposed extension of Seneca and consequent demolition of the Council Building. First, did the public express support for this project in the numerous public meetings and online survey that led to the Transportation Systems Plan? Second, did the results of the public meetings held by the CIOs show support for, or opposition to, the extension of Seneca Street?
Transportation Systems Plan
The public meetings for the Transportation Systems Plan (TSP) were formatted such that Working Groups of citizens held a discussion on a facet or location of existing or desired transportation infrastructure, with that discussion facilitated by City Staff and consultants. The Working Group that considered the proposal to extend Seneca Street was the Downtown Working Group. At the first meeting of that group on February 12, 2012, various ideas from the previous TSP and small discussion groups were entered into a list for future consideration. One idea submitted was “Seneca connect through Lake and Council Building.” There is no record of who submitted that idea.
At the second meeting of the Downtown Working Group on April 2, 2012, the Seneca extension was refashioned to eliminate mention of demolishing the Council Building, and now was described as “[C]reate a grid system near the Kmart, connect to Seneca St.” That project received 4 votes in favor, 8 votes for “need more information,” and 5 votes opposed to the project.
At the third meeting of the Downtown Working Group on June 4, 2012, the project was brought back for additional consideration as “Create a grid system near the Kmart upon redevelopment with a connection to Seneca.” At the end of that Working Group meeting, attendees were given five red and five green dots. Attendees were asked to place green dots on the projects that were the most important to the community and red dots on projects that they thought should not be carried forward into the TSP given the discussion and the preliminary evaluation results. The Seneca extension received 0 green dots and 4 red dots, with corresponding comments of: “Will never happen. Impact to City Hall is big problem – voters rejected a bond to build a new city hall recently. Ability to implement should be empty circle. This would be hard to implement.” Despite the clear rejection of the proposal to add the Seneca extension to the TSP, the project was included in the list of the consultant’s “Preliminary Recommendations” that was forwarded to the Transportation Task Force for consideration.
Following the Working Groups, the public process for the TSP moved to a well-publicized online survey that described 100 proposed TSP projects and solicited citizen input on those projects. The project description “[C]reate grid system near Kmart upon redevelopment with connection to Seneca” scored 2.3 on a 5 point scale in the TSP survey. With a score of 2.3 the project ranked #91 out of 100, receiving only a slightly better score than the much-maligned proposals to build bridges over the Tualatin River at Hall Blvd. and 65th Ave.
Despite the Downtown Working Group’s repeated rejection of the Seneca extension and the notably unfavorable response to the project in the City’s TSP survey, the Seneca extension was included as one of the projects in the TSP adopted by the City Council in January 2013. The recording of the Council’s deliberations on the TSP includes no discussion of the project.
Results of the Post-Decision Public Outreach Process
Following Council’s decision in August 2013 to require the extension of Seneca as a condition of the Nyberg Rivers development, the City’s Citizen Involvement Organizations (CIOs) held a series of public meetings to obtain citizen input on the merits of the proposal to extend Seneca Street. At each of the meetings, City Staff presented the City’s rationale for the Seneca extension and CIO members then had an opportunity to ask questions about the project. Following the presentation and Q & A session, members were asked to vote on several issues relating to the proposed extension of Seneca. The answer to the question of whether the Seneca extension should be built now, later or never was answered as follows:
|Riverpark CIO (Joint Mtg.)||17||51||13|
|East & Martinazzi CIOs||4||6||10|
275 Total Responses 
40% (110/275) Never build Seneca
29.8% (82/275) Wait and see if Seneca is needed
30.2% (83/275) Build Seneca now
As is evident from the linked documents, the TSP’s public process did not reflect even marginal citizen support for the concept of razing the Council Building to make way for the extension of Seneca into the redeveloped Kmart plaza. While only a small number of citizens took part in the TSP Working Groups, the opposition of that small group to the extension of Seneca was magnified by the nearly 70% of citizens who demonstrated opposition to the immediate extension of Seneca Street in the series of CIO meetings and City’s online survey. If the Council does vote to approve the immediate construction of the extension in Seneca Street, that decision will be made in spite of the consistent, widespread opposition of the citizens of Tualatin.