We are concerned that the Salem Planning Commission wants to reserve another position for the real estate industry on the commission. The Planning Commission consists of seven members who work with staff to screen community development. City codes define what and where community development can be built and the PC reviews projects and decides which ones should advance to City Council for approval.

The seven commissioners play a major role in real estate development in Salem. Since the commission is served by planning and legal staff it is not necessary for commissioners to be involved in the real estate industry. Our 20 boards and commissions provide opportunities for all citizens to advance knowledge and guide the community on a variety of subjects. Boards and commissions on ethics, landmarks, public art, parks and recreation and others receive ongoing citizen input. (link to city boards and commissions – http://www.cityofsalem.net/CityCouncil/BoardsAndCommissions/Pages/default.aspx)

Only the Planning Commission is demanding that special interests get a reserved spot. We don’t need any special interest on the PC or any commission in town. The Budget Committee is not asking for accountants, the Police Review Board is not demanding that only police attend, the Public Art Commission is not insisting that only artists need apply. Reserving places for special interests locks-out the diversity of citizen representation.

The current Salem law allows one person “engaged principally in the buying, selling, or developing of real estate for profit as an individual or be a member of any corporation that is engaged principally in the buying, selling, or developing of real estate for profit.” (SRC 6.010). State law allows Oregon Planning Commissions to reserve places for two real estate reps but Salem’s ordinance doesn’t allow two and someone is pushing the Planning Commission to reserve another spot.

The Planning Commission routinely makes decisions affecting our city budget and revenue, our roads, water/sewer systems, parks, public health and safety and more. Anyone “principally engaged” in real estate on the Planning Commission gets immediate access to potentially profitable information and the right to vote on that information.

Ever since Mike Swaim’s two terms as Mayor (1997-2002) the City has been cutting citizen involvement and putting up barriers to public information. The City has cut money and staff from our Neighborhood Associations and eliminated our Land Use Network that kept us informed about recent development and a voice in neighborhood planning. The City has increased control and costs of citizen requests for public information.

But those barriers haven’t stopped concerned Salem citizens from demanding that the City reconsider costly, wasteful and unhealthy projects. Groups like “No 3rd Bridge,” “Beyond Coal,” “Salem Community Vision” are part of a national groundswell in public participation.

Special interests aren’t entitled to seats at the table. Those are reserved for citizen interests.

If the amendment is approved and reserves another spot for people “principally engaged” in real estate, only five Salem citizens on the PC will not be “principally engaged in buying, selling or developing real estate for profit.”

That’s five out of 160,000 people in Salem.

The hearing to amend city ordinance to replace a citizen position with another real estate industry representative is scheduled Tues Dec 2 at 5:30pm in City Council Chambers. Arrive 15 minutes early to sign up and get a good seat. You can testify in person or by email to Planning Commission staff, Bryan Colbourne, Planner III <bcolbourne@cityofsalem.net>]


Salem Weekly editorial board members:  Lois Stark, Richard Reid, Russ Beaton, Jim Scheppke, William Smaldone, A.P. Walther.

What do you think?