Tigard First citizen group says it will work to change the culture of city government

by: JON HOUSE - Protestors picket outside the a proposed Walmart site on Southwest Dartmouth Street in April. The group has gone on to form their own political advocacy group, Tigard First, to change the way the city does business after it allowed the Walmart to come to town.They’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

That’s the message a group of Tigard-area residents are sending city officials this week, with the founding of a new political advocacy group, which they say is meant to bring transparency and accountability to local government.

Calling itself “Tigard First” the new organization said it is upset with the way the city has handled itself over the last several years and aims to change the way the city does business.

“I am still waiting for street widening and installing a sidewalk in my neighborhood so that my kids can walk to school,” said Tigard resident Bill Biff, a spokesman for the group who has lived near Southwest 121st Avenue for 13 years. “Now my kids are too old to go to that school anymore. We’re still waiting.”

The group is named after an anti-Walmart group from 2006. The original Tigard First was founded by then-Legislator Larry Galizio to stop a proposed Walmart that was rumored to be going in on Southwest Dartmouth Street.

The group won that battle, but eventually lost the war. Walmart backed off those plans for a few years, but purchased the land in 2012 and broke ground on the 137,900-square-foot supercenter earlier this summer.

Concerned neighbors have attempted to stop the project for months, but city officials have said that there is little that can be done to keep the Walmart from being built.

'There is plenty of money, it just depends on how it’s spent'

by: JAIME VALDEZ - The proposed Walmart lies between Southwest 72nd Avenue and Costco on Southwest Dartmouth Street, in Tigard. The city has said there is little it can do to stop the business from coming. The site broke ground earlier this summer.In June, the city attorney’s office told the council that it had broad authority to impose limitations on big-box retailers, such as limiting hours and enforcing minimum wages, but city officials backed off those regulations, saying the government should not interfere with private businesses operating legally inside the city.

The way the city has handled the Walmart situation lead the neighbors to resurrect Tigard First, with a broader focus than before.

“Throughout the whole process (with Walmart) we have come to realize that the way the Walmart development was handled was more of a symptom of what is going on in the city,” said Biff. “We feel strongly that there needs to be a change and we want to engage people that haven’t been part of the political process before.”

The group aims to get involved with local issues such as the city’s budget and revitalization projects downtown.

“Tigard First represents the many Tigard-area residents who are concerned about livability issues in their communities,” the group said in a press release Tuesday, “(such as) constant traffic congestion, air (and) water quality, crime, and a reduction in residential property values.”

In 2010, the city laid off staff, including police officers, and in 2012 closed the Tigard Public Library one day a week in order to save money in light of what then-Tigard Mayor Craig Dirksen called the “budget precipice” the city could fall into. City officials have said for years that costs of city services continue to rise while property taxes have failed to bring in enough funds to keep pace.

Biff said it's all about priorities.

“There is plenty of money, it just depends on how it’s spent,” Biff said. “Police and the library are two good examples. I think people want that, but this ‘development at all costs’ idea and the ‘Tigard is open for business’ mantra the city has does have consequences. I think a lot of us are tired for paying for some of that stuff.”

Getting involved

Biff said the group aims to bring accountability, transparency and debate to the issues impacting local residents.

The group has gained support from the Occupy Portland movement, which has helped organize protests at the Walmart site.

“We think the government should be more responsive to its people and the people should decide its own affairs,” Biff said.

So, what does that mean in practice? Biff said the group is still forming its strategy, but expects the group to make themselves well known around the community.

“We are looking at everything,” Biff said. “Do we need better city council candidates? Do we need to replace the mayor? Should we propose ordinances or put public initiatives on the ballot?”

In the end, Biff said, they want to change the culture of how the city operates.

“They say they want citizen input, but they don’t, and they don’t do a lot to get it,” he said. “And when you look at who is making the money on these deals there are more questions that come up.”

Tigard First plans to have a public forum soon, but those dates have not been set, Biff said.

In the meantime, updates will be available on the groups website

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