EDITORIAL: Trumpian tactics in community center fight

timestamp icon
category icon Editorials, Opinion

The “Vote No on Camas Pool Bond” folks have been getting their 15 minutes of fame this week, after an impromptu “debate” hosted by a conservative online media group devolved into what could best be described as a bunch of bullies coming after the mayor of Camas — and all because she dared to suggest (along with the Camas City Council) that voters should decide if Camas should build a community center.

“How did I lose your support so quickly?” Camas Mayor Shannon Turk asked the crowd gathered inside a Camas fire station Tuesday evening at an event that pitted a last-minute write-in candidate against the former city councilwoman-turned-mayor. “All I did was approve a bond measure on the ballot.”

The mayor told the crowd she’s had to give up social media for her own sanity, thanks to a flood of hateful comments directed her way: “This is not the Camas we should be,” she said.

Unfortunately — for the mayor, city councilors and every Camas resident who hasn’t lost their mind over a pricey, but pretty average, bond proposal — the era of Trump has landed smack in the middle of Camas this election season, complete with our president’s trademark name-calling, unsourced “facts” and unchecked aggression over something that is, as we’ve stated on this opinion page before, not an issue worthy of rage.

The people behind the “Vote No on the Camas Pool Bond” movement claim in their online “Who Are We?” section that they are a “group of concerned Camas residents, homeowners, business owners and taxpayers unified against the proposed $78 million pool bond.”

On the state’s Public Disclosure Commission site, the group calls itself the “Camas Taxpayers Alliance,” and has claimed the mini-reporting option, which exempts the group from having to disclose its financial sources. Robert S. Hogg is listed as the group’s treasurer and the listed address is 3533 N.W. Norwood St., Camas, a property that is, according to the Clark County Assessor’s Office, owned by Chih-Hsun Wei and Ching-Yi Lin Wei. The home has been listed as a rental since 2017.

Many of the “facts” on the group’s Fact Sheet are, in true Trumpian fashion, half-truths or perhaps deliberately misleading. The group asks how Camas “went from $2 million to $72 million” and insists on drawing a line from the now defunct Camas municipal outdoor swimming pool, which was open 10 weeks a year, to the $78 million bond proposition that would build a community center that includes two pools as well as many other amenities, improve sports fields throughout the city, expand parking and make traffic improvements.

The “Vote No” group calls the Proposition 2 ballot initiative the “$78M Pool Bond” and states that the “Camas Pool” would cost $72 million while “all other local pools” cost much less.

“Camas has about 23,000 people but we’d have one of the most expensive community pools in the country if this passes,” the group states in its downloadable “Fact Sheet,” which shows other “local pools” as costing $9 million for the 2000 Osborn Aquatic Center in Corvallis, Oregon, and $20.5 million for the in-progress Family YMCA in Salem, Oregon.

There are so many false equivalencies in the Fact Sheet, it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s look at those numbers. First, the city’s proposal is not for another “pool.” That is just false. Second, using a $9 million quote from a project built 20 years ago is misleading. That number would be nearly $20 million in 2021 dollars, which is when Camas would likely start construction if the bond passes. Also: the Osborn Aquatic Center was completed in 1997, is a joint venture between the Corvallis school district and city, and does not include the community center components included in the Camas bond proposal. And that $20.5 million Salem YMCA? That is for a building that is 27,000-square-feet smaller than the Camas proposal and located on a city-owned site in downtown Salem that did not require extensive traffic or parking upgrades.

Which brings us to the actual cost of the Camas community-aquatics center. That would be $37.2 million for a 78,000-square-foot building that includes a leisure pool, a competitive pool, gymnasiums, community rooms and other community center spaces. The remainder of the $72 million figure goes toward on-site developments, sales taxes, equipment and furniture, construction contingencies and off-site development

Is there cause for concern over the bond measure? Of course. Operating costs could be tricky for the city to pull off and local leaders could come to voters with an operations levy in the future to cover the roughly $500,000 in extra operations costs not covered by the city’s recreation budget and user fees.

Still, there are better ways to convince voters to vote down the ballot initiative than to use false equivalencies, half-truths and “debates” that devolve into a scapegoating of a public official who has not done anything other than ask voters to decide an issue that has been floated around the Camas community for 20 years.