By editorial board • 

System of neighborhood associations worth a look

Oregon has historically been proud of its citizen involvement. After all, allowing people to propose laws and amend the constitution is known nationwide as “The Oregon System.” As further proof, in the 1970s, the first goal adopted by the state’s new land policy arm required cities and counties to establish a system of citizen involvement in the planning process.

Another method of citizen involvement popular throughout the state is neighborhood associations. Neither Yamhill County nor any of its cities has a system of neighborhood associations. McMinnville is currently rebuffing one such organization. We believe there is enough value that these community planning organizations present to at least consider such a network.

McMinnville staff and policymakers are somewhat at odds with the newly self-proclaimed South Downtown Association of Neighbors (SODAN). The group has created bylaws, voted in officials and wants both to be recognized by the city and be included on notice of all future land-use applications in its area. 

We understand the city’s reluctance to take up this issue. There are resources that must be committed — although not many in the big picture of local government budgeting. Associations can force a share of power in local governance, and they may also be a platform for some citizens to create their own little political sphere and use the community planning organization as their own soapbox.

In the case of SODAN, these frustrations have already been spelled out by the council and staff. It would well serve the citizens but putting aside emotions of its current spat and seriously consider the benefits of neighborhood associations. There must be a reason that so many Oregon cities have established their own system: Portland, Salem, Gresham, Oregon City, West Linn, Corvallis, Keizer, Astoria, Redmond, Tualatin and so on. 

Citizen involvement through neighborhood associations can:

* Improve neighborhood safety, in part by creating more small groups with whom police can interact and share information.

* Help prepare for natural disasters. After all, your first responders when “The Big One” hits will be your neighbors.

* Foster community through events such as a picnic, potluck or neighborhood cleanup. How many of your neighbors can you name?

* Organize to apply grants for certain things like public art.

* Encourage civic participation, something governments like to say they want but tend to provide for the bare minimum.

* Be a strong communication tie between the city and residents.

Pertaining to the last one, if the city thinks that just posting information on its website is the best means to communicate with citizens, it’s mistaken. The printing of neighborhood newsletters is a more proactive means to communicate with residents who are much more likely to pick up a leaflet on their walk around the block than scanning the city website.

We don’t mean this to be an all-out endorsement of establishing neighborhood associations immediately. But, in the spirit of Oregonians’ participation in governance, such an idea is certainly worth considering for a growing city like McMinnville.

Comments

m or s

Certainly agree with this. Well said. Citizen involvement through neighborhood associations should be welcomed. For many residents a neighborhood association provides a safe, welcoming way to provide input and take part in public life. I have been involved with two neighborhood associations. They provided a conduit for information between city officials/staff and area residents. They provided opportunities for gatherings on National Night Out in August, an opportunity to meet neighbors, as well as local police and firemen.

Neighborhood associations make for safer, more informed and involved city residents.

Don Dix

SODAN is an acronym for South Of Downtown ... ('of' being key), not South Downtown ...

So, when were the organizational announcements sent to ALL those living 'south of downtown' sent? Or is this endeavor just for a select few who need to feel important?

Don Iler

SODAN is South Downtown Association of Neighbors according to their website and the material they've provided us with so far. So far they claim they have reached out to all neighbors in their area. http://sodanmac.com/home.html

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