One week ago, Gearhart’s City Council passed an ordinance regulating less than 5 percent of Gearhart homeowners who rent their homes on a short-term basis. In getting the ordinance passed, the mayor and the city administrator applauded themselves in bull-dogging a process, and thereby claiming that democracy had been served.
The mayor even stated that passing the ordinance was “something we (the council) wanted to do” (“Gearhart gives new rental rules a go,” The Daily Astorian, Sept. 8). Don’t let that “we” slip by you. It has been the focus of the whole process the past several years. The “we” is not the citizens, but the mayor, other council members and the city administrator.
Following a process in and of itself does not satisfy the ends of democracy. If it did, there would be no reason for citizens to claim an abuse of process. The purpose of process is to consider facts and hear input from the public. Elected and appointed government officials are not expected to be experts on everything, and particularly volunteer, unpaid elected officials can hardly be expected to be experts on much at all, especially relating to governance. This is why citizen input and consideration of information and facts from the public and experts is so critical to public discourse and excellent decision making.
Gearhart’s mayor and a handful of others in favor of the new zoning ordinance claim everyone had the opportunity to be heard. However, limitations were strictly placed on input — only five, and sometimes only three minutes, and only at public meetings or hearings. Additionally, the process set out by the law wasn’t even properly followed. As one example, the ordinance as passed has provisions and language that was added after all public notice and hearings. The city pays its attorney to do a better job than that.
The 5 percent of Gearhart homeowners who rent their homes to vacationers (typically less than one-third of any year) were completely denied such a process. Many homeowners requested an audience with council members, either individually or in groups. We were refused. On repeated occasions we requested to help form a committee of Gearhart homeowners to study the issue. The council refused. We offered to form a group of homeowners who rent to vacationers to take into account other homeowners’ concerns and impose self-regulation. The council didn’t consider it.
Experts on the issue of vacation rentals, including property managers, lawyers and political consultants were given five or three minutes, depending on the meeting, to speak at public meetings or hearings, and no more. Of course, written testimony was also submitted, but who knows what was received and read. City councilors have admitted to not looking at their government email accounts, and the city administrator has confirmed this. If there are emails which the city administrator decides need particular attention, he has admitted to sending them to the councilors’ personal email addresses.
Don’t find comfort in the claim that democracy has been served by simply following a process. On the issue of regulating a small percentage of Gearhart homeowners who rent to vacationers, process has been abused in Gearhart by refusing, and not actually accepting and considering data, meaningful citizen input and expert information.
I am a friend of Gearhart who respects the rights of citizens both in court, and at the ballot box.