Council passes on compromise

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board July 01, 2011 07:05 pm


The Baker City Council had a chance on Tuesday to forge a compromise in a difficult situation.

Unfortunately, a majority of the councilors let that chance slip away.

The Council instead voted 5-2 to allow the In & Out Drive-In, at the corner of 10th and E streets, to keep three parking spaces on the north side of the restaurant even after the city builds a sidewalk there.

That means customers, when they leave, will back their vehicles across the sidewalk — an inherently dangerous situation for pedestrians.

Longer vehicles could block the sidewalk altogether, possibly forcing walkers to detour onto E Street, the very thing the sidewalk is supposed to prevent.

Dan Van Thiel, the city’s contract attorney, believes the city would be legally vulnerable were a pedestrian to be hit by a car backing out of a parking space.

“The City has created an excellent record at this point that could be used in potential litigation in any injuries....” Van Thiel wrote in a memo that City Manager Mike Kee asked for.

We understand that the Lethlean family, which owns the In & Out, wants to keep those parking spaces.

And we respect the councilors for trying to avoid punishing a business, even when it’s for a legitimate reason such as building a sidewalk to give students a safer route to and from nearby Baker High School.

But this wasn’t an either/or situation.

The Council didn’t have to choose pedestrian safety and protecting the city from potential liability on the one hand, over causing possible harm to a longtime business on the other.

The compromise that city officials suggested to councilors would have preserved two of the three parking spaces on the north side of the In & Out.

Those would have been parallel parking spaces rather than head-in spaces, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker. Also, customers will be able to park at the curb, on both sides of E Street, adjacent to the drive-in.

More important, that alternative would have separated the sidewalk and parking spaces, and in so doing greatly reduced the likelihood of a vehicle backing into a pedestrian.

Ultimately, of course, the City Council has the authority to make the decision it did. Making decisions is what voters elected them to do.

We’re not suggesting that councilors must always heed the advice of the city staff. If councilors merely rubber-stamped every proposal from the staff, we wouldn’t have much need for elected officials.

However, in this particular case the Council compounded what we believe was one poor decision by making a second.

Councilors also voted 5-2 on Tuesday to delete from the June 14 meeting minutes the section in which Gary Van Patten, the city’s assistant public works director, argued that the Council’s decision to allow head-in parking to continue at the drive-in “was compromising the good of the public for the benefit of one business.”

Councilor Beverly Calder, who recommended deleting Van Patten’s comments, said his opinion, which the Council had not asked for, “has no room in the minutes.” Calder also contends the minutes “should reflect the actions of the council.”

But Oregon’s public meetings law requires a bit more from the minutes.

Although the minutes needn’t be a verbatim recounting — that’s one reason City Council meetings are recorded on video and audio — the law does mandate that minutes include “the substance of any discussion on any matter.”

Clearly Van Patten’s comments were part of the discussion on the In & Out issue. That those comments were unsolicited is irrelevant — the public meetings law doesn’t distinguish between the types of comments made during a public discussion.

Deleting his comments — especially after they’ve been reported in this newspaper — serves no legitimate purpose and is not in keeping with the purpose of the public meetings.