City Council approves ‘symbolic’ step on gun control

Neel O'Donnell

City Council Monday heard from local and state agency representatives on alcohol concerns and took a “symbolic” statement on gun control.

Mayor Paul Blackburn received unanimous support from the council on his request that the city consider adopting a resolution supporting comprehensive background check requirements for firearm sales. Blackburn is a member of the Mayors for Gun Control organization, which promotes the Congressional resolution strengthening the criminal background system for weapons purchases.

“This might just be symbolic, but anything we do is helpful,” Councilor Peter Cornelison said. “It’s a national crisis.”

The resolution, which the city has not yet adopted, states in part, “More than 30,000 Americans are killed with guns every year, and too many of these deaths are caused by individuals who are barred from purchasing or possessing guns under federal law but manage to obtain guns without passing background checks.

“A dangerous loophole in the federal background check law undermines public safety by allowing licensed, private sellers to sell guns to strangers without background checks and no questions asked.”

The council held a lengthy back-and-forth with Neel O’Donnell, the new Oregon Liquor Control Commission representative for Hood River County, who said he looks forward to getting to know public officials and merchants, and increasing education for owners and servers in order to reduce the number of alcohol-related complaints and violations. As part of his work, O’Donnell reviews every DUI or alcohol-related criminal file from the City of Hood River. Also addressing the council was Belinda Ballah, the county’s Prevention Program coordinator, who reported that surveys this year show increasing numbers of teenagers reporting regular alcohol consumption and drinking, combined with decreasing numbers of adults reporting who tell their children they should not consume alcohol.

City Police Chief Neal Holste noted that DUI arrests doubled from about 60 to nearly 130 from 2011 to 2015.

“We deal with issues every weekend, and they often happen in some of the better quality establishments,” he said.

Council members even raised the question of putting a cap on the total number of liquor-permitted establishments, or restricting their density, though no action was taken.

O’Donnell and Ballah reported that there are 178 separate liquor permits in Hood River County (including multiple ones at individual businesses) and 121 permits at 95 licensees in the City of Hood River.

In other business:

The council directed City Manager Steve Wheeler to continue working with Barrel Springs subdivisilon planners and attorneys to find a connection solution for the proposed housing area on Belmont Drive. Barrel Springs, planned by Ken Randall and Cody Johnecheck of Lake Oswego investment group Consolidated Land and Cattle LLC, would subdivide an existing 3.7-acre plot of land just north of the intersection of Belmont Avenue and Avalon Drive, and make way for a 20-home residential neighborhood.

The property, owned by Randall for about a decade, rests just outside city limits in the Hood River Urban Growth Area — thus, primary oversight for the project comes from Hood River County but the city could become a key utility provider.

As reported by Patrick Mulvihill in the Feb. 6 News edition, sewer has become the sticking point, however. In a Jan. 27 letter, City Public Works and Engineering staff raised concerns about extending the municipal sanitary sewer line to neighborhoods outside of city limits.

“The subject property is not contiguous to the city limits and annexation does not appear to be feasible,” staff wrote.

Wheeler explained urban development outside the city boundary has taken a “piecemeal” approach, where property developers consent to annexation under conditions, but the city is wary about “perpetuating endlessly” that case-by-case, partial system.