Klamath Falls Parks Superintendent and Lead Inquisitor, Ken Hay

It was not an easy meeting to find on that cold November evening, primarily because staff failed to post it on the City’s website where all the other meetings appear to be. The subject in question and the point of the meeting was to address whether or not to eradicate Kevin and Carol Westfall’s $200,000 investment in a business operation the City had once fully endorsed.

City staff conjured collective amnesia in regard to the invitation and support the City originally made to the Westfall’s to own and operate the Boat House. Without such support, the Westfalls said they never would have purchased the property in the first place.

Instead, Parks Superintendent Ken Hay issued a rancid attack (fully supported by Planning Director Sandra Fox who was not in attendance) asserting the staff position on ending the property agreement. Groping for justification, the first point of the staff report asserted the Westfalls constructed a small deck without City permission. As the Westfall’s stated, they never built the deck after being told they couldn’t. The City had no evidence to support the point, but they neglected to retract the misinformation or apologize for being wrong.

The report also stated that the Westfalls violated the use agreement without stating what the violation was. Ken Hay said it was something their tenant did. The City notified the Westfalls of the tenant violation, and the Westfalls subsequently evicted the tenant. How is that not compliance? That was two years ago and the site has been vacant while the Westfalls continued loan payments and fees required by the City for for something they can’t use, just to prevent losing it entirely. That leads to the third point staff made: that permission to continue should be revoked because the property has been vacant for two years. The Westfalls constantly maintain the site to park standards, so what’s the problem? Nothing in any contract with the City prohibited vacancy. If vacancy is a problem, the City should eliminate the so-called Gingerbred House it owns that sits vacant in the park most of the time.

At table left to right: Jim Carpenter, Bill Adams, Carol Westfall, Kevin Westfall

Park Advisory Board member Jim Carpenter railed against the Westfalls, stating he has always felt the Boat House never should have been constructed in the park in the first place and the best thing to do was support the staff recommendation to kill it (with no compensation to the owners). Early in the meeting, he made a motion to do just that, but there was no second and discussion continued.

Near the end of telling their side, the Westfalls became upset, clearly reliving the angst they experienced, leaving Carol Westfall nearly in tears. “Everything we did was approved and supported by the City when we got started. It is in writing right here. We complied with every order, but the answer to every permission we asked for was NO. Recently we were told we would not be allowed to do anything at the site. This whole experience feels like hostility from City staff.”

Jim Carpenter and Marcus Peterson (a dentist in town) reacted harshly against Carol Westfall’s statement that she felt hostility from the City.

With a reddening face and a loud voice, Carpenter said while waving his hand, “I resent the assertion that anything going on here is hostile.” Marcus Peterson later recounted, “It really upset me when they said the City was hostile.” Peterson was asked, “Why would you take that personally? You are a board member, you don’t work for the City at all.” He appeared perplexed by the question, but had no reply.

A discussion ensued about the City’s worry that someone from the Moore family that donated the land to the City in 1926 could sue to take the land back for violating the land grant. (…for sometimes calling the boat and guide rental business a restaurant—legally serving sandwiches and with no commercial restaurant equipment installed).

The Westfall’s referred to the language in the original 1926 deed that donated the land to the City:

“…set apart exclusively as a municipal beach resort park for swimming, boating, skating, and other aquatic sports in and upon the Upper Klamath Lake. The City is granted the right to construct buildings, dressing rooms and any other improvements that will make the park more attractive for aquatic sport.”

Carol Westfall read the paragraphs and continued, “This is the scope of what is allowed in Moore Park. The same language that lets the City lease the park out for weddings and commercial activities with food services, such as the Klamath Kruise. This language allowed the Boat House to be built and has been the premise for all restrictions placed on us, which we don’t understand because the deed is so broadly worded. It supports a beach resort. We have two resorts in Klamath County, Running Y and Lake of the Woods. Both have food services that most people consider restaurants.”

Councilman Bill Adams, also a member of the Board, calmed the group with rational observations. “This language supporting commercial use and a resort is very broad. It is very hard to run a business, especially these days, and especially under the conditions these people have faced.”

Jeff Ball, former City Manager, board member and chair of the meeting signed the original agreement allowing the Westfalls to assume ownership and establish the lease with the City. “We could run it by a judge to get a clarification on the language. Once a judge decided, we’d be in a better position. But there is still the possibility any heir could take the City to court for violating the agreement. The City just doesn’t want to take that risk for a tenant.”

The Westfalls talked about some of the other ideas they had and the group brainstormed. There was a general consensus that the Westfalls should be allowed to keep trying to find something that could work, although no board member could state exactly what would be appropriate.

Bill Adams made a motion to allow the Westfalls 120 days to formulate a new operating plan for consideration. All members voted for the motion except Jim Carpenter. This provided a stay of execution for the Westfalls. The recommendation from the Parks Advisory Board goes to another hearing before the City Council on December 3 before any outcome is official.

ANALYSIS

The City should stop calling any meeting it holds a “hearing.” The Westfall experience has been more like the Spanish Inquisition. There is no fair hearing when staff is allowed to make up accusations and the elected or appointed people on councils and committies refuse to accept the possibility that staff may often act in a hostile manner.

The staff report was a farse. Something that never actually happened was the primary justification for the administration stealing the Westfall property. City staff were constantly at the site harassing the business in operation and they didn’t notice there wasn’t a deck? Did they think about it so hard, it materialized in their minds, but not in reality? Shouldn’t such a critical error erase the staff’s credibility in this matter? In an environment where fairness prevailed, it would, but there never seems to be a fair hearing at any City of Klamath Falls’ public meetings, for there always seems to be a majority of elected people or appointed representatives that harbor a sickeningly protective emotional connection with the staff.

Staff cited vacancy as a reason to terminate the Westfall property. The place is vacant BECAUSE of unrealistic City restrictions and staff actions. The City created the catch-22 it is using to trap honest, hard-working people who did everything they were supposed to do. Every point in the staff report was false, inflated, or a shifty play on definitions, largely leaning on a broadly worded deed with no proof that anything that was done at the site was any worse than the other activities the City had allowed in the park prior to the Westfall purchase.

Keep in mind that while under City ownership, there was also a zoo operated there around the 1940s and a ski area with a rope tow that were both commercial enterprises with food services. The City already pushed the limits far beyond the definitions in the original land grant. How does a zoo directly benefit water sports in a municipal resort? Does a place that offers sandwiches and drinks to lake visitors, boaters, and people renting boats from them serve water sports like the deed requested? Seems like it, and that is exactly what the Westfalls did, with City permission. One could turn this upside down and say that by harassing the Westfalls, the City violated the spirit of the deed by eroding public activities and enjoyment of water sports that were in place.

City staff still contend it is too risky to allow the Westfalls to continue operations. They base this on the notion that one Moore heir could sue the City and get the land back. That is preposterous. It is fear-mongering grandstanding designed to cover the mistake the City made by setting up the property in the first place. Once this site was developed, the City created a property with intrinsic value and perceived property rights, further anchored by the City’s original statements of support for ongoing operations. Yet staff is against buying the property back. Moreover, the threat is fictitious. If one heir out of hundreds can file a lawsuit, then any other heir could block such a lawsuit. All the City needs to do is ask any heir to sign a statement of support for activities in question. Such a document would cancel out the opposition. A court would need to see consensus among heirs that City malfeasance was so extreme, it warranted returning the land to the family that granted it. If anything, operating a zoo would have done that. Or Civil War reinactments that have nothing to do with water sports. Oh yes, what do weddings have to do with water sports? Did the grant specifically state the City could generate revenue by selling space for weddings? No. Basically, the City isn’t trying hard enough to find a solution. It is easier for them to make a scapegoat for their imagined threat…exactly as they have done to the Westfalls.

The outcome of the meeting gave the Westfalls a temporary reprieve, which was better than the arbitrary recommendation of killing their entire investment. The reprieve still puts all the pressure on the Westfalls and none on the City. The Westfalls are being told they won’t be renewed unless an acceptable plan is submitted and they have 120 days to come up with one (if the City Council ratifies the Park Board decision in a meeting to come).

Among the fallout from this burueacratic circle-jerk is the fact that it takes a lot of time and work to come up with viable ideas and plans that have any possibility of fitting within the narrow margins of City’s draconian guidelines, that is, when one can figure out what they are. It’s even tougher when dealing with passive-aggressive types that change the rules as it serves their dubious motives. It takes City staff only a few minutes to reject a proposal, or tell the owners they need to develop a new plan. For every minute a city official spends on brilliant notions like this, the owners must spend hundreds of hours and costly resources researching and conjuring something they aren’t sure will be accepted. Then, if a better option surfaces after they have submitted their current plan, they have to start all over again. They always run the risk–as they have already–of wasting that time and work. Offloading the full burden of justification to the victim seems like cruel and unusual punishment for victims that were only being good citizens.

The Tainted, Jaded Board Member

He always seemed like a nice guy…until now. For many years, Jim Carpenter operated a guide and lodging business where he served food out of his home on the other side of the lake from the Boat House. Although he was in the wrong zoning (residential, not commercial), he was spared scrutiny by the City. Did this have anything to do with the fact that over time he has been paid approximately over a hundred thousand dollars as a contract consultant to the City? The City could have easily bought the Boat House instead of paying all that money to Carpenter. It is hard to say what would make someone who has had such an easy ride as Carpenter lash out with such hostility against people like the Westfalls for trying to run a business on the lake just like he did, especially when they had to pay many high tolls that he was excused from. Whatever the reason, the contradiction and conflict of interest is evident, which brings into question the fairness and credibility of Carpenter in any committee capacity.

The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” comes to mind. Had the City ever attacked Carpenter in the way that he and the City are now attacking the Westfalls, we would have found the situation just as deplorable and made every effort to lend support. In shutting out empathy and compassion for the Westfalls, Carpenter has cancelled any illusion some may have harbored that he is a nice, reasonable, or fair-minded individual. He kind of looks like an ancient Roman official, so one could easily picture him in a stadium, wearing a tunic and remorselessly turning a thumb to signal the execution of a beaten down slave in the arena for the sake of politics and entertainment value.

It would be very difficult in the future to come to the aid of someone who has a hand in such evil doing. He still has an opportunity for redemption by working to convince the City to buy out the Westfalls interest in the property. Carpenter would support this if he truly does feel the public would be better off with an empty space where a gathering place for enjoying water sports once stood.

And now…an appropriate word from somone wise, famous and dead…

“We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

To this end, we praise the Westfalls for defending themselves and call on Klamath men and women to join the fight against their oppressors. Attend the next City Council meeting, Monday, December 3. Tell them they are not alone.