Two Face

It’s amazing that an area surrounded with as much water as Klamath Falls has no eatery space where locals and visitors can congregate to enjoy the views. There was one chance for this, but the City killed it, and a business and a family’s dreams along with it.

This story is one of the most glaring and obvious examples of a City gone wrong.

Remember that arch villain in Batman known as Two Face? He was both good and evil, making decisions on which way to behave by flipping a coin. At least he had a method.

Through it’s actions, the City government of Klamath Falls bears a striking resemblance to the grotesque Two Face character, the flawed personalities therein conspiring to ensnare property owners in bureaucratic traps.

Caught unknowingly in such a trap is the Westfall Family, who must contend with a property rendered useless by contradictions within City administration. Imagine buying a property that relies upon leasing government land and being encouraged by the government to use it, only to be prevented by government rhetoric to do so. That’s the situation the Westfall’s are in and if it could happen to them, it can happen to anyone.

BACK STORY

You could never hope to meet nicer, more ethical people than Kevin, Carol and their three children who moved their family and business to Klamath Falls in the early 2000s. They quickly became fixtures in the community as they bought a geothermal house, some farmland, and endeavored to invest in a property they could make a family business out of. Their choice was a small building situated on Klamath Lake at the border of Moore Park. It had historically been an office for a jet boat tour business, then was home to a part-time guide service. Both of the former businesses failed because it was impossible to economically sustain an enterprise for only three months a year when the weather favors the slim demand for guided trips. The only way to make the property viable was to offer something the public could use year-round.

The Westfalls had met with City officials prior to purchase to ensure that they would have the flexibility to establish a successful presence. The conditions of the land lease with the City stipulated that operations must support public enjoyment of Klamath Lake and Moore Park. Staff encouraged and enthusiastically supported the Westfall strategy to offer guided fishing tours, boat rentals, and limited food services. As the only lake front space for a hospitality business within City limits, there was a tremendous opportunity to conduct public relations with tourists, cross-promoting all the other businesses in the area that support tourism. Visitors don’t seek answers at tourism offices hidden from view in areas where there aren’t activities. Tourists land at an anchor attraction, then become enthusiastic to learn what else there is to do. This point has been lost on the City and the County Tourism Department.

The use of the site, the City said, was predicated on conditions in the land grant from the Moore Estate to the City encompassing over 1,000 acres in the area. The City maintains the adjacent Moore Park, often leasing it out for other uses, such as events like the Klamath Kruise and weddings, as well as buildings for hosting meetings. Thus, selling various services including food service had already been tested and established by the City itself.

After exploring options, the Westfalls recognized the need to work with people who had more experience in hospitality, so they formed a partnership with a former head chef at the Running Y Resort to establish a well-rounded business at the site that could survive all year.

The Chef had big dreams for his business. He envisioned a dozen canoes and kayaks, a bay-side dock that would provide additional mooring for boaters, floating patios, umbrella-adorned bistro tables, and activities for children. The Westfalls spent $20,000 remodeling the building for the new tenant (with the blessing of City staff) and the tenant invested tens of thousands of dollars in equipment.

Then the trouble began. So illogical were the subsequent chain of events, it seemed like the Westfalls’ and the Boat House business owner were on the losing side of an evil coin toss. As the Boat House began operations and attempted to respond to customer requests for small modifications to the site, the City micromanaged the project into oblivion.

It takes years to recover the level of investment made by the business owners, but soon after opening, the City attempted to raise the lease rate for the land, as if having a few visible customers means a business owner must be raking in boatloads of money. The Boat House owners wanted to build a small deck and place picnic tables so visitors could better enjoy the lake atmosphere. The owners also invested in a portable basketball hoop (there aren’t any basketball courts in Moore Park) to provide an activity for kids while their parents sipped coffee. With over an acre of paved parking with no other purpose, it seemed a reasonable request to facilitate more activity. The City ordered the owners to remove these items and denied every small request to embellish the site.

MOORE DOUBLESPEAK

The Chef was denied a full kitchen, limited by the City to making sandwiches. Although there are many restaurants that have a similarly limited menu, City staff came down hard on the Boat House for advertising themselves as a restaurant.

The Boat House business operators became extremely frustrated. They began to feel like anything they tried to do, no matter how much sense it made, would be met with denial. With so many restrictions, the owners could not develop services and goods strong enough to sustain the business. When the City charged the owners with violating the lease, directly siting restaurant activity, they responded by evicting the Chef. 

The Boat House has been vacant ever since, and now the City is harassing the Westfalls’ for owning a property that is vacant. See KOBI story: Boat House Future Uncertain.

WRONG AND WRONG

Oregonians are keen on property rights. We don’t want government making up excessive property taxes. We don’t want to see government take our properties or taking actions that degrade their value. Voters have repeatedly sided with property rights in many ballot measures because they are wary of such intrusions.

What the City of Klamath Falls has done to the Westfalls is fundamentally illegal and morally wrong. A family already overextended on such a property can’t afford to pay the legal fees to fight an administration with a full-time legal staff. The other problem is the options for legal representation in Klamath Falls are extremely limited and those in law practice seem to favor the seedier activities of criminal defense and divorce litigation. If an attorney existed that truly wanted to be a champion of justice, that person would find a way to help protect the Westfalls’ from this pious, oppressive government regime.

NEXT

The City of Klamath Falls has many properties it claims it wants investors to lease. The plan for the airport envisions such projects, but the City has been unable to generate interest in commercial complexes along the road to the airport. It should be apparent that the way it treats any investor significantly impacts future investment. The City has made a complete mess of it’s own land lease market by the way it has “managed” the Boat House property.

With regard to the concept of property rights, in this case, through misguided administrative actions, the City systematically destroyed the value of the Westfall property. Like a crutch, staff often quoted a land grant document that contained nebulous language as a convenient and lazy way to harass an investor.

After all the City has done to kill the Boat House and deter future investment in Klamath, if the City is truly concerned about the site being vacant, it needs to buy it back for what the Westfalls have spent on it. But with no apparent ethical baseline, the City is determined to end the lease. Really? How does a business use a site the city doesn’t let them do business in?

If only there was a real Batman to confront this real Two Face. Some serious ass-kicking is in order.