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Oregon's Wealthiest City Grapples with Social Justice Crusaders over Lake Access

For decades, Oswego Lake lay serene amidst pine-topped hills and valley coves in Lake Oswego, Oregon, the wealthiest city in terms of per capita income in the state. The lake is privately owned by the nonprofit Lake Oswego Corporation, an HOA-like organization of resident property owners

The lake is manmade: in the 1940s, a canny developer built a dam and filled a natural basin along the path of the Tualatin River, then built luxury homes along the newly-created shoreline. Along those shores and benefiting from its vistas is an assortment of homes, everything from Gatsby-esque mansions to more rustic or contemporary dwellings, and many, many boat houses, docks, and private boat ramps.

As a student in the Lake Oswego School District (LOHS Class of ’69), I knew that unless you lived on the lake, or lived near enough to it to have an easement, or knew somebody who did, you could not swim, boat, or otherwise recreate on the 415-acre body of water. Eventually, my sister bought a home which had an easement, so many summer weekends we’d head for a fenced and gated beach that only those with a certifiable address were allowed to access.

Interestingly, nowhere was this restriction—which actually excludes approximately two-thirds of the city’s own residents—codified or even legally enforceable. It was generally understood: the lake is private, and, at all but a few scattered city-owned locations, a person would have to trespass on private property to get to the water.

“Living on the lake” was having it made, upper crust, old money and new. “LO,” as it's often referred to, was and is the richest city in Oregon’s richest county, Clackamas County. The schools were and are top-notch, the streets safe and clean, and law enforcement is—I can attest to this from my high school days—pretty much on top of everything that happens.

That’s the way it was, until 2012