Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Land of War and Magic
Local gamers find a gathering place.
Subsidy for corporate market threatens local natural foods stores.
Happening Person: Tony Roth
I-5 OFF-RAMP OFF THE TABLE
State highway officials have taken the I-5 Franklin interchange off the table, according to Eugene City Councilor Betty Taylor.
"That's what I heard. I think it's great news," she said, citing the proposed interchange's high cost and potential impact on neighborhoods and Alton Baker Park.
Local state highway planner Tom Boyatt said his agency had sent a memo to Eugene city staff concerning the interchange. But he declined to discuss the memo before city staff convey the news to the council on Friday, Feb. 10.
A proposed full freeway interchange at I-5 and Franklin Boulevard could have cost an estimated $120 million. Supporters hoped the interchange could be built as part of a new I-5 bridge and would fight sprawl by spurring redevelopment in the Eugene and Springfield downtowns while relieving pressure for more damaging new bridges. But others worried that it would cost too much and have a big negative impact on natural areas and neighborhood noise and traffic.
Last summer, local congressmen secured a $400,000 grant earmarked to study the possibility of the I-5 Franklin interchange. — Alan Pittman
TRIAD DEAL IN THE WORKS
Eugene City Manager Dennis Taylor has negotiated a proposed deal with Triad (McKenzie-Willamette) for expedited permitting, lobbying and possible taxpayer subsidy for its new hospital at a controversial location north of the city that's already choked with traffic.
In the proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the city agrees to:
• Let Triad fund an employee dedicated to working on its permit and planning change applications. It's unclear from the agreement whether the city or Triad will select and supervise the supposedly regulatory official.
• "Expedite review of applications" for permits and planning changes for the hospital and make "every reasonable effort to process applications to achieve" Triad's objective to begin construction "no later than September 1." It's unclear whether the city will have to subsidize quicker permit review or push other people's permits to the back of the line to meet that deadline. The agreement states that the city is not committing to actually approving permits for Triad, but it's unclear how the city could deny or even question a permit and still be making "every reasonable effort" to meet the Sept. 1 deadline.
• "Advocate" that the state and county include Triad's demands for new roads in their construction funding plans "at sufficient levels" to meet state requirements for transportation planning. That could mean that taxpayers will end up subsidizing millions of dollars of new roads to solve the traffic problems Triad will create.
• "Collaborate" with Triad on "developing additional financial resources" for the road work. It's unclear whether that means city taxpayers will directly subsidize the roads for Triad.
• "Actively support" Triad's state certificate of need application. It's unclear whether that commits local elected officials to lobby for the hospital.
In the agreement Triad agrees to:
• Build a 148-bed, $224 million hospital.
• "Collaborate" with the city in funding road improvements for the new hospital and "participate proportionately in that funding." It's unclear what proportion Triad will pay and what proportion taxpayers will be stuck with.
• Build "consistent" with LEED environmental standards and "engage in sustainable business practices" in the construction and operation of the hospital. It's unclear exactly what this means. Local environmentalists have already said the hospital's sprawl location will damage the environment by forcing more traffic pollution.
• Employ local and union construction contractors "to the fullest extent possible." It doesn't say whether the new hospital will operate with unions.
• Provide "opportunities" for citizen input. It's unclear if Triad will have to actually respond to that input.
Although the MOU leaves many questions unanswered, Taylor wrote to the Eugene City Council that he plans to sign the agreement on Feb. 13 unless they object.
City Councilor Betty Taylor said given the magnitude of the project, the manager shouldn't be "rushing this through" the council. Taylor said she questions the arrangement with Triad funding its own permit reviewer for its permits and whether taxpayers are committing to subsidizing the hospital corporation. "Who pays for this?" — Alan Pittman
VISIONS OF SUNKEN RAILS
Eugene naturalist, arborist and educator Whitely Lueck has a vision for Eugene that would solve a trainload of problems associated with rail tracks running through the middle of town. All it would take is a boxcar full of money.
At City Club of Eugene Feb. 3, Lueck outlined his plan for putting railroad trucks underground in a two-mile covered ditch or trench, eliminating railroad crossing delays, deaths and injuries, engine noise and train whistles — and freeing up about 15 acres that can be used for a tree-lined bike and pedestrian corridor and parkland through town.
|San Diego's downtown train tracks|
The tracks would go underground east of the Southern Pacific railyard near Van Buren and come back up to surface grade near EWEB along Franklin, eliminating 10 at-grade crossings and removing many "planning impediments" that the tracks now pose for development or redevelopment. Many businesses currently located along the rail line face away from the tracks.
"Is this a crazy idea?" Lueck asked. "It's been done in many other cities," he said, in Europe and even closer to home. "Reno has tracks right through town and two years ago finally began constructing a trench" after 50 years of talking about it. Reno's 2.1-mile open trench will carry two sets of tracks and cost about $284 million. Eugene's would only carry one set of tracks, but would be covered.
"We're looking to Reno for ideas on how to make Eugene better," Lueck said. "Shouldn't it be the other way around?"
Where would the money come from? Lueck says Reno cobbled together a package of city, local business, railroad and government transportation funds. Lueck notes the local I-5/Belt Line interchange upgrade will cost $100 million, but will do nothing to improve livability in the area.
Lueck said he's gotten little to no response to his proposal from local officials since he first wrote about it in an op-ed in The Register-Guard last March 20. "It's too big an idea," he said, "but it could benefit our community in so many ways." — Ted Taylor
DRAINING OF BRAINS
The city of Eugene has been subsidizing urban sprawl with freeways and tax breaks for developers on the edge of town for decades in the name of economic development.
But as urban sprawl killed Eugene's downtown, the city may have shot itself in the foot. It turns out downtowns are key to economic development.
Vibrant downtowns with hip nightlife and shopping help attract and retain a "creative class" of young, tech-savvy and artistic talent that is vital to cities' economic success, Richard Florida, author of the best seller, The Rise of the Creative Class, writes.
With Eugene's downtown long struggling, "we actually have a bit of a brain drain," said architect Greg Brokaw, who part owns a building with his office at Broadway and Willamette. Brokaw says he and his wife and other young creative people he knows have questioned living in Eugene with its largely dead downtown. The university attracts and graduates many talented people, but without a vibrant downtown, "they high-tail it on out of here."
A happening downtown "is an intangible but very real economic development strategy," Brokaw said. As an example he points to Lunar Logic, a downtown Eugene software company that has grown from 30 to 150 well-paid employees in the last three years.
Brokaw said he hopes that the new proposal by Tom Connor, Don Woolley and Opus Development (CWO) for a $165 million redevelopment downtown will invigorate downtown and give a boost to Eugene's creative economy.
But Florida writes that such downtown projects must be done right. He points to failed downtown economic development efforts where cities "try to create facsimiles of neighborhoods or retail districts, replacing the old and authentic with the new and generic — and in doing so drive the creative class away." — Alan Pittman
GENDER AND THE WEST
Patricia Limerick, a MacArthur fellow and University of Colorado professor regarded by many as one of the most significant historians studying the American West, will speak at 7 pm Thursday, Feb. 16, at the EMU Ballroom on campus. Her talk is titled, "Gender, Science and the American West: Experiments in the 'Demilitarized Zone' Between Development and Preservation."
The talk — the third annual Joy Belsky lecture — is sponsored by The Center for the Study of Women in Society and is free and open to the public. A book signing and reception will follow.
Limerick will discuss the dramatic historic shift that has occurred in the West — the shift from scientists serving as key agents in the process of resource development to scientists acting as key advocates for natural preservation.
"My lecture will explore the historical legacy inherited by the West's contemporary decision-makers, who often find themselves dealing with the puzzle of judging and choosing between conflicting scientific conclusions," Limerick said. "One particularly fruitful area of overlapping interest lies in the investigations of constructions of gender," she added. "Acknowledging and exploring the arbitrary and often unexamined ascriptions of gender to activities that actually engage both women and men can lead to a fresh understanding of conduct that might otherwise seem unexceptional and taken for granted."
Limerick directs the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado. She is author of The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West, and of Something in the Soil: Legacies and Reckonings in the New West.
FACULTY EYES MILITARY
On the UO Senate agenda this week (2/8) is a forum on Pentagon-funded research at the university. The Senate in January took up the topic and voted to continue the discussion in February.
The Senate decided to hold a forum to learn about military research "in order that they would be in a better position to act wisely on any motions relevant to such research that might be brought to them," says Frank Stahl, an American Cancer Society research professor at UO. "Such motions are under consideration by faculty who have two concerns: 1) AAU lobbying Congress for bigger defense budgets, and 2) consequences of the militarization of America."
Another forum on the topic is planned for 7 pm Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 180 PLC on campus, titiled "War Research and the University," and sponsored by Concerned Faculty and Strike for Peace. Speakers will be UO faculty and a student who have been studying the problem. Stahl says there will be ample opportunity for discussion from the audience. — TJT
ROOM FOR TRACK TRIALS?
A whopping 170,000 people will attend the 2008 Olympic Track and Field Trials. That's about 20,000 more people than the entire population of the city. Where will they all stay?
The city estimates the June event will fill 3,000 hotel beds for 10 consecutive nights. That's all available rooms in the metropolitan area with overflow extending as far as Salem to the north and Florence on the coast. — Alan Pittman
Will all the negative reaction to Conner & Woolley's grand plans with Opus for Broadway redevelopment cause the developers to change their minds and put their project on the back burner? We hope not, assuming this project is done right and nobody gets rolled over. We don't claim psychic powers, but a few observations and predictions can be made with some certainty: Barring an economic turnaround, downtown Eugene is on the verge of revitalization, with or without C&W; property acquisition and construction costs will only be more expensive in the future; and if C&W does pull back now, there might be little city support available from urban renewal and city redevelopment funds. The cookie jar is only so big and lots of hands are reaching for it right now. C&W want $20 million for a new garage. Whole Foods wants $9 million for a garage down the street. The UO has grand plans for city bucks on Franklin Boulevard, including a huge new convention center. Oregon Research Institute is asking for help in its struggle to fund a new building downtown (see below). Taxpayers would do well to remember where the money in the urban renewal jar came from. It came from diverting scarce funding for schools and other government services. Politicians should have to explain to school children why their use of urban renewal for subsidizing private developers is more important than making a classroom less crowded.
What decisions regarding downtown are happening now? On the council agenda this week is whether or not ORI should get a loan or other financial support from the city to build its new headquarters downtown across from the library. Here's one case where some creative financing involving the city could yield some impressive gains for downtown. We're less enthusiastic about city support for Whole Foods in that Whole Foods will compete with existing local grocers. Such conflicts are not an issue with ORI. We recognize the need for parking in the developing Whole Foods area, but the store itself shouldn't need a huge garage. The big benefit to having a major grocery store downtown is to serve the growing number of downtown residents and office and shop workers who would rather walk or bike to shop. Kiva is a very busy store with very little parking.
Think "sustainability," one of today's hottest concepts, and consider two recent Lane county events. Couple of weekends ago, roughly 70,000 local folks moseyed through the first ever Good Earth Home, Garden, and Living show at the Fairgrounds. Based on all kinds of sustainable business and environmental practices, this show, managed by Karen Ramus, even gave free booth space to non-profits devoted to protecting the earth, and offered lectures with the show. Incidentally, the traditional Lane County Home and Garden show will open March 9, and next year's Good Earth Show already is on the calendar. Then, last week, the Economic Forecast 2006 played to some 600 folks in the Hilton. The sustainability concept was hardly mentioned in the annual economic outlook, sponsored by the R-G, the Chamber of Commerce and the UO. But the local business community is ahead of the economists. Mayor Piercy's Sustainable Business Initiative, chaired by David Funk and Rusty Rexius, has attracted more than 300 business, civic and government leaders to search out sustainable solutions.
It's gotta be scary for the staff of The Springfield News to switch from a twice-a-week subscription paper to a free weekly, and also dump a lot of the dramatic car wrecks, crime stories, fires and other breaking news that readers are accustomed to seeing. The paper will be running more features about Springfield people instead. Editor Finn John says the paper last Friday jumped from a circulation of 8,500 to 20,000 and is now being mailed free to every household in the zip codes of 97477 and 97478. The bottom line is to please the advertisers in this experiment. Letting TV news cover the disaster of the day is not a bad idea, but newspaper readers want and need substantive coverage of local politics, social issues, the environment and the arts. That's what makes a community newspaper more than just bird cage liner that arrives in the mail.
It's unusual for Portlanders to see any superiority in Eugene, so we'll happily take this one. Our own Ruth Duemler received one of the Phil Dreyer awards for progressive political activism last month at a jolly celebration in Portland. Her work for the environment, health care, and alternative media took the prize. After moving to Eugene from San Diego in '92, Ruth's tireless activism has been inspiring. (A political wag we know approvingly calls her "street heat.") Her focus right now is campaign finance reform, health care, and what she calls "general activism," including serious work on the program committee of the Eugene City Club. In that role she''s bringing former Gov. Kitzhaber to Eugene on March 31 to talk about his favorite topic to both the City Club at the Hilton and the Unitarian church. Go, Ruth. We join Portland in honoring your activism.
Sid Leiken is having second thoughts about his filing for County Commission Position 2, and will make a joint announcement soon with his opponent, incumbent Commissioner Bill Dwyer. The Springfield mayor recently left his job with Pacific Continental Bank to become VP and commercial banker with West Coast Bank in Eugene. Leiken says he has $150,000 in pledges and solid polling, but "Springfield does not need to go through a race that could end up doing more harm than good." He plans to stay on as mayor and "work together" with Dwyer.
SLANT includes short opinion pieces, observations and rumor-chasing notes compiled by the EW staff. Heard any good rumors lately? Contact Ted Taylor at 484-0519, email@example.com
When Tony Rath gets away from his half-time job in construction, he can be found under a canopy outside the LCC Center Building, carving a 12-foot totem pole. "This tree is almost 200 years old," he notes. "I call him 'grandfather.'" Rath has built his own tools of the same design as those used in ancient times, except for metal blades in place of stone or bone. "Power tools are rude to trees," he says. "I'm asking the tree to reveal its essence. It needs to be coaxed out gently." Rath grew up in an Apache farming community on the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona, then spent several years traveling and working on ranches and farms. He wound up in Alaska, where he apprenticed for seven years in the carving styles of Pacific Northwest coastal tribes. He landed in Eugene two years ago when his truck broke down en route to a ranch near Ellensburg. Here he has found a wife, a child on the way, and a long-term project, carving six totem poles for the college to commemorate Native American veterans of the various branches of military service. "The first one took a year," he says. "It may take six years in all. I'm not being paid for this."