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Slant 1-16-2014

• City of Eugene public hearings on budget options are coming up Jan. 21 and 29 (see Activist Alert). Once again this year, popular city services are on the chopping block, and we don’t really know why. The alleged $3 million budget gap is based on assumptions made by the city manager and his staff, and we don’t even know what all of those assumptions are. Just this week the city released its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for 2013 and it looks like city net assets increased by $7.3 million over 2012. 

If we do indeed still have a $3 million budget gap, why does it need to be filled by cutting popular city services? Why are we not looking at administrative compensation and staffing and ongoing tax breaks for developers? Why are millions being set aside to build a new City Hall when Harris Hall works for now and we’re spending up to $2 million a year renting downtown city offices? Shouldn’t capital projects be bonded and not come out of the General Fund? Is the Budget Committee at least questioning why Eugene has 300 more FTE employees than Salem? Why have we not had an independent performance audit of every city department and its budget, particularly the hugely expensive Eugene Police Department in its fortress north of the river?

Public hearings and citizen input are mandated in the budget process, but they are only useful if they are not obfuscated by unanswered questions and unexplained assumptions. 

Tom Bowerman and Adam Davis outlined their latest research to the crowded City Club of Eugene meeting Jan. 10, but one big question remains: Will these numbers documenting progressive Oregon values help bring change in Oregon or will they sit on a shelf collecting dust? When asked, Bowerman said they were research guys, not policy guys, but he clearly hopes to stir hearts and minds to force change from the bottom up. Their 2013 Oregon Values and Beliefs Survey queried 9,000 Oregonians and found that 81 percent feel that K-12 education is a top concern, 57 percent consider environmental protection more important than economic growth, and other good progressive numbers.  

County commissions all over Oregon are the playground of Tea Party Republicans and Libertarians, in part because rural areas tend to be more conservative than urban areas. But county governments are also strategic targets for Americans for Prosperity and other national right-wing organizations. Counties have big budgets and county decisions have a big impact on agriculture, industry and extractive industries such as mining and logging. We see that happening here in Lane County with environmentally progressive city policies being diluted by backward county policies. Eugene at least tries to protect sensitive open spaces while Lane County unabashedly allows them to be logged or mined with minimal restraints. One exception is the recent skirmish in which Cottage Grove residents and Lane County Commission candidate Kevin Matthews got the county to step back on a proposal to log the county’s Blue Mountain Park under a 1986 forest management plan.

Down in Republican-dominated Douglas County we’re seeing an unusual revolt against a conservative power base. A small but stalwart group of green-minded folks are protesting county plans to clear-cut 20 acres in the beloved Mildred Kanipe Memorial Park near Oakland. The historic farmland and forest was willed to the county in 1983 by Mildred Kanipe with the stipulation that “No timber shall be cut or harvested except as may be necessary.” But now the county has broken the original trust and is looking at road building, logging and herbicide spraying in the park. A decision is expected as we go to press this week. Find out more on our blog or at mildredkanipepark.org.