Eugene Weekly : News : 1.15.08

Citizens Report
A greener response to economic and climate crises
by Alan Pittman

A group of local environmentalists called for local food, green transportation, stopping sprawl and building community to respond to economic and climate change crises at a Citizens State of the City and County event Jan. 12. The annual alternative or supplement to the Mayor’s State of the City address drew about 100 people to Harris Hall in the county building.

Aleta Miller of the Environmental Center of Sustainability called for more local organic food production to fight the environmental effects of transporting foods long distances from factory farms relying heavily on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. She called for converting grass seed farms in the valley to food production. Miller said the Lane County Fairgrounds should be used as a hub for selling produce and education on the local food movement. “This is an area of vast local activity” with organic food, Miller said.

Mark Robinowitz said he had been “a freeway fighter for 15 years.” He said, “As the oil winds down we won’t need to build more highways; we need to maintain what we have.” Robinowitz faulted both political parties, Congressman Peter DeFazio, Gov. Ted Kulongoski and some environmental groups for supporting billions of dollars more for freeway capacity. To respond to declining oil supplies and global warming, Robinowitz called for high-speed rail, biogas buses, a Eugene ban on big box stores, and retooling RV factories to make buses. If the nation increased carpooling and drove under 55 mph, he said, “that would save more fuel than flows through the Alaska pipeline.” 

Robert Emmons, president of LandWatch Lane County, said his group’s efforts to stop sprawl are threatened by a call for deregulation from the state Legislature’s “Big Look” taskforce. Lane County is already one of only two counties in the state with a “marginal lands” provision allowing valuable winery land to be destroyed by sprawl, according to Emmons. High permit appeal fees “effectively eliminate” citizen participation, he said. Emmons said land use decisions should be evaluated for their sprawl impacts on energy use and global warming. The recent county election brought a “sympathetic majority” to the Board of Commissioners, he said. Emmons said surveys show protecting the environment is supported
by a strong majority. “It’s important that we hold our state and local representatives accountable to that majority.”

Samantha Chirillo of Cascadia’s Ecosystem Advocates called for using the millions the Forest Service spends on new logging roads to instead build hiking trails and remove outdated and abandoned logging roads that wash out and clog streams with sediment. Chirillo called for banning all native forest logging, using manual rather than pesticide weed removal, acquiring the rest of the Amazon headwaters and reenacting a state harvest tax to discourage clear-cutting and logging in watersheds. The logging industry is trying to exploit “an instinctual fear of fire” to increase logging, she said. Native forest thinning can increase fire risk by allowing in more drying wind and sunlight, according to Chirillo. Logging “waste” wood should be left in the forest for needed nutrients and habitat rather than burning it for fuel, she said. 

Jan Spencer of the Suburban Permaculture Project read a “letter from the future” describing a green vision for the area in two decades. The vision included compact, green urban villages built on reclaimed space from parking lots and roads. Housing co-ops would have strong community cohesion, he said. Eating locally and walking more, people would be fit and healthy. “Grass gave way to gardens years ago,” Spencer read the letter from the future. “Junk food is a memory.”

Eugene should “redefine prosperity” and “live within our economic and environmental means,” Spencer said. “Eugene should be in the vanguard of these changes.”

Eugene City Councilor Betty Taylor praised the citizens’ ideas at an evening council meeting after the event. Taylor, starting her fourth term as the most experienced city councilor, also offered a list of her own goals for 2009. 

Taylor said the city should acquire the rest of the Amazon headwaters as a park, build a park downtown, empower neighborhoods, pass a living wage ordinance, regulate big box stores, assist local businesses, change the street assessment policy, eliminate tax breaks for developers in the university neighborhood, look for new sources of tax revenue, respect student protesters, protect homeowners threatened by infill that lowers property values and create an independent performance auditor function for the city.