Eugene Weekly : News : 12.23.10

News Briefs:
Government Oils its Legal Gears | Islam Course to be Taught Outside LCC | Springfield Looks Ahead | Cultural Commons in Downtown | Activist Alert | Lighten Up |

Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes

Kids and Jobs
Citizens pack meeting to ask city to help schools

Something Euge!

Happening People: Karen Olch




If time is money, the federal government has been using its dollars very carefully. Eight months after the BP-licensed Transocean drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico and spewed approximately 4.4 million barrels of oil, the federal government has filed a lawsuit against British Petroleum and eight other companies associated with the spill. The government alleges that BP failed to use the safest possible equipment to protect personnel and the environment.

The government’s suit is the second to focus on the Clean Water Act; the first was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in June. Eugene-based attorney Charlie Tebbutt is representing CBD and hopes to prosecute the case alongside the government. “We’ve been waiting for the federal government to file, and now that they’ve joined the action we’re ready to engage them,” Tebbutt said. The penalties paid by BP would be used to clean up and fully restore the Gulf of Mexico, he said.

CBD’s suit seeks maximum penalties from BP under the Clean Water Act (about $20 billion), while the federal government’s case seeks damages and penalties without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act as well as civil penalties from the Clean Water Act. 

In addition to oil slicks and tar balls, substances like the hydrocarbon benzene (a carcinogen), mercury (a toxin), and arsenic (a toxin and carcinogen) are all released in an oil spill. Tebbutt said that “the goal is to get a full account of the oil and other pollution, like gases spilled into the Gulf, and to penalize BP and other defendants to the full extent of the law.” — Shannon Finnell



Barry Sommer, whose January noncredit course on Islam was abruptly canceled this month by Lane Community College, will be conducting the same class at a downtown venue starting on Jan. 24. Sommer’s classes in Harris Hall at 125 E. 8th Ave. will be free and open to the public, although donations will be accepted on behalf of an as-yet unnamed local charity.

Meanwhile, the Washington, D.C., based American Center for Law and Justice has filed a Freedom of Information Act request giving LCC 21 days to supply copies of all relevant documents relating to their decision to end the course. ACLJ, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, is seeking to reinstate Sommer at the college.

The president’s office at LCC responded on Dec. 17 that LCC is examining the issue and had no comments at this time. Earlier, LCC stated it would be setting up a series of lectures, seminars and colloquia under the auspices of the academic curricula department, to provide education and information about Islam while maintaining academic integrity and sensitivity to the needs of the community.

The Council on American Islamic Relations had objected to the LCC class being taught by Sommer, partly because he is co-founder of the Eugene chapter of ACT! For America, which it characterizes as an anti-Islamic “hate group.”

Billy Rojas, the other co-founder and a former teacher of history and comparative religion, claims that ACT! For America, founded by Lebanese-American journalist Brigitte Gabrielle, is a legitimate lobbying group that advocates against what the group views as a very real and obvious danger posed by Muslim jihadist intimidation and violence.

Rojas argued that, “critics of Islam have very little opportunity to present their perspective since the mainstream view is that Islam, while distinctive, is essentially a religion similar to all others and should be welcomed into our community the same as any other faith.”

Sommer and Rojas say they hold no hard feelings against  Muslims personally, but they believe there are problematic issues in the nature of Islam itself that merit serious study and debate.

“Any criticism of Islam is immediately taken as Islamophobia,” Sommer said. “I’m simply trying to promote honest and open interfaith dialogue. My class, eight hours in length over four weekly sessions, is going to be an historically factual overview of Islam, starting with a biography of Muhammad and continuing up until the present day.”

Inquiries regarding the class should be directed to whatisislam@ymail.comJoseph A. Lieberman



Eugene is looking at its transportation needs over the next 20 years (see News Briefs last week), and Springfield is also beginning the same state-mandated process. Eugene’s process is commonly referred to as TransPlan, while Springfield’s Transportation System Plan is called the Springfield TSP.

The Springfield TSP will update the policies, projects and strategies that guide transportation planning and investments within the Springfield area for the next 20 years. A new website at will be regularly updated with new information and opportunities to participate. 

The website has an survey for public input and asks residents about their experience getting around Springfield and the region.  Community members can also identify problem locations and ideas for improvements on a regional interactive map. 

“Other local long-range transportation plans from the cities of Eugene and Coburg, Lane Transit District and point2point solutions will be coordinated with the Springfield TSP update,” according to an email from David Reesor, Springfield’s senior transportation planner. “These concurrent planning processes provide a rich opportunity for collaboration and coordination through a Regional Transportation System Plan planning process.”

The survey and interactive map will be available through Jan. 31.



Energy Village in Eugene calls itself “an investment in human ecology” and is a local 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to creating a cultural commons downtown. 

Executive Director Susanna Meyer describes Energy Village as “a platform or incubator, and one of the services offered is to help individuals or groups articulate ideas.”

Author Lewis Hyde, who is writing a book on the cultural commons, defines his work in progress as, “the vast store of unowned ideas, inventions and works of art that we have inherited from the past and that we continue to create.” Hyde goes on to say that the “commons suffers from a kind of public invisibility, a lack of political, economic, and juridical standing” (see

How Energy Village plans to make use of the cultural commons that are from the past is still in flux. They do, however, have definite plans for creating new work that can be shared by all, and that can strengthen our community and democracy. “EV’s role is to bring the best ideas and groups together, but also to be proactive and innovative in working with downtown issues,” says Meyer.

At a recent meeting, Meyer summarized the group’s goals for the near future. She talked of the hopes of facilitating a center or centers in the downtown area that would foster alternative education — a school of sharing and artistic collaboration — and would support ideas and projects that emphasize collaboration over competition. 

Group members believe that it is through support of the local community and collaboration of members that good ideas are formed. It is Energy Village’s role to support those ideas. They repeatedly compare themselves to a kind of “intellectual YMCA.”

One of the many ideas that can be found at Energy Village is of a bicycle-powered stage to be used for music and dance performances. The audience members themselves would pedal stationary bicycles to create the energy to be used for the performance. This method was used at a small stage at the Eugene Celebration last fall.

Meyer says the group is also looking at facilitating a vocational space for youth, or spaces for arts and technology. “We’re a consulting agency in a way,” she says. “Energy Village is an incubator platform, and a place for meeting and collaboration.”

Fundraising to achieve a physical space for meetings is one of the group’s most pressing goal for 2011. Fundraising plans are yet to be finalized, and will soon be available on the group’s website,

Energy Village is currently on hiatus until the end of the year, but will begin to have weekly meetings in January. The mailing list can be joined via their website. 

The group has no paid staff, but Trey Wilkins serves as secretary. The international advisory board includes David Skelding, Ryan Fix, Kevin Kerber, Dean Xavier, Jon Blaufarb, Paolo Agnelli, Jim Gimzweski, Michael Masucci, Nir Perlson, John Perry Barlow and Stephan Fantl. — Philip Shackelton



• A “Transition Town” discussion group will meet at 11 am Sunday, Jan. 2, in the meeting space behind Theo’s Coffee Bar at Cozmic Pizza downtown. The group will be discussing The Transition Handbook, and plans to meet the first and third Sundays at the same location. See

• Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy’s 2011 State of the City Address will be at 5:30 pm Tuesday, Jan. 4, at the Hult Center lobby. The annual event is free, open to the public and light refreshments will be served. 

• A national Justice Conference is being planned Feb. 11-12 in Bend. See for details and registration.


LIGHTEN UP         

Why would a politician like Sarah Palin kill a caribou during the Christmas season and pretend she had shot Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? How big can the Grinch vote be?  

—  Rafael Aldave, Eugene





•• This is the most wonderful time of the year! Or maybe it’s the worst time of the year. Depends on our circumstances and attitudes. The holidays tend to exaggerate whatever we might be experiencing in our lives. We at EW claim no profound insight into human nature, but we have observed that these cold, wet, gray days can be made brighter by helping those less fortunate. The giver benefits as much as the receiver. It can be as simple as dropping some coins into a Salvation Army bucket or volunteering a few hours at FOOD for Lane County or the Egan Warming Centers. No time, energy or money to spare? Kind deeds, smiles and friendly words can do wonders. Light a candle.

Nine fine poets from this area demonstrated to City Club of Eugene members on Dec. 17 how “poems are one way to understand the world,” as President-elect Mary Leighton put it. A welcome change from the news of the day. Poetry was read by Laton Carter, Cecilia Hagen, Quinton Hallett, Claudia Lapp, Laura LeHew, Nancy Moody, Kathryn Ridall, Jenny Root and Charles Thielman.

Good news for downtowns in the Dec. 13 Wall Street Journal, reporting that downtown office buildings around the country “have stopped losing tenants or are filling up again even as the office space in the surrounding suburbs continues to empty.”
The story by Anton Troianovski cites a higher vacancy in suburban office buildings than their downtown counterparts. In previous recovery cycles, urban offices suffered higher vacancy rates.

What’s going on? “Young people don’t want to be out on the fringe,” says a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute, “and as people are beginning to figure that out, it’s beginning to get factored into office relocations.” Other factors are the stability of downtown government services, improved transit systems making it easier to get in and out of downtowns and the efficiencies of centralized business locations.

Is there a parallel in downtown Eugene? A lot of local folks are betting on it. Centre Court reconstruction is under way, and next door in the old Aster’s Hole, Rob Bennett is moving ahead on an office building. Steve Master is investing to renovate a city owned building on Pearl. Brian Obie is working on his boutique hotel at Fifth Street Public Market. We hear $8 million in state funding is coming through for LCC’s downtown center project across from the library, and yes, it will include lots of student housing. We expect to hear news soon about new owners for the DIVA building at the prime corner of Broadway and Olive. 

Mayor Kitty Piercy has been attending Northwest rail transportation meetings for years and will be co-chairing an ad hoc committee in 2011 looking at how Eugene and Portland can better connect as part of the Cascade Rail Corridor. Once completed, Eugene residents could hop a train to all the way to Vancouver, B.C. But there are “clogs in the corridor in Portland and we have some problems here as well,” she says in a Dec. 16 update to her email list. One problem is that freight and passenger service use the same tracks, and “as we move forward this will become increasingly difficult.” She says Oregon has only gotten a little rail funding compared to Washington, “but we are indeed back in the game.”

Rail lines had a huge impact on the development of our nation, and we will need to rely on rail and other forms of mass transit (such as EmX) more and more in the future. Piercy’s on track here.

•Many Oregon students are downright sloppy in their written communication skills, and now Oregon schools Superintendent Susan Castillo has decided that students can use spell-checker when taking computerized statewide writing tests. Bad idea. This is no time to lower our already diminished standards for speling proficiency.

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, editor at eugeneweekly dot com






After high school in Bethesda, Md., close to D.C., where her dad was a pathologist with the National Institutes of Health, Karen Olch began her career as a “certified wanderer.” She spent that summer on a farm in Vermont, picked up odd jobs in New England and Arizona, eventually studied sign language and worked 11 years as a interpreter in Tucson. “I came here to see trees and water,” says Olch, who moved to Oregon for an interpreting job at OSU in the early 1990s. Though the job was soon contracted out, she sold eggs and ducklings from her small farm until 2000 when she left for more wanderings: New Zealand, Europe and Eastern Canada. She came to Eugene in 2004 to earn a BFA in fiber arts. “I’d bike through downtown and wonder, ‘Who are these kids?’” says Olch, who began offering “art opportunities” at New Roads drop-in center. “I became immersed in the world of street youth.” In 2009, she launched the Youth Empowerment Project, a summer-long series of art workshops for disadvantaged youth, culminating in an exhibit at the DIVA Gallery during the Eugene Celebration. “I love working with these kids,” says Olch, who currently offers weekly drop-in sessions at MECCA, the Materials Exchange Center for Community Arts.