News Briefs: Faces of the Homeless | EWEB Stuck With Retiree Health Bill | City Council Votes Anti-WOPR | Driver’s License Bill in Salem | Novick Gets Local Nods, Beer Time | LCC Plans Big Confab on Peace | Forum on Basketball Arena Friday | Legislative Update | Polar Bears or Oil? | Lane Area Herbicide Spray Schedule |
Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
4J bumps poorer and browner kids for richer and whiter kids
Developers want to build homes on a landslide
Super Special People
FACES OF THE HOMELESS
|PHOTOS BY KURT JENSEN|
More than 1,200 homeless or near homeless people sought services at the Project Homeless Connect event Thursday, Feb. 7, at the Lane County Fairgrounds. Rachel St. Julian (right) said she previously got help to buy a small piece of land and start building a house. She ran out of money after building four walls and is looking for assistance to build the roof. Amelia and her son Joshua, 2, (top) were getting dental and eye exams, a haircut and information about all the available services for the homeless.
EWEB STUCK WITH RETIREE HEALTH BILL
Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) ratepayers may have to pay millions more in retiree health benefits and legal fees after the public utility lost a legal appeal Jan. 30.
EWEB officials have said previously that losing the case could result in a rate increase up to 4 percent to fund a roughly $40 million future liability. EWEB could appeal the ruling to the Oregon Supreme Court.
The Oregon Court of Appeals rejected EWEB’s appeal of an earlier circuit court ruling that EWEB violated an unwritten contract with employees when it decided to reduce retirees’ health benefits and charge more for them.
Before 1990 EWEB offered its retirees a lifetime of free health care. Retiree dependents could sign on to the health care plan for $7.80 per month, $3 per month if they were over 65. In 1990 EWEB reconfigured the plan. Older retirees were grandfathered in to varying degrees with many paying somewhat higher premiums. Employees retiring after 1994 would pay between 25 and 100 percent of their health care premiums, depending on years served. After age 65, employees would be eligible for Medicare, and the EWEB insurance would end. In 2003 and 2004, EWEB again adjusted the retiree health care benefits and premiums to save money. Employees sued, arguing breach of contract affecting about 400 retirees.
EWEB argued that there was never a signed contract, that managers didn’t have the authority to promise no changes to the retiree health care package and that EWEB reserved the right to change the benefits.
In an opinion written by Judge David Schuman, the appeals court dismissed EWEB’s arguments. EWEB’s promise of the benefits was an unwritten contract to employees, the court found. The EWEB Board passed a resolution stating that it reserved the right to amend or terminate the retiree health benefits, according to the judgment. But information sent to employees about the benefits “did not mention the board resolution,” the judgment states.
EWEB, however, did win when the court also dismissed a cross appeal by employees arguing that some retirees should continue to get the pre-1990 free health care deal. The court said that by continuing to work at EWEB while knowing the benefits had been reduced, they had accepted the change. — Alan Pittman
CITY COUNCIL VOTES ANTI-WOPR
The Eugene City Council took an anti-WOPR stance Feb. 11 when council members voted on a resolution opposing the BLM’s Western Oregon Plan Revisions. The WOPR proposes to increase logging 700 percent on Oregon’s public lands.
The resolution, which urges Congress to pass legislation that protects mature and old-growth forests, provides stable county payments based on ecosystem services and advances restoration-driven forestry projects, passed 5-2.
Councilors Jennifer Solomon and George Poling voted against the resolution, while Alan Zelenka, Betty Taylor, Andrea Ortiz, Bonny Bettman and Chris Pryor voted for it. Councilor Mike Clark was not present. Mayor Kitty Piercy also voted for the resolution though her vote wasn’t necessary as there was no tie to break.
After listening to Solomon’s support of the WOPR, Councilor Taylor commented, “It’s hard for me to believe anyone supports the WOPR.” She made mention of retired UO professor Glenn Love, who commented against the WOPR, saying, “Look at Glenn Love, whose son is in space right now, and he’s here trying to help us on Earth.” — Camilla Mortensen
DRIVER’S LICENSE BILL IN SALEM
A bill to require proof of legal U.S. residence to get a driver’s license in Oregon is making its way swiftly through the Oregon Legislature, raising protests from immigrants’ rights advocates.
In one week, the bill was adopted by the Senate Interim Transportation Committee, advanced to the Joint Committee on Ways & Means, calculated to have a financial impact of $4 million to implement and sent to the Senate floor.
The bill passed in the Oregon Senate Feb. 11 with a 23-7 vote and moved to the House for consideration. Eugene’s Sen. Vicki Walker was among the six Democrats and one Independent casting “no” votes on the bill. Eugene’s Sen. Floyd Prozanski voted in favor of the measure. Much of the Senate debate centered on whether the bill is related to illegal immigration.
The measure places into state statutes the tighter identification requirements included in an executive order by Gov. Ted Kulongoski that went into effect last week.
People trying to get, renew or replace an existing license are required to provide a Social Security number or other proof of legal residence verifiable by the DMV. Immigrants also must show they have a current visa to get a temporary license, valid for the duration of the visa.
Erik Sorensen of CAUSA, the Oregon immigrants’ rights organization, says that the bill would be not only costly but will affect the public safety of Oregonians: “It will result in a large amount of people driving without a license and insurance.” Last week’s rally against the measure drew 3,000 people, Sorensen says. — Camilla Mortensen
NOVICK GETS LOCAL NODS, BEER TIME
U.S. Senate candidate Steve Novick this week received the endorsement of Lane County Commissioner and former gubernatorial candidate Pete Sorenson as well as the Cottage Grove Blackberry Pie Society. Novick, a Democrat, is running in the May primary, hoping to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Gordon Smith. His main opponent in the primary is fellow Democrat Jeff Merkley.
If you haven’t figured out who Novick is yet, you’re in the minority. His T.V. commercials, which have been airing locally, have gotten national press, including a spot on FOX News. His “Beer with Steve” ad, featuring Novick popping a beer open with his hook while discoursing on politics, has 70,000 hits on YouTube. Novick is missing his left arm and uses a hook, which has become emblematic of his campaign.
“I’m proud to throw my support behind Steve Novick,” says Sorenson. “We both have been willing to stand up to the political establishment and demand real results for regular Oregonians. With the big challenges we face on health care, the faltering economy and the war in Iraq, we need a fighter in the Senate who can achieve the real changes we need to turn this country around. And that person is Steve Novick.”
The Cottage Grove Blackberry Pie Society, a grassroots, progressive political action committee, declared its endorsement for Novick last week. “Novick gives you the feeling he will never be outworked or out-studied and will always fight for the rights of all us ‘little guys’ and the quality of life in this state we love,” the group noted in its endorsement release last week.
Novick also has the support of state Sen. Bill Morrisette, former state Sen. Tony Corcoran and children’s advocate Joy Marshall.
Novick and Merkley are scheduled to debate at City Club of Eugene in March. If you want to meet Novick sooner, you can have “a Beer with Steve” from 6:15 to 7:15 pm Tuesday, Feb. 19 at Steelhead Brewery. “Drink up, Eugene. The Hook is here, and he’s ready for beer,” says the campaign.
LCC PLANS BIG CONFAB ON PEACE
Medea Benjamin, cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK, and Bob Wing, cofounder of United for Peace & Justice, are among the keynote speakers planned for the Peace and Democracy Conference Feb. 29 and March 1 at LCC.
The annual conference is designed to bring together educators, students, spiritual leaders, activists, community members and political leaders “dedicated to building a peaceful society and nation.”
CODEPINK is a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement “working to end the war in Iraq, stop new wars and redirect our resources into health care, education and other life-affirming activities,” according to the group’s mission statement. “We reject the Bush administration’s fear-based politics that justify violence and instead call for policies based on compassion, kindness and a commitment to international law with an emphasis on joy and humor.”
United for Peace & Justice is a coalition of organizations that coordinates protests and other actions nationwide and locally. The group is calling for and supporting a set of activities on and around the fifth anniversary of the Iraq occupation “that will manifest the intensifying opposition to the war and help strengthen our movement.” Coming up is a mass nonviolent direct action March 19 in Washington, D.C., and corresponding demonstrations in cities across the country.
Information on the upcoming LCC conference can be found at at the Peace Center’s website (www.lanecc.edu/peacecenter).
FORUM ON BASKETBALL ARENA FRIDAY
Student activists on the UO campus frustrated with a lack of public input into the proposed new UO basketball arena are planning their own public forum from 5:30 to 7:30 pm Friday, Feb. 15, at 180 PLC on campus. Notes taken at the forum will be compiled and submitted to the UO administration and the state Legislature, according to one of the organizers, Cimmeron Gillespie of the Student Insurgent newspaper.
Gillespie says the meeting’s agenda includes discussion on the costs, location and plans for the new arena, as well as the plans for Mac Court. “We hope to get a diverse group of people there,” he says.
The first week of Oregon’s first-ever attempt at annual sessions “felt like the last month of a regular biennial session,” and “has been a whirlwind so far,” says Rep. Phil Barnhart.
Barnhart says the Legislature this month will push forward a bill to “crack down on property crimes and protect abused and neglected children” and will continue work on rebuilding the State Police. “In the 2007 session we provided funding for 100 new state troopers after decades of cuts to our police force; this session we’ll take the final step to hiring enough troopers to patrol our highways 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Barnhart serves as the chair of the House Revenue Committee and says his panel is working on bills “to shield small family farms, woodlots and fishing operations from the estate tax and to encourage renewable energy device manufacturing in Oregon.”
He is also seeking clarification of the Business Energy Tax Credit to “help in our continued quest to reduce and eventually end Oregon’s dependence on foreign oil. Solar, wind and geothermal energy hold great promise.” Barnhart says the tax credit will attract businesses to Oregon and make our state a national leader in “one of the most promising and fast growing industries for years to come, improving the diversification of our economy and producing family wage jobs.” He expects both of these bills to pass his committee this week and meet with broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
Barnhart says the Revenue Committee also received the quarterly revenue forecast from the state economist. “The projections show a very large reduction in revenue and threaten our ability to fund key services,” he says. “Thanks to very responsible, prudent budgeting on the part of the 2007 Legislature and our creation of Oregon’s first ever Rainy Day fund, we will be able to weather this downturn without the damage our state suffered from 2002-2005.”
POLAR BEARS OR OIL?
Will polar bears go extinct because of global warming? The Bush administration continues to ignore the plight of the bears as oil leases are sold off the shore of Alaska and Arctic ice melts even faster than anticipated.
Studies showing that polar bears have become thinner and that reproductive rates and cub survival rates are dropping persuaded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose listing the bear as an endangered species a year ago.
The U.S. Geological Survey conducted a set of studies, which were released in September, to aid the decision. The studies said that two-thirds of the bears would disappear within 50 years due to decreasing Arctic sea ice. Polar bears live and hunt for seals on the ice.
The decision whether to list the bears was due Jan. 9. The USFWS put off the decision until after a Feb. 6 lease sale by Alaska’s Minerals Management Service that opened 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea to oil and gas activities. The leases were won jointly by the Norwegian company StatoilHydro and the Italian company Eni with bids of more than $2.6 billion. Polar bears den on islands in the Chukchi Sea, according to the USFWS. — Camilla Mortensen
Lane Area Herbicide Spray Schedule
• Near Deadwood: Roseburg Resources (935-2507) will aerially spray 18 acres with herbicides above Lake Creek starting March 22 (#50110). ODF 935-2283.
• Near Low Pass/Triangle Lake area: Weyerhaeuser (744-4600) will aerially spray 60 acres with herbicides starting March 1 (#50115), and 552 acres near South Fork of Alsea River, Long Tom River, and Fish Creek starting March 1 (#50098).
Compiled by Jan Wroncy, Forestland Dwellers: 342-342-8332, www.forestlanddwellers.org
• Bob Cassidy has filed for the EWEB Board primary election race representing Wards 2 & 3. Patrick Lanning currently holds the seat and is not expected to run for reelection. Lanning has reportedly missed about half the EWEB Board meetings since taking a job with Chemeketa Community College in Salem. Lanning says he plans to serve out his term, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see an early resignation and board appointment after the primary.
The deadline for filing for the May ballot is March 6, and two other EWEB Board positions will be on the ballot. So far, only incumbent John Simpson has filed for Wards 1 & 8; and only Rich Cunningham has filed for Wards 6 & 7, a seat currently held by Mel Menegat.
• Why keep an eye on the EWEB Board? The City Council gets much more attention, but in some ways the EWEB Board has more clout than the council on key environmental and land use issues. Plus, every month Eugeneans write big checks to EWEB, and those checks may get bigger.
The public utility is proposing a major investment in new facilities on Roosevelt in west Eugene, seeking approval for $85.5 million in electric revenue bonds on top of the $15 million or so of bonding already approved. That’s a big debt, and once the bonding is approved by the City Council, the EWEB board will decide how its residential, commercial and industrial customers will pay it off. Will the bond proposal slide through quietly on the council’s consent agenda Feb. 25, or will the council refer it to the voters? Citizens will also have 60 days to petition to put the bonding on the ballot.
EWEB is moving ahead on its master plan for its riverfront property. Will it be sold as a hospital site, parkland or mixed-use commercial and residential development? Big decisions with big implications for Eugene’s quality of life. Board members will also be dealing with major issues regarding power generation and distribution that could have a big local impact on global warming. EWEB decisions also affect fish, riparian habitat and recreation on the McKenzie River. Serving on the board is a huge responsibility.
• The Oregonian and the Oregon Daily Emerald have done a fine job of telling a story the UO clearly would rather not be told. It’s all about the power of big money in the academy and its games today. It comes out now in the Knight agreement that their $100 million gift will go away June 1 unless the Legislature approves $200 million in bonding authority to completely cover the cost of what is promoted as the country’s most expensive basketball arena. What kind of public policy is that? Because the bonds are backed ultimately by the taxpayers, the UO has to show that arena revenue will cover yearly bonding costs, and that backup funds are in place if it doesn’t. It comes out next, thanks to a faculty member’s request under the Oregon open records law, that the UO administration essentially hid from the relevant faculty committees a report showing much lower revenue projections than subsequent reports showed. What kind of university policy is that? Maybe it’s the only way to bring in $100 million, $200 million, many more millions. But it doesn’t do much to build yellow and green trust.
• Hey, let’s kick the struggling poor kids out of their school and give it to the “successful” rich kids! That’s the “Schools of the Future” plan that 4J has come up with in closing Harris Elementary to make room for alternative school kids from Eastside and Fox Hollow. Harris is 67 percent free/reduced lunch while Eastside is 5 percent and Fox Hollow 10 percent. The future for 4J looks unfair.
• Project Homeless Connect came together again last week at the Fairgrounds, drawing nearly 1,200 “guests” and more than 800 community volunteers. It’s likely a thousand more homeless and near-homeless people did not show up for a variety of reasons. Some were working and couldn’t come — yes, the homeless among us include people with part-time or even full-time jobs. The large number of people who did show up is disturbing, but there is encouragement to be found in the large number of volunteers who also appeared. The enthusiastic volunteers indicate the level of care in our valley and also show support for further action. A publicly funded shelter is needed in Lane County, along with more affordable housing and more financial support for social services and veterans’ benefits.
• As we go to press this week we are hearing that the sale of Churchill Media’s KOPT AM 1600 radio has been finalized, and the commercial Air America programming will switch to Oregon Public Broadcasting Feb. 20. Churchill Media tells us they were “hoping to find a buyer for the KOPT brand and switching it to 1450 AM for the new broadcaster.” No takers, so far.
Rachael Carnes had her not-so-young audience of Eugene City Club members dancing around the DAC last week when she talked about “The Brain Dance: What Little Kids Already Know.” She’s the founder and executive director of Sparkplug Dance in Eugene and the excellent dance writer for EW. Stressing the importance of “movement exploration” by infants and young children, she added that we should all move more. The best piece of play equipment, she said, is a clean floor suitable for “tummy time.” Carnes’ message: “The arts broaden our perspective on what it means to be human,” and that includes dancing to build our brains.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
After graduating from the University of Michigan in economics, Jennifer Frenzer-Knowlton spent three years on Wall Street. “I saw the avarice of capitalism,” she says. “It became apparent I had to follow my heart.” She returned to her home town of Columbus, Ohio, for a law degree. “I felt that a woman needed teeth in her credentials,” she notes. She also got married, and when her physician husband took a job on the Macah Reservation in Neah Bay, Wash., she was hired by the tribe. “I worked on economic development,” she says. “We built a marina for fishermen that had been in the works for 35 years.” In 1997, shortly after the birth of her son Benjamin, the family moved to Eugene. A stay-at-home mom for several years, Frenzer-Knowlton worked with Betsy Steffensen in planning the Million Mom March against gun violence in 2000. Since 9/11, she has been active in the peace movement through the Justice Not War Coalition and the Eugene Friends Meeting. “Most of my activism has been faith-based,” she says. “I learned from the tribe that activism comes from cultural and spiritual roots.”