News Briefs: City to Build Cop Shop Despite No Votes | Housing Crisis Hits Home | Godless Eugene | Helicopter Pesticide Spraying in Eugene | Memorial Show Benefits Sponsors | The Mouse That Roared | Violence & Vigilance | School Looks for New Home | Activist Alert | War Dead |
Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Happening People: Chris Birke
Bettman tells of threats, warns of regionalization
The Road Ahead
Conference targets mobilizing for change
City to Build Cop Shop Despite No Votes
Facing huge cuts in city services due to the recession, the Eugene City Council voted unanimously Feb. 11 to spend at least $17 million in city reserves on a new police station that voters opposed three times.
Keeping the reserves from being used to prevent more than $10 million in cuts to popular library, parks, Hult Center, planning, community policing and other services appears to be a primary motivation for the city manager and councilors.
“It really can’t be on the table as part of the budget committee discussion,” said Councilor Chris Pryor. “We need to make sure it goes for this.”
Three south Eugene councilors and Mayor Kitty Piercy had expressed concerns about the budget maneuver earlier. But including up to $5 million in the proposal for a seismic and mechanical upgrade of the City Hall building was apparently enough to win over their support.
Though all of the councilors and city staff may support prioritizing the police station above other city services, voters do not. Police station measures failed in May and November 2000 and again in 2004. The last margin was 60 percent opposed.
City Manager Jon Ruiz recommended that the council get around the will of the voters on the police station and spend its reserves on the unpopular facility without asking voters. Voter approval is “unlikely in the foreseeable future,” he wrote in a memo.
The City Council also voted unanimously to pursue using the EWEB headquarters building along the Willamette River for a new City Hall. Dislocating EWEB would move hundreds of employees out of downtown at a time the city is spending millions of dollars on tax breaks and subsidies to retain employers in the city’s struggling downtown. — Alan Pittman
Housing Crisis Hits Home
How bad has the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression hit Eugene?
Eugene average home prices fell 8 percent in the last year, according to the Zillow.com website.
It could be a lot worse. U.S. home values fell 12 percent in 2008, according to Zillow. In Bend, values dropped 18 percent.
Even after the drop in Eugene, local home prices are still up 6 percent over the past five years due to earlier sharp increases. Eugene home prices peaked in the second quarter of 2007 at a median price of almost $250,000. Now they’ve fallen almost 14 percent from that peak, erasing three years of earlier gains.
Almost a third of all Eugene homes bought in 2008 had negative equity last year with the owners owing more than they could sell the home for. That was down from almost 40 percent the year before, apparently in part due to banks demanding bigger down payments.
In the past year, 13 percent of Eugene homes sold for a loss. Foreclosures were almost 7 percent of sales, triple the average rate for the past five years, according to Zillow.
With the demand for homes dropping, home construction in Eugene has dropped in half, according to city permit data. In the six months ending in Feb. 12, 48 homes were built in Eugene, half as many compared to the same period a year before.
But although home construction has dropped in half, the overall valuation of construction projects in Eugene is down only by about one-fourth. A few high value apartment and commercial projects helped keep the overall construction volume up, according to permit data.
The state unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, the national rate 7.1 percent. The Lane County unemployment rate has climbed from 5.3 percent two years ago to 9.5 percent last month, according to state data. That’s almost the record 10 percent December unemployment rate for Lane County set in 1984. —Alan Pittman
Going to church on Sunday? Most people in Oregon and Eugene aren’t.
Oregon ranked as one of the least religious states in the nation in a Gallop poll released this month. The poll asked, “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” Nationally, 65 percent said yes. In Oregon the percentage was 53.
Nationally, only 30 percent told Gallup that they go to church at least once a week.
Only one in four people in Eugene are counted in church congregations, half the national average, according to a 2000 national study by the Glenmary missionary group.
The study ranked the Eugene/Springfield metro area as one of the very least religious places in the nation. Out of 276 metro areas, Eugene ranked 273 for the lowest percentage of adherents.
So does this mean Eugene is going to hell? Well, Denmark ranks as one of the least religious nations in the world but was featured last year on 60 Minutes as one of the world’s most livable and happiest. — Alan Pittman
Helicopter Pesticide Spraying In Eugene
Fearing an infestation of gypsy moths, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is proposing to use helicopters to spray the biological insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Btk) over 626 acres centered around Old Dillard Road in Eugene.
The ODA says the spraying is safe and necessary, but Eugene’s Oregon Toxics Alliance (OTA) sent out an email saying the aerial insecticide is not safe for people and the environment. OTA is urging Eugene residents to “step forward to protect our community from exposure and harm” from the proposed aerial spraying.
“The government has found only seven moths from traps they have set in south Eugene,” says OTA in the email to its mailing list. “The results of the trapping project do not indicate that Eugene has ‘an outbreak’ that requires pesticide treatment.”
OTA says aerial spraying of insecticides to control the gypsy moth is not necessary and “is likely to result in pesticide drift that can contaminate properties and gardens and harm people outside of the target area.”
Similar aerial sprays for moths have been abandoned in California due to health concerns and replaced by a program of sterile moth releases, according to OTA.
OTA says the insecticide will kill monarch butterflies, swallowtail butterflies and many other beneficial insects. And this particular pesticide, “delivered by helicopter is not safe for people. The application of harmful chemicals that adversely impacts the environment directly influences our human condition, and a violation of the environment is a violation of our human rights.”
The Department of Agriculture will hold a public information meeting at 7 pm Thursday, Feb. 19, at Calvary Fellowship Church, 4060 West Amazon Drive.
Memorial Show Benefits Sponsors
When local theater aficionada Barbara Nicholls died in early February, she left behind a life of inspiration and service. This week, one local theater company honors her memory with a benefit performance.
Nicholls knew a lot about theater, says Lord Leebrick Theatre Artistic Director Craig Willis. “We had a pretty constant back and forth of opinions and thoughts,” he says, looking over the years of emails between the two of them. “She wasn’t just interested in local theater; she has children in the Bay Area, and she kept me up to date about what was happening there and in New York and London, too.”
Though she loved the theater, the 82-year-old served most passionately on the board of Sponsors, Inc., a local nonprofit that helps those recently released from various correctional facilities to find ways back into the community. “She got us involved with Sponsors years ago,” Willis says. “She thought that it would be a good thing to reorient people to everyday life through the arts.”
In consultation with Ron Chase, Sponsors’ executive director, Willis decided that the Leebrick should make the second preview of its next play a benefit for Sponsors. Money from the pay-what-you-will Thursday, Feb. 26, preview of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Rabbit Hole will go to Sponsors. Rabbit Hole deals with the reactions of a couple to the death of their son, and the Leebrick’s production stars Mary Fjelstad, Tim McIntosh and LCC’s beloved Judith “Sparky” Roberts. “It’s a gripping play that’s both hilarious and deeply moving,” Willis says.
In a press release, Chase said that Nicholls was always “coming up with new ideas to serve our folks, and prodding us in only the way she could to increase our visibility in the community.
Tickets are available online at www.lordleebrick.com or 465-1506. Those who would like to support Sponsors in Nicholls’ name can also send donations to Sponsors, 1756 Willamette St., Eugene, OR 97401. —Suzi Steffen
The Mouse That Roared
Dunes City on Feb. 12 enacted a resolution calling for national comprehensive health care reform including a fair debate on single-payer-type solutions, such as “Medicare-for-all.” The sleepy bedroom and retirement village of 1,330 lakeside residents is located south of Florence.
The audience at the City Council meeting broke into spontaneous applause following the vote, according to local retired attorney Rand Dawson. Dawson says the action could reflect a change in the mood of the country at large. Dunes City favored McCain over Obama in the November election.
Western Lane County health care activists are calling the unanimous decision “an important victory,” says Dawson.
Stu Henderson, a Florence resident who worked to place the matter on the city agenda, says, “We designed this to send a message to Congressman DeFazio, that single-payer-solutions need to be on the table for public review. Conventional wisdom says single-payer lacks political will, isn’t realistic or is somehow un-American. The Council’s fair-minded action rejects those arguments. We still believe a Congressman can’t ignore when a city speaks. We will be moving to Florence next.”
The group believes this is the first city in Oregon to pass such a resolution. Their slides, meeting audio and video will be placed on YouTube soon for others to
use, says Dawson. He can be reached at email@example.com — Ted Taylor
Violence & Vigilance
A year has passed since the Valentine’s Day massacre of five students at Northern Illinois University. An even worse shooting left 11 dead in Finland last September. Then on Jan. 25 of this year, a gunman randomly opened fire outside an under-21 nightclub in Portland, killing two teenaged students and wounding six others before shooting himself. Two days earlier, a young man went on a knife rampage at a Belgian daycare
center, stabbing two infants and a female worker to death and seriously harming 12 others.
“All of these events interface at some level,” says Eugene author Joseph Lieberman. “Each is an act of mass murder in which the killer, most often a suicidal male, indiscriminately targets the most innocent members of a society that he blames for his personal angst.”
These acts of violence, going back to the Thurston High attack in Springfield 11 years ago, will be the subject of a community panel on “School Shooting & School Safety” at 7:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 24 at the UO Living Learning Center Performance Hall, south of the EMU.
The panel will include Tod Schneider, crime prevention specialist at the Eugene Police Department and founder of the Safe School Design consulting and training firm, and Lieberman, author of School Shootings ó What Every Parent and Educator Needs to Know to Protect Our Children.
Guest speakers include Betina Lynn, a victim of the Thurston shooting, and her mother Rebecca.
School Looks for New Home
Eugene’s Little French School is trying to raise $200,000 to create a permanent home for its French immersion preschool and kindergarten programs.
“For more than 20 years, LFS has been one of the brilliant blips on the map of this town,” says supporter and former parent Melissa Lewis. “It’s a small school, and largely unknown, but like so many other aspects of this town, it is a hidden gem in our community culture, deserving of public recognition, and in need of public support.”
To help support its fundraising goals, the school is holding its annual “French Night Out” at Café Soriah, Feb. 27. The event will feature a buffet, music, dancing and a raffle.
Contact Stephanie Schiffgens at LFS, 345-3818, to purchase tickets for French Night Out, for more information or to make a contribution.
• The Bus Project and Eugene Weekly are sponsoring a free Brewhaha political slam, “Field Burning, Hot or Not,” at Davis’ Restaurant on Wed., Feb 25 at 7 pm.
• District 4J is hosting a series of school choice meetings and visitation weeks. The next school choice meeting is at 9 am Saturday, Feb. 21, at the 4J Education Center, 200 N. Monroe St. The next visitation week is Feb. 23-27. See www.4jlane.edu for more information. The deadline is March 20 for parents to request that their children attend a school outside their neighborhood next fall.
• Sierra Club holds a beer social to discuss the planned wood-fired power plant in Eugene, with guest David Monk, 6:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 24, at McMenamins, 1485 E 19th Ave., in Eugene.
• No more bad plastic! Oregon Environmental Council invites you to get rid of your plastic toys, bottles and dishes made with toxic chemicals. Get “safer plastic wallet cards,” sign a petition for children’s safe products legislation and drop your “bad” plastics in a collection barrel at the downtown public library on Feb. 21st from 9:30 am until noon. Learn more at www.oeconline.org/healthykids
• A joint town hall on Oregon’s budget crisis with state Sens. Morrisette, Prozanski and Walker, and Reps. Barnhart, Beyer and Holvey is planned for 8 am to 10:30 am Saturday, Feb. 21, at the Willamalane Adult Activity Center at 215 West C St. in Springfield. Discussion will focus on Oregon’s budget crisis and the latest revenue forecast.
• The series of public meetings on infill and density in Eugene continues at 7 pm Thursday, Feb. 26, at South Eugene High School; and March 3 at North Eugene High School. Last week we provided an address for an informational website, but the most direct address is www.eugene-or.gov/infill
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week’s numbers in parentheses):
• 4,245 U.S. troops killed* (4,243)
• 31,035 U.S. troops injured* (31,010)
• 176 U.S. military suicides* (167)
• 317 coalition troops killed** (317)
• 1,123 U.S. contractors killed (accurate updates NA)
• 98,992 to 1.2 million civilians killed*** (98,911)
• $597.4 billion cost of war ($594.5 billion)
• $169.9 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($169.3 million)
* through Feb. 16, 2009; source: icasualties.org; some figures only updated monthly
** sources: icasualties.org, defenselink.mil
*** highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate civilian deaths as high as 655,000 (Lancet survey, 2006) to 1.1 million (Opinion Research Business survey, 2008)
• More good news in the local small biz community:
Eugene’s Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss, the first ice cream made from coconut milk, has announced its products will be available at select Whole Foods Market stores across the U.S. by April.
Leah Chava at Imagine Salon, 943 Olive, tells us her business has been growing steadily since it opened in September. The salon has a dozen stylists working five days a week from 10 am to 7 pm.
Bill Finneran of the Eugene Record Convention sent out an email Feb. 10 thanking volunteers and saying that “even in bad economic times we had a huge crowd, including many who traveled a great distance to be with us.”
We haven’t seen the numbers yet, but the Asian Celebration at the fairgrounds Feb. 14-15 was packed with happy people. Great art, marketplace, food and performances.
• If the out-of-touch city government thinks that building new city offices while slashing services for taxpayers is such a good idea, the city should have the courage to refer the $17 million new police station to voters. The voters aren’t stupid; they’ve defeated the police building three times at the polls. But at the inward-focused city of Eugene, civil servants are apparently more about serving themselves from the city slush fund than we the pesky people.
• The seismic argument that voters have thrice rejected for building a new police station is a quivering pile of hooey. Police only use the basement as a locker room and parking garage. A few million dollars would shore up the existing building, and as it stands now, even in a major earthquake, it seems likely that only a few police cars would be lost. Officers have a higher risk of earthquake injury in their own homes. While pursuing its shaky City Hall fear mongering, the city government has shown little interest in the thousands of citizens who would be trapped or killed in schools, apartment towers, public garages, office buildings and stores in an earthquake.
• Moving EWEB out to use its building for a new City Hall would hurt Eugene’s struggling downtown. While the city is paying millions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks to keep people downtown to fight sprawl and global warming, it would be kicking one of downtown’s largest remaining employers out to the west Eugene wetlands.
• We hear a plastic bag proposal is working its way toward the Lane County Board of Commissioners, perhaps landing on the agenda the first week of March. The city of Eugene has not followed up on the idea of discouraging plastic grocery bags (see News Briefs in EW archives, 4/12/07). Meanwhile, the U.S. uses 12 million barrels of oil a year to make billions of mostly unrecyclable plastic bags, which become one of the largest sources of urban litter.
The local bag proposal, coming from Terry McDonald of St. Vincent de Paul and Bob Cassidy of the EWEB Commission, would require all retail stores in Lane County to charge 10 cents for plastic bags. The fees would go to the county general fund, and stores would charge customers for the bags.
Paper bags would become more popular, but stores could charge for them as well, and keep the change. The county general fund can certainly use the money, though it would shrink over time as people abandon plastic bags. And there would be extra accounting work for businesses.
Instead of the county referring this proposal to the voters in an expensive and delaying election, could commissioners just hold some public hearings and implement it by ordinance? It’s a far less risky proposition than past tax proposals.
• Peter DeFazio follows a long tradition in this congressional district of voting independently for principle. Think Jim Weaver, Charlie Porter. That’s what we like in this part of Oregon.
In voting against Obama’s final stimulus bill, DeFazio opposed the big tax cuts, the little infrastructure spending, the hurry-up and the ignorance of the content. We mostly agree on principle, but we think something has to be done right now, and we are willing to give Barack Obama a shot at it, knowing that Joe Biden’s probably right — at least 30 percent of what they do will be wrong. We hope DeFazio will take a leading role in shaping the other two legs of this recovery plan, the “nationalization” of the banks and halting of foreclosures.
Congress, and the country, need Peter’s smarts.
“Growing up in Texas, you can get a bleak view of the world,” says Houston native Chris Burke. Birke escaped to Oregon in 2000 after he finished high school. “I resented the fundamentalist values. I love the culture here, where you can learn about community from an adult perspective.” Birke started at the UO as a philosophy major (“I’m a big thinker,” he says) but switched to multi-media to pursue an interest in digital technology that he developed as a kid tinkering with video games. A senior-year internship with video-game company Buzz Monkey Software turned into a job after graduation.
“I work really hard,” he says. “Games need to be ready for holiday time, so we work 10 to 12 hours a day during crunch time in the summer. It’s fulfilling to be surrounded by talented people.” As an adjunct to his friend Cindy Ingram’s Grrrlz Rock series of concerts last November, Birke organized a panel discussion of women working in divergent fields. “We had a judge, a truck driver, someone from EWEB, a video game artist,” he says. “Naomi Zach from the philosophy department was the moderator. Grrrlz Rock is about music, but I think it should be about feminism as well.”