Slant 4-4-2013

• Eugene is moving ahead on renovating City Hall, or at least finding an architect, and we hear from reliable sources that longtime City Hall renovation proponent Otto Poticha and his team of architects were rated near the bottom of the list of seven architecture firms that have applied. Poticha won’t even be interviewed for the job. What’s particularly odd is Poticha was rated low in the category of “local familiarity,” even though he has for years led the effort to work up creative options for Eugene’s City Hall dilemma, including how to preserve the iconic Council Chambers, reuse the massive reinforced concrete understructure and provide for incremental growth of City Hall well into the future. Poticha Architects may or may not be the best designers for this project, but dismissing this firm as a viable candidate points to a flaw in the important selection process: not nearly enough public input. It’s safe to say the community favors the “deep renovation” option, preserving as much as possible of the existing City Hall, and at the least expense, but we may end up with something very different.

Who’s on the City Hall design selection committee? Mike Penwell, Kurt Corey, Jeff Perry, Steve Loges, Nan Lawrence, Jason Dedrick, Isaac Marquez and Hugh Prichard. All but Prichard are city staffers who answer to the unelected city manager. Where’s the balance?

• We’ve complained over the years about taxpayer money going to fund expensive jail beds in Lane County instead of supporting mental health services, early childhood education and other programs that help prevent crime and the need for jail beds. It’s not surprising the U.S. has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. But jail beds for adults and youth do serve a role in a comprehensive public safety system. “Criminals need respite,” says Sheriff Tom Turner, “and we don’t get to keep them very long.” We noticed this week that two people were busted for burglary, meth and heroin but were quickly released with no opportunity for drug intervention or other medical services. Jail beds for youth, along with the services provided while they are locked up, are important to keeping kids from becoming career criminals or dying from overdoses. The big question now is how to best fund public safety, and we’ll be looking at this issue as we approach the May primary. Three money measures will be on the ballot, including a tax levy for Lane County public safety.

Chefs’ Night Out, the annual benefit for FOOD for Lane County, is 6:30 to 9 pm Tuesday, April 9, at the Hult Center. This is a remarkable event, one of our favorites, featuring many of the best restaurants, caterers, wineries and microbreweries in the area. Be there, or be far less satiated than we will be. 

Open enrollment in Oregon public schools allows families to send their kids to schools that are outside the districts they live in, and the Legislature is looking at restricting or eliminating this option, less than two years into the five-year experiment. One argument against open enrollment is that more affluent families living in low socio-economic areas will send their kids to the “better schools” across the valley, diminishing their home districts. Meanwhile, poor families can’t afford to take advantage of the option. What’s not getting much attention in the debate is that open enrollment allows charter schools, such as Network Charter within the 4J District, to take in students from Bethel, Cottage Grove, Creswell, Blue River — keeping kids in school who might otherwise drop out. Let’s keep open enrollment going for the full five years to see how it works.

• Will there ever be peace between Israelis and their neighbors, and if so, how will it come about? Over the years we’ve printed columns and letters from multiple perspectives on Israel and the Palestinians, and the back and forth got heated, mirroring the seemingly intractable chaos in the Middle East that threatens to kill millions more. Recently we ran a letter from the Al-Nakba Awareness Project and it was followed by a response from the Jewish Relations Council of Lane County. That letter drew a response from Al-Nakba but we ran it online only, much to the chagrin of the writer. Our space is limited and there’s no shortage of purely local topics. Does this debate belong in our pages or does it exacerbate the conflict by bringing it home? Or like the complex issues of climate change and health care, do big solutions evolve from smaller communities getting involved and advocating for sanity? What might be useful is abandoning the accusations and focusing on the cultural wealth Jews and Arabs share, both in the Mideast and here in Lane County.