Slant 5-16-2013

It’s almost too late to mail those ballots buried among the bills on your kitchen table, but white ballot boxes can be found around town. Democracy relies on an informed public, and if you’re reading this you are probably more informed than most of your neighbors, so flaunt that knowledge and put it to work for a noble cause! An abridged version of our endorsements are in this issue and more information can be found by searching our website for “endorsements” or by ballot measure number.

 • Rumors that LCC President Mary Spilde is getting ready to resign are not true, she tells us. Tales of her imminent retirement are apparently being circulated among union members who are currently in negotiation with LCC. One anonymous source also told EW that Spilde will be “getting a golden parachute and leaving the college broke” and the “downtown housing is a losing proposition.” Spilde has been at the helm of LCC for 12 years and says “the rumors are not true. I have work to do,” and adds, “I’ve been pretty open that my plan is to stay for four or five more years.” It is true that Titan Court, the housing part of LCC’s downtown campus, is only half rented so far, but Spilde says neither she nor the board are worried since payments on the loan principle do not begin until 2016. “We feel like our ramp-up is fine,” she says, even with more student housing being built nearby. Rents at Titan Court currently run from $500 to $850 a month and Spilde says rent levels are “something we are looking at.” 

• We found out this week that EWEB is in negotiation with Sensus, a company in North Carolina, to start buying higher-technology meters this summer. EWEB spokesman Lance Robertson doesn’t call them “smart meters,” but rather “the same meters that would be compatible with an advanced metering system.” He says EWEB needs to replace 3,000 to 5,000 old meters per year anyway, and the new meters are all digital; the mechanical meters with spinning wheels are being phased out. “The current plan,” he says, “is to begin a utility-wide installation of advanced meters in later 2015 or in 2016.” The anti-smart meter folks are organizing opposition, armed with massive information, some valid, some internet junk. Activist Kathy Ging says EWEB’s contract for smart meters is for $26 million, but Robertson says, “We are still negotiating that contract.” See Activist Alert this week. 

• The May 13 City Council work session on reforming the Multiple-Unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE) was one of the most productive, community-benefit-oriented discussions that we’ve heard thus far. Just one thing was missing: What’s the best way to determine whether a project would still be built without the tax break? Sacrificing tax revenues if the project was going to be built anyway seems like a terrible idea — especially right now — but council seems hesitant to require a third-party auditor’s inspection of developers’ financial plans. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The temporary suspension of MUPTE could expire July 1, and an application for 508 more beds of student housing at 505 W. Broadway is waiting in the wings.

• The plastic bag ban is less than a month old, but the Eugene City Council is already looking to tweak it. Due to concerns about poor people not being able to pay five cents for a paper bag with SNAP cards, councilors are considering suspending the mandatory fee for paper bags. Without a charge for bags, stores would pay for the paper bags themselves, and that money has to come from somewhere, such as slight price hikes. Is that fair to people who can learn to remember a reusable bag, especially to low-income people? And no more silly talk of driving to Springfield for free grocery bags, please. Gas costs more than a nickel.

Candidates for local offices touted their visions and qualifications at City Club of Eugene May 10. Attendance was sparse due to the Dalai Lama’s appearance in Eugene that day, and also the lack of drama on the ballot when it comes to candidates. The few contested races have polite adversaries. We heard much talk about improving communication and squeezing more money out of  Salem, but no one called for reforming Oregon’s outdated tax system that has been twisted over the years to benefit wealthy landowners and corporations, even when asked about it by club member Bob Cassidy. If school boards and their members were to organize around substantive tax reform, Salem might actually do something. Meanwhile, we’re stuck in what looks like crisis management purgatory. 

• Our apologies to everyone who had the “Hello, Dolly!” song stuck in their heads over the weekend. We got some tongue-in-cheek complaints. For those who have no idea what our “Hello, Dalai!” headline was all about, we’ve posted a 1968 video of Louis Armstrong singing his signature song on our blog. Then again, you might not want that insidiously catchy song to hijack all your brain functions. And now, summer is coming. Hello, dahlia!