Slant 5-7-2015

May special elections tend to have low turnouts, meaning everyone who does vote has a bigger impact than in general elections. Your ballot has superpowers! Lane County’s Vehicle Registration Fee may have trouble passing this time around, but it has people thinking about how we pay (or don’t pay) for street, road and bridge maintenance, not only in the county but also in our cities and small towns. Is there any town in Lane County not struggling to fund street repairs? Regardless, credit should go to the citizen Road Advisory Committee that wrestled with 20 different options for raising money for pavement repair. The RAC has a long and practical view and understands that it costs 10 to 12 times as much to rebuild a road as to repair it. And we saw an unusual compromise and consensus on the Lane County Commission, which voted unanimously to send this proposal to the voters.

• And as we go to press this week we note that Alicia Hays, the incumbent 4J School Board member in Position 1, has a last-minute opponent, sort of. Lisa Christon is running a write-in campaign and says on her Facebook page, “I am greatly troubled by recent developments and would truly welcome an opportunity to be part of the solution.” Too late an entry for this election, but we hope she runs again.

• As Baltimore reels from the death of Freddie Gray in police hands, here in Eugene Brian Babb’s friends, family and community are devastated by the death of the veteran with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. The Eugene police responded with a SWAT team to a call for help by Babb’s therapist, Becky Higgins. Higgins’ emotional and thought-provoking viewpoint in the April 29 R-G is worth a read. 

At a May 4, press conference, not long after DA Alex Gardner found the shooting justified under the law, Babb’s family laid out a plan for “Brian’s Bill” as part of an effort to ensure other veterans don’t meet the same fate. They are planning a march on May 12, the day Babb would have turned 50, at 11:30 am at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza at the corner of 8th and Oak. 

EPD has since reached out to veterans, but there are still questions about the incident — Babb’s family says the neighbors’ accounts of the incident don’t line up with the police report. 

The heartwrenching press conference and other footage documented by videographer Tim Lewis of PictureEugene, can be watched on YouTube under the title “Those Dark Places.”  Babb’s sister, Ronda McGowan, says she was the one who found the bullet that killed her brother in the wall of the house, not the police who searched the scene and left Babb’s body lying there for six hours. 

• Just when we’re bragging to our Portland friends about how much better our daily newspaper is than theirs, the game changes. Tony Baker, editor and publisher of The Register-Guard, announced May 5 that for the first time in 88 years a Baker will not be running the Eugene daily. We regret that N. Christian Anderson III will be the new editor, publisher and president of the Guard Publishing Co., which owns the paper, as of June 1. As the publisher of The Oregonian, Anderson has overseen the shrinking and shallowing of the print version of Oregon’s venerable daily, at the same time expanding electronic platforms. Because the Baker family will retain ownership, we’re hopeful that their long attachment to this rowdy community will persist. What does this change mean for EW, in our 34th year and circulating more than 43,000 papers a week? We’ll soon see.

• We’ve seen the environmental damage done by homeless campers along the Willamette River in Eugene and share EWEB Commissioner John Brown’s desire to do something about it (see our story this week). Brown, the Rev. Wayne Martin, Terry McDonald, Pastor Dan Bryant and other community leaders are looking for practical solutions, particularly in light of the city spending $250,000 last year to clean up homeless camps. We can do better. The “ambassadors” bike patrols announced this week might be part of the solution, and the “Hobbit huts” should not be rejected without being explored. Both proposals need to take into account not only how best to help the parks and environment, but also how to help the unhoused and not create a scenario where we push people further and further to the edges or create a law enforcement vs. homeless mentality. So what more can the city do to provide low-income and no-income housing?