Slant 6-18-2015

• Fans of Eugene’s Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption turned out to voice their support at the Eugene City Council meeting June 16 in a repeat performance of an unofficial MUPTE public forum June 8. The council will meet again on the topic July 8. We predict the 10-year tax breaks for developers will be reinstated with some added restrictions, but probably not enough restrictions to deal with our chronic need for affordable housing. We question some underlying assumptions about MUPTE. Advocates say developers won’t build housing downtown without MUPTE and cite the fact that no new housing has been built since MUPTE ended two years ago. But smart developers could also just be waiting for the new MUPTE, and if it doesn’t happen they will build anyway because of the high demand for market-rate rentals downtown. One extended-stay hotel/apartment project about to begin without tax breaks is a new Home2 Suites by Hilton downtown at the Musgrove Family Mortuary site. 

Sports branding is so smart at the UO. How about “Historic Hayward Field” in huge letters all around the old track facility and last weekend all over national TV with the NCAA championships. That certainly suggests that we care about both history and winning track teams here in Eugene, Oregon. But so far, the branding for the new president of the UO is not quite so sharp. President Michael Schill’s starting salary was listed in the Chronicle of Higher Education as ninth highest among public universities in the country. That’s at a school where the faculty has unionized to fight for better pay and fierce negotiations are currently under way, graduate teaching fellows went on strike last winter for a better deal, and adjuncts are miserably compensated. Interesting contrast with Portland State University President Wim Wiewel, fifth highest compensated president in Oregon, who recently asked his board of trustees to give him no pay increase, according to a report in The Oregonian.

• Speaking of the UO, we see economics professor Bill Harbaugh has been elected vice president of the UO Senate, which means he will be the president-elect. Harbaugh with his UO Matters blog has been a thorn in the side of the UO administration for years, publishing embarrassing documents and investigating questionable policies and practices. What does it mean that the UO faculty members have elected this sometimes acerbic watchdog to a leadership position? Will this position affect his widely read blog? Harbaugh will speak at City Club of Eugene June 26.

• Lots of talk about batteries as a game-changer in the discussion about EWEB’s “Next 100 Years” at City Club June 12. Energy storage of various kinds, from batteries to hot water to flywheels, will play a big role in leveling out peaks in energy consumption, according to Mike Hatten of SOLARC Engineering and Energy. Batteries connected to solar panels may become common in our homes and businesses as energy generation becomes more distributed and less centralized. Hatten predicts the biggest changes coming in technology will be in how we generate and use electricity. EWEB General Manager Roger Gray told the crowd that rates will go up, but consumption needs to go down in order to meet the needs of future customers. Gray says EWEB already gets 90 percent of its power from renewable sources such as hydro, solar and biomass, so “if we put solar on every roof we’d have higher rates and no less greenhouse gases.” A few eyebrows went up regarding the mention of biomass. EWEB buys electricity from Seneca’s wood-fired generation plant, which removes massive carbon from forests and exacerbates our air pollution. EWEB subsidizing solar would be cleaner and more sustainable.

• We heard grumbles from some older patrons of the Cuthbert Amphitheater who showed up for the nostalgic Gordon Lightfoot concert June 14 and were turned away because the folding lawn chairs they’ve brought for years were now too high. Hey, old butts don’t do well on bare ground. Some who didn’t also bring blankets or pads left with their chairs and didn’t come back. We don’t recall those low chairs being a problem at the Cuthbert, and was adequate notice given of the policy change? WTF?

• Reduced setbacks for logging in riparian areas? It’s hard to imagine the BLM even considering such rule changes in revising the Northwest Forest Plan. We’ve learned a lot in recent years about the fragility of riparian areas and their impact on water quality, fish and other wildlife, but the timber industry still has big clout in Oregon. See Activist Alert this week regarding an upcoming BLM workshop in Springfield on riparian areas. 

• Congrats to both Nikki Fisher, new executive director of Oregon’s amazing Bus Project, and to Nathan Howard, who worked as interim director through the legislative session. Fisher ran the Eugene office for Oregon United for Marriage before joining Sen. Sara Geiser’s office as chief of staff during this session. When more than 300,000 new voters sign on through Oregon’s new Voter Motor law, it will be a big deal for this state’s civic landscape. It’s good that young people are still driving the Bus Project to “find, educate and empower voters with the ballot.”

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