Monday, November 30, 2009

Give to the rich this holiday season

On the same day (Nov. 28) the local daily ran a story on how the Bend City Council, with money from a federal grant, might aid between 425 and 600 customers with their utility bills, the paper’s editorialists railed against it.

This isn’t surprising. In fact it is predictable from the so-called “liberal media.”

The Bulletin is against BAT, the local, modest transit system. It whined about the city spending money on bus-stop shelters. The Bulletin’s unofficial slogan is: All the News that Screws the Poor – and Kisses the Rich.

Almost all newspapers in America take similar positions as The Bulletin. It’s one of the reasons they are failing. They’re out of touch with the times and would-be subscribers.

On Nov. 30, The Bulletin pontificators wrote that the city should again offer “relief” to the developers/builders by granting them more extensions on their building permits. Afterall, developers are more valuable to the city than utility bill scofflaws and bus-riders, heaven forbid. The poor builder, who is designing that $1 million dollar spec home for a buyer two years from now, needs a break.
One of the reasons for delinquency of water and sewer bills is that the city almost annually has jacked up the those rates by double and even triple the rate of inflation this past decade. They had to because developers needed to be subsidized for the impact of their developments on the community.

In fact, without a vote of the people, the city council assessed all homeowners a $48 annual tax on each residence to pay for stormwater runoff problems because the city does not have a stormwater drainage system. The city could have also required builders to pay a stormwater impact fee (system development charge), but no, that would hurt them. Once again, the development community got preferential treatment while everyone else got screwed. With this money, nothing will be done to solve chronic flooding problems at the underpasses in Bend. And, as always, developers, some of the city’s richest citizens, won’t have to contribute a dime toward this problem, a position the Bulletin endorses wholeheartedly.

So remember, think of the rich this holiday season. The Bulletin always does. Afterall, we’re all equal in their eyes, except that some are more than equal than others.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Don’t Californicate Oregon

On Jan. 26, 2010, we’ll find out if Oregonians choose to not follow California’s lead by affirming the role of the Legislature to propose and enact laws in the state.

Californians long ago ceded that authority by approving propositions that tie up 80 percent of that state’s budget. Couple that with California’s assembly two-thirds majority required to pass laws and you have what Republicans have longed for: gridlock.

This is understandable in a state where gridlock is a daily ritual on freeways, highways and alleyways. The California government merely represents what the state has become: unmanageable, ungovernable and undriveable.

Oregon isn’t there yet, even though former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber said so earlier this decade. He made those claims while enduring a Republican-controlled Legislature which focused on placing the government in the bedroom – abortion, gay rights, assisted suicide – and out of the role of managing the state’s affairs.

Oregon has a Democratic governor and Legislature. To balance the budget last session in this Great Recession, they increased the minimum corporate from $10 to $150. This tax has not increased since 1931, during the Great Depression.

Please, $150 dollars? That’s less than corporate bigwigs spend on an afternoon with a prostitute. It’s less than what they spend on a bottle of wine at an upscale restaurant. Yet, these corporatists would rather see schools close, crime increase and health care diminish should this tax fail to pass in January.

The Legislature also increased taxes on a mere 2.5 percent of the population: the wealthiest people in the state, those making more than $250,000 as a couple or more than $125,000 as an individual.

If a couple makes $260,000 a year, they would pay an additional $180 a year in taxes until 2012. We’re talking $15 dollars a month. That less than what a couple might pay for a couple of lattes and scones on a Saturday morning. It’s ridiculous to think that these people will move elsewhere or work less because of this “onerous” tax. Complete bullshit.

The far greater concern is if these tax increases don’t pass. Oregon will have to shut down schools at least a month earlier in May, lay off police officers and let people die because they’re denied health care. Would any business want to relocate to a state like that? Absolutely not.

They want a state that cares about itself. California has shown that it does not and is losing businesses because of that fact.

The question, to be answered on Jan. 26 is: Do Oregonians care about Oregon?

Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Black and white and read all over … where?

Newspaper circulation continues its steep descent across the nation, while the local paper in Bend claims modest gains. This seems dubious, at best, since home foreclosures, record high unemployment and business failures have thinned expendable income considerably throughout Central Oregon.

The Bulletin didn’t keep up with the growth of Central Oregon in the boom times (the region tripled in size but circulation didn’t even double) and now, during the Great Recession, it finds itself furloughing workers and cutting their pay.

While Craig’s List decimated its classified section, other competitors have taken a bite out of the daily’s lucrative display advertising. Three local television stations, a number of radio stations, a free weekly, called The Source that has survived longer than any other upstart, plus the ubiquitous Internet have all eaten away at The Bulletin’s profits.

It’s still the top dog in town, in terms of news, but its influence has waned. By the mid-1990s, more Central Oregonians, for the first time ever, said they got their news from television rather than the daily newspaper. It was only a percentage point difference then, but that was before the World Wide Web. Yes, it was a 6-day afternoon paper then and it’s a 7-day morning paper now. But, much like papers across the country, the instantaneous nature of the Internet has made The Bulletin anachronistic. The paper runs articles from the New York Times, AP and others that anyone can read the night before or even days before.

Yes, The Bulletin does have a website, but it is routinely scooped by a single former employee, Barney Lerten, who runs the website for KTVZ, the NBC affiliate in town.

Of course, with about 10 times the resources, The Bulletin covers more ground than any other media in the area. The TV stations video crime, fires and accidents, much like most stations across the country. Radio steals from both print and TV. The
Source sits back and comments on all of them from a left-of-center perspective.

And, much like most newspapers in the country, The Bulletin is deeply conservative, pro-business, anti-union and is the chief cheerleader for growth, no matter what the cost to the environment, infrastructure or to business itself.

Newspapers are watchdogs on government, as they should be, but they merely serve up PR when it comes to business. Consequently, we are mired in the Great Recession.

Newspapers exist primarily because of advertising. If they become too critical of any business, the offended business will pull ads and the papers will suffer.

It’s almost impossible to get any unbiased reporting on any industry from newspapers because of this inherent conflict of interest.

So, instead of reporting the truth about how lousy American cars have been for decades, newspapers created special “advertorial” products that only say how wonderful these vehicles are. Astute consumers got the memo anyway from Consumer Reports (which accepts no advertising) and bought Japanese Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans.

And, instead of warning consumers of the housing bubble and the highly speculative nature of that bubble, newspapers published special real estate sections that only showed how it’s always the time to buy. Unfortunately, there was no one to advise consumers that it’s rarely, if ever, the time to buy a nearly $400,000 home, which was Bend’s peak median housing price in 2006, particularly when the median income was $56,000 in 2007.

(Ironically, few reporters or editors at any of the media outlets in Bend can afford to buy a home in Bend).

Newspapers routinely print special sections on a wide range of topics with no news value in order to entice advertisers. These sections don't entice readers.

It’s no wonder, then, that newspaper circulation continues to decline. Right-wing “hate” radio, plus Fox News, has the market cornered on government bashing, mainly Democratic governments.

Newspapers can’t compete on that front. And, since they choose not to truthfully inform readers about the major economic decisions in their lives, newspapers are becoming irrelevant.

The Internet is the place where consumers go for more accurate information about products they want to buy. There are a number of websites that allow consumers, be they happy or disgruntled, to vent their pleasure or anger. Yes, they aren’t completely trustworthy, but you can get a better sense from websites than from any newspaper on whether a Dodge Durango, for example, is worth purchasing. For the record, a Dodge Durango is not worth buying.

Newspapers have no one but themselves to blame for their diminished role in society. They chose this path. And that’s the way it is.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bend housing rebounding?

The local daily newspaper, in its customary role as head cheerleader for development, pulled out the pom-poms today with a headline that screamed: “Housing inventory plummets in Bend.”

Read story here: http://www.bendbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091112/BIZ0102/911120373/1041&nav_category=

While, theoretically, this is good news that housing inventory is approximately 50 percent off its peak, as the story claims, there are some caveats in the article such as : “banks have generally been slow to list foreclosure properties, and that may account for some of Bend’s decline in inventory. More than 3,000 notices of default — a filing that initiates foreclosure proceedings — have been filed in Deschutes County this year.”

Nowhere in the story is the other reason for the drop in housing inventory: homeowners have simply taken their homes off the market after the summer selling season yielded little success.

There is no evidence of an influx of citizens to account for increase demand for housing. Rather, it appears that speculators are once again entering the marketplace sensing that the bottom has been reached.

With real unemployment around 20 percent in the region, it’s hard to make the case that the housing market is heading upward. This winter should reveal a new, deeper round of foreclosures, not only in single-family homes, but also in the commercial sector. This will further depress the local economy.

Ironically, the story appeared on the same day the newspaper inserted the thinning, real estate monthly: Picture Your Home.

Sadly, the newspaper, which helped fuel the crisis with its pom-pom-waving antics, is now trying to hype another bubble. It would be more helpful if the newspaper would promote other ways the city could diversify its economic portfolio. But, no.

The area has always been wedded to putting all its eggs in one basket, be it the timber industry, tourism or housing.

The housing boom of the aughties bore no relationship to demand. It was largely fueled by speculators.

The downside for Central Oregon is that property tax collections are also seeing record defaults. The Sisters School District is already projecting a $1 million shortfall next school year, meaning teacher layoffs and higher class sizes. Other school districts will face similar dilemmas.

Meanwhile, tax breaks continue for the housing industry, be it buyers or developers. This may spur false demand, but in the long run it will lead exactly to another recession in which we’re currently mired.

But, hey, now’s the time to buy.

Bend housing rebounding?

The local daily newspaper, in its customary role as head cheerleader for development, pulled out the pom-poms today with a headline that screamed: “Housing inventory plummets in Bend.”

Read story here: http://www.bendbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091112/BIZ0102/911120373/1041&nav_category=

While, theoretically, this is good news that single-family housing is approximately 50 percent off its peak, as the story claims, there are some caveats in the article such as : “banks have generally been slow to list foreclosure properties, and that may account for some of Bend’s decline in inventory. More than 3,000 notices of default — a filing that initiates foreclosure proceedings — have been filed in Deschutes County this year.”

Nowhere in the story is the other reason for the drop in housing inventory: Homeowners have simply taken their homes off the market after the summer selling season yielded little success.

There is no evidence of an influx of citizens to account for increase demand for housing. Rather, it appears that speculators are once again entering the marketplace sensing that the bottom has been reached.

With real unemployment around 20 percent in the region, it’s hard to make the case that the housing market is heading upward. This winter should reveal a new, deeper round of foreclosures, not only in single-family homes, but also in the commercial sector. This will further depress the local economy.

Ironically, the story appeared on the same day the newspaper inserted the thinning, real estate monthly: Picture Your Home.

Sadly, the newspaper, which helped fuel the crisis with its pom-pom-waving antics, is now trying to hype another bubble. It would be more helpful if the newspaper would promote other ways the city could diversify its economic portfolio. But, no. The area has always been wedded to putting all its eggs in one basket, be it the timber industry, tourism or housing.

The housing boom of the aughties bore no relationship to demand. It was largely fueled by speculators.

The downside for Central Oregon is that property tax collections are also seeing record defaults. The Sisters School District is already projecting a $1 million shortfall next school year, meaning teacher layoffs and higher class sizes. Other school districts will face similar dilemmas.

Meanwhile, tax breaks continue for the housing industry, be it buyers or developers. This may spur false demand, but in the long run it will lead exactly to another recession in which we’re currently mired.

But, hey, now’s the time to buy.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Fall of the Wall

With so much navel-gazing going on about the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago today, I’ll pull out my own lint.

In 1979, I traveled alone by train from Nuremburg, the former soul of Nazi power, to West Berlin, a capitalist island in a sea of Communist waters. On the way, I sat in a compartment with a linguistic professor from West Germany. Since she spoke perfect English and I spoke little German, we had a great discussion about how Germany, the west in particular, had not atoned for the crimes it committed against humanity in World War II.

The Wall, or division, was a small price to pay, she allowed, for the havoc and horror that Germans unleashed on Europe and Russia. It was easy for her to say since she didn’t live in East Germany (GDR or DDR – Deutsche Democratik Republik). Still she saved my ass when the Stasi (East German secret police) came through the train and started to hassle me, a 23-year-old punk from California.

Outside the train station in West Berlin, I stood staring at the ridiculously complicated map. (Germans are terrible mapmakers). Suddenly, a car came screeching to a halt in front of me and the passenger door flew open. Was this the Stasi again? Or the CIA?

No, it was a middle-aged couple who were children during the Berlin Airlift in the late 1940s. They could tell instantly tell that I was an American and they wanted to give me a lift to a youth hostel I had read about. I got in their small four-door car and along the way they thanked Americans for all that we did back then. They had just been grocery shopping and when they dropped me off at the hostel, they filled my arms with their food. They raced off and I stood there dumbfounded.

Where was I?

I was in the center of east-west divide, between capitalism and communism, between reality and fa├žade.

On the train ride through East Germany, we passed by small burgs that reminded me of Baja California: squalor and poverty. What would Berlin offer?

West Berlin was wild, decidedly western and relatively prosperous. It was living color. East Berlin was hollow, drab and lifeless. The guided tour of East Berlin was like the Universal City tram ride except that there were no jokes, corny or not. There were few people and store windows were barely stocked with small pyramids of goods. It was as phony as Hollywood without the glitz. It was a place without color, not in the American sense, but in the sense of black-and-white films.

It was easy to see then that this charade, this wall, wouldn’t last.

Ten years later it didn’t.

How did this happen?

In America, the narrative goes like this: President Ronald Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and moments later the wall came tumbling down.

In actuality, Reagan uttered his words in 1987, as Alzheimer’s disease began to take over his life. By November 1989, Reagan was long gone from office.

What started in Gdansk, Poland, in 1980 with the Solidarity movement, finally reverberated across the Eastern Bloc and through Moscow itself in 1989.

Without Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Solidarity would have never become the force that it became and the Berlin Wall would have never come down.

Gorbachev, through glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), ensured the eventual collapse of the wall in 1989 and the Soviet Union itself in 1991.

But, it has to be noted that the Soviet Union was beginning to crumble in the 1970s as more “easterners,” -- be they athletes, artists or diplomats – traveled to the west. They could see for themselves the lie that the Communists had foisted on the Soviet “Union,” the Baltics, Balkans and Eastern Europe. Much as the Crimean War of 1854 led to “openness” in Russia to western ideas which ultimately led to the Communist Revolution of 1917, so did the exchanges – athletic, artistic and diplomatic – lead to the fall of repression and totalitarianism beginning in 1989.

Yes, Reagan played his part, but the real credit belongs to Lech Walesa (the leader of Solidarity), Gorbachev and the East Germans who wanted freedom more than anything else.

They are the heroes we need to remember today, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Juniper Ridge

The city of Bend is renewing its focus on Juniper Ridge, the 1,500-acre parcel on the city’s northeast end along Highway 97 that city officials hope will be all things to all people. Besides a business “park,” it will feature a university with research facilities, a performing arts center, open space and residential developments. Or so they say.

What is happening, though, is that the city is selling the land to healthy companies for far below market value in order to show how vital the whole project is to the future of Bend. It’s then taking whatever profits there are and spending it on roads, water and sewers that serve Juniper Ridge. In other words, it’s subsidizing the companies that can afford to move to Juniper Ridge without subsidies. Yes, corporate welfare. It worked for the richest people on Wall Street in Manhattan, it can work for the wealthiest citizens on Wall Street in Bend.

This means that all available city capital is being spent on Juniper Ridge. There is nothing left to fix dangerous roads, a patchwork sewer system or water deficiencies throughout the community. In other words, as Bend tries to create a utopia at Juniper Ridge, the rest of the city decays. It’s called killing the goose that layed the golden eggs.

That is Bend’s recent history. As it seeks new growth to fill city tax coffers, Bend is left with depleted coffers, foreclosed properties and a crumbling infrastructure. Bend depended on growth to solve all its problems, but growth exacerbated the problems that were there already.

Bend always throws all it eggs in one basket, be it the timber industry, housing developments or Juniper Ridge. It never occurs to the city’s power brokers that perhaps this singular path is destructive to the health of a vibrant community. It’s a short-term philosophy shared by corporate America. It’s what imperils Bend and the country at large.

State lands

The state has 640 acres on Bend’s southeast side that it wants to include in the expansion of the urban growth boundary. The property runs east along 27th street from Reed Market Road south to Ferguson. If approved, it has the potential to make the area the most unlivable spot east of the Cascades.

The reason is that 27th Street and Reed Market Road are failed roads ever since the city approved a number of developments along each road without any improvements to either roadway. Consequently, Reed Market is the most dangerous road in Bend and 27th Street from Reed Market north to Butler Market Road is becoming almost as dangerous. When the city calculates public safety and how much money to budget for it, it fails to consider highway safety, which affects more citizens than all of the city’s crime put together.

The state land in question has other problems including toxic soil from years of dumping on the site and volcanic caves, some of which house the threatened Thompson’s big-eared bat. For all these concerns, there is no reason why the city should ever consider adding this property to the urban growth boundary.

Until the city fixes Reed Market, including a bridge over the railroad, it should forget about adding more land or approving any more subdivisions in this area. If it does so, it will further erode property values and further enrage the citizens in southeast Bend.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Central Oregon University

Now that citizens in the Central Oregon Community College district voted for expansion of COCC in Bend and in other cities in the 10,000-square-mile region, it shows once again that higher education is valued here. COCC is evolving into COU (Central Oregon University).

The vote reveals a couple of things. This is reminiscent of the last great recession when citizens, in 1982, rallied to hope in the future by passing a stable tax base for the COCC district. Here we are in the Great Recession and voters are willing to increase their property taxes by $41.58 million even as unemployment hovers at 20 percent and foreclosure notices fill the daily classified section. This is remarkable.

It also guarantees another $11.47 in state funding toward the various projects in Bend and Redmond. Yes, the state is willing to support higher education in Bend, when the local citizens show they back it, too.

This won’t put to rest the ridiculous talk of an LSU (Les Schwab University) at Juniper Ridge in northeast Bend, but it should. Juniper Ridge is a business “park” that some city leaders and some editorialists believe will one day be home to a Stanford-like research university. This is nonsense. They need to get over this fetish. COCC will slowly morph into a university and the COCC campus in Redmond will one day take over the community college function. This is how it should be.

Continued talk of a university at Juniper Ridge will only divert attention and resources away from COCC and confuse higher education officials west of the Cascades as to what Central Oregonians want. The vote on Nov. 3 shows that the region wants to see expansion of COCC on Bend’s west side and believe that is the future of higher education in the “middle of nowhere.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

Trojan Horse is empty

Lost in all the babble about how Oregon destroyed USC on Halloween, the Wiccan New Year, is the fact that this is a reversal of fortune.

For decades, SC treated Oregon like the JV team that they were. It was usually a 50-point rout no matter where the game was played. Also, the Oregon players would get so beat up by the Trojans the team was useless for the rest of the season.

Word out of L.A. is that all the linebackers and a defensive end got injured in the agony at Autzen. Some of them may play this weekend, but the point is made: Oregon did to USC what the Trojans have been doing to the Ducks for decades.

I know. I was at those games in the early 1970s at the Coliseum. My brothers, friends and I would hang with the SC students at the gates and get in for $1. We would sit at the 50-yard-line in the “card” section and root for the dominant Trojans as they kicked the tails of all opponents.

But that was then. I long ago gave up any allegiance to USC. The arrogance, sense of entitlement and condescension of SC students and fans turned me off long ago. In fact, I always root against the traditional powers, from Notre Dame to Miami, from Michigan to Ohio State and from Miami to Florida. The hell with them all. I always root for any team playing them. And usually they schedule some lower tier patsy to pad their won-loss records.

So when Oregon administered an SC-type butt-kicking on the Trojans, I could only nod and smile. What goes around, comes around. And decades later, it finally came around. Hail Oregon, Troy returns to antiquity.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Livability

Bend sells itself on its great “livability” quotient. City promoters tout great restaurants, plentiful shopping, good schools and little traffic.

By any urban standards, Bend doesn’t have much traffic. The city, though, in tandem with the development community, is making sure that traffic becomes congested and downright treacherous throughout the town.

Specifically, the city allows development anywhere without upgrading the infrastructure: roads, water or sewer. Consequently, in spite of the huge boom through the Aughties (2000 to 2007), Bend faces $500 million in urgent infrastructure needs.

Instead of having development pay its fair share for its effect on Bend’s infrastructure, the city had developers pay less than 20 percent for their infrastructure impact on the community. Unfortunately, these nominal impact fees, which are called system development charges (SDCs) in Oregon, are not used for infrastructure upgrades, but rather paying down debt the city has accrued in subsidizing development.

Thanks to the Great Recession, Bend suspended collecting SDCs. The new city council majority, whose 2008 election was bankrolled by the local real estate and builder associations, is determined, against the recommendations of city staff, to eliminate SDCs altogether.

What does this mean? Well, there isn’t likely to be any much-needed road improvements for years. Currently, the city has failed roads on the north end, south end and east side. Reed Market Road, one of the most congested and dangerous roads in Bend, will not see road improvements for another decade even though improvement plans were finalized two years ago.

Thanks to city mishandling of growth along Highway 97 on Bend’s north end, the state has calculated fixing the hazardous gridlocked area to cost between $200 million to $350 million. The 7-mile-long parkway completed earlier this decade cost $120 million.

So, instead of having developers, some of the richest people in the community, help pay for these infrastructure needs, the city is jacking up water/sewer rates and proposing a tax on all citizens to pay for road improvements. In other words, the many will subsidize the few.

In the meantime, the roads will get more congested and more dangerous and the city will do nothing about it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Railroaded

In an effort to allow developers to maximize profits, Bend approved a number of lower end subdivisions along the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe railroad tracks that run the length of the city, north to south. (Some higher end developments also dot the railway area as well as true low-end properties. By and large, they are not members of the power-broker elite in the city.)

And city officials were shocked that citizens had the gall to actually complain about something that they approved of.

Since Bend has done nothing to facilitate east-west traffic in the city, trains must use their horns when passing by the grade-level crossings throughout the city. The horns blow at 5 p.m., at midnight and at 3 in the morning. In fact they blow at ear-splitting decibels all throughout the day.

A citizen calmly asked the city if they could do anything to minimize this aggravating noise and the council said: blow it out your ass.

During this Great Recession, the city has absolutely no money for such luxuries. In fact, it has no money because it continues to subsidize developers, some of the richest people in the community.

If city staff only had telephones, they could pick them up and dial the nearby city of Redmond, which handled this railroad noise annoyance with little fanfare or hardship. They merely installed concrete islands that prevent vehicles from passing the tracks when the crossing guard is down. Consequently, trains don’t need to blow their horns during sleep time and the city is more livable for it.

Why would Bend officials want to make the city more livable?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Higher education in Bend

Central Oregon Community College, Oregon’s oldest community college on Bend’s west side, is seeing a surge in enrollment during “the Great Recession.” Likewise, the college is seeking a $41 million bond measure to add space in Bend and throughout its service district, which encompasses 10,000 square miles in multiple counties. A similar bond measure failed last November, when Bend elected its first Democrat to the state house in decades. The fact that it failed then does not bode well for this vote now.

In the 1982, though, when the region was suffering its worst recession since the “Great Depression,” the COCC district passed a tax base that ensured continued operations.

Still, this recession is potentially worse than the last one. Real unemployment is 20 percent or more throughout the COCC district. The electorate is more grumpy than usual. Yet, Oregon voters have been accustomed to the “double-majority” rule that requires money measures gain 50 percent of the electorate to actually vote and to vote in the majority for the measure. This horrible, anti-democratic measure was passed by voters in the 1990s and it rewards citizens who don’t participate, or vote, in their democracy if they are opposed to a money measure on the ballot. Truly pathetic. But, this COCC bond does not require a double majority because it is a November election, which are exempt from the rule.

So, if the energized pro-bond forces get out the vote, they could get it passed. Unfortunately, the bond is being sold as “jobs, jobs and jobs.” Yes, there will be a few temporary construction jobs. That is why the large, local construction firms are so eager to get it passed. These firms only support local bond measures if they are rewarded with fat contracts when the bond measure passes. And, they usually are rewarded, particularly by the Bend-LaPine School District. It’s paradoxical that these firms, which are normally anti-government, actually survive on the teat of government. Again, pathetic.

So, will the measure pass? Probably not. But, it’s hard to say. Voter turnout is low right now, which favors the pro-bond supporters.

This isn’t the only higher education story in Bend. COCC is trying to generate income by putting in a strip mall on its property along Shevlin Park road.

Apparently, once it is filled with fast-food joints, a Laundromat and perhaps a tattoo parlor, these businesses will be job creators for COCC students. Great, take out loans so you can get a job that any high school dropout can get. Makes no sense.
At the same time, there are some higher education groupies in Bend who have a fetish about seeing a Stanford-type research institution emerge on city property at Juniper Ridge, a business “park” on Bend’s northeast side. This fantasy has no basis in reality other than to give the groupies a sense of purpose. The only “higher ed” institution we’ll ever see at Juniper Ridge is some sort of Bible college, which isn’t exactly what the groupies have in mind, but is what would fit this religious, conservative area. Central Oregon is the most populous area in the country that does not have a four-year institution within 100 miles of it.

Yes, we do have Oregon State University – Cascades, which occupies a building at COCC, but it is largely underfunded because the state’s support of all higher education has cratered in recent decades. OSU-Cascades does serve a purpose, though, and, if the Juniper Ridge groupies had any brains, they would want to see COCC-OSU Cascades evolve into a true four-year institution with research buildings in place of the strip mall.

Education, which so many insist is the key to our survival, is an evolutionary, not revolutionary process, at least in Oregon. But, since so many Americans – Oregonians included -- don’t believe in evolution, they really don’t believe in education. Such is the state of higher education in this underserved section of Oregon.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bend's public safety

Like many homogenous communities, Bend has a relatively low crime rate. This is likely to change as the economy worsens in Central Oregon. The official unemployment rate for Deschutes County is just shy of 16 percent, but factor in the folks who stopped looking for work, and it exceeds 20 percent. That’s 1 in 5 who are out of work. But, the talk of “gangs” in Central Oregon is completely overblown. Yes, there is some graffiti, thanks to the wanna-be gang bangers. The only true gang problem is likely to emanate from Mexico as the meth/marijuana trade travels north.

The Bend Police Dept. knows that the highest crime rate in the city is in the northeast quadrant: north of Highway 20 and east of Highway 97. That’s a wide swath, but dense housing tracts from the early 1990s, that now look worn out, help fuel this statistic. It’s now considered the “working class” area of Bend with more affordable housing than in other areas of Bend.

As for teen drug use, the Bend PD has admitted that while drug use is an issue throughout the community and at all the high schools, serious drug use is more of a problem at Summit High School on Bend’s west side. This isn’t surprising since the west side is the city’s most affluent area, with the greatest number of million dollar homes – or used to be worth a million. The rich are better positioned to shield their kids from the consequences of drug use. Heck, many use drugs themselves.

The real public safety hazard in Bend is found in the dangerous road conditions throughout the city. Unfortunately, the city officials have done nothing to correct these problems or even realize the public safety hazard. Reed Market, from the Parkway east past Third Street, is one of the most dangerous areas in Bend. Likewise, Highway 97 on Bend’s north end is also treacherous, with numerous accidents. There are many others.

The city created these problems by approving developments in these areas without the proper traffic controls – or requiring developers to offset the traffic problems that their developments create. When the city attempts to make the streets safer for traffic and pedestrians, nearby businesses threaten to sue and the city caves in. The result is white-knuckle driving in a city with modest traffic.

Monday, October 19, 2009

More on Bend’s upside -- and slippery slope

Bend’s water supply is one of the purest in the country. Thanks to the generous annual snowpack in the Cascades, experts say the aquifer under Central Oregon is so large it has yet to be quantified.

The plentiful water supply has not prevented the usual battles over water between farmers/ranchers, the outdoor recreational industry, environmentalists and common households.

In the past 20 years, the number of golf courses in the area has doubled. This provides an easy scapegoat in water arguments, but the reality is more complicated. Central Oregon is not a natural agricultural region, yet miles of canals, much of them unlined or unpiped, divert water from the Deschutes River to alfalfa farms where the growing season is less than 90 days per year. While a few miles of the canals are being lined or piped, much of the water, at least 30 percent, is lost to seepage in the porous, volcanic soil.

In Bend, where much of the irrigation water is diverted, the Deschutes River is reduced to a trickle particularly near the ironically named The Riverhouse motel and convention center.

Bend, which gets most of its water from Bridge Creek, more than 10 miles east of town, is facing a number of water problems. Surface water faces far more federal regulations than well water.

Consequently, Bend didn’t plan for the federally-mandated costs of purifying surface water. (In the forcibly-annexed areas of Bend, the households and businesses are served primarily by Avion Water Co., which relies on well water. This water is tastier and has less chlorine than Bend’s water.)

Also, since Bend subsidizes development through low or now non-existent impact fees on water, roads and sewer, the burden for paying for the demands on the water system fall to residential homeowners. In the past 5 years the city has raised its water/sewer rates more than double, and sometimes triple, the rate of inflation. A 1,200-square-foot home with three residents and a small 200-square-foot lawn, can expect an $80 monthly bill in the summertime.

This is only half the problem. Bend is now contributing to the pollution of the water supply. The city has no storm drainage system other than catch-basins which routinely overflow when a half-inch of rain falls in the city. Also, Bend is trying to control sprawl -- a noteworthy goal -- by forcing more housing density in the city limits. This means more roads, driveways, roofs and other surfaces routinely create flooding problems, particularly on the west side. The overspill, most of it polluted, flows east into the Deschutes River.

To pay for flood control, the city unilaterally taxed every household $48 per year. At the same time, it required no developer to pay anything toward flood problems that their developments will cause. Again, the city chooses to subsidize the richest people in the community with the money from everyone else.

On the forcibly annexed southeast side, flooding isn’t the primary problem, though it does exist, particularly on Murphy Road. No, many of the homes are on septic systems, whose resultant nitrates pollute the water supply. The city has made no attempt to put sewer systems in these areas. The city is obviously waiting for the state Dept. of Environmental Quality to put the hammer down and require that homeowners to pay at least $30,000 per household to correct the problem. The city, though, has an estimated $400 billion sewer problem. Again, since it approved almost every single development no matter what the impact on water, sewer or roads, Bend allowed sewage pumping stations throughout the newly-developed areas of the city served by the sewers. Electrical outages have caused a number of sewage backup problems in various areas of the city that have these electronically-controlled pumping stations. Lawsuits followed.

So, Bend is polluting itself in one of the most pristine areas of the country. It’s mind-boggling that this could happen, but this has happened in every single urban area of the country, and in some rural areas, too. We never learn, even when we think we do.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bend's upside

The best things about Bend, to name just two, are its fresh air and clean water. Not even Mastercard can put a price on these. For those who live in major urban areas and believe you have these two priceless necessities of life, visit Bend. Of course, we don't have fresh air when an inversion hits in December while folks are stoking their wood stoves or during August when wildfires make Central Oregon's skies mimic Los Angeles' smog. But, most of the time, the air is wonderfully clear and the Cascade Range feels so close you could reach out and touch Mount Bachelor and the Three Sisters.

So, you would think a ban on burning yard debris would gain unanimous support from our city council. Not so. Thankfully, four of the seven councilors voted, in August, to ban the burning of yard debris within city limits. This amazing act allowed Bend to join the 20th Century just 9 years into the 21st Century.

Those who voted against the ban and for filthy air, not to mention potential wildfires, were: Mayor Kathie Eckman, former mayor Oran Teater and newcomer Jeff Eager. These three, while nobly serving their city for a modest monthly stipend, paradoxically sympathize more with the anti-government tea-baggers. They don't see that Bend's air is worth protecting. Afterall, what's freedom mean if you don't have the freedom to burn your own pine needles in your own backyard. It reminds me of some those featured in Ken Burns' recent documentary on the National Parks who didn't believe places like Yellowstone or Yosemite were worth saving from development and exploitation.

In the 1980s, Bend allowed torching household trash in burn barrels. Talk about toxic waste. Thank god those days are gone.

The city faces pressure to preserve its great water. That's a subject for another post.