Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beware Bend of another potential land scam

How did the problem with Pacific Power's small, failing hydro dam in the heart of Bend become a catalyst for a massive redevelopment at public expense?

Well, Mirror Pond is formed by that hydro facility, which is about 100 years old. Naturally, if you dam up the Deschutes River, it will create sediment leading to mudflats, which we've had for a few decades now.

Mirror Pond needs to be dredged again and it will cost millions that the city or park district does not have.

Pacific Power wants the city or park district to take over the dam and all the associated costs that go with decommissioning the hydro facility, which could be more than $10 million. No wonder they want to get rid of it.

For a century now, Pacific Power has made money from the electricity it sold from the Mirror Pond dam. Yet, it does not want to help pay for dredging of the pond or for decommissioning the dam.
Such a "responsible" corporate citizen.

Mirror Pond, and Drake Park that borders it, is one of the most scenic sites in Oregon.

Of course, almost a 100 years ago, a developer wanted to build homes along the river, but a group of Bend women gathered enough signatures to place a bond measure on the ballot that passed easily in 1920. The city then bought the land from the developer for $21,000 and Drake Park was created.

Drake Park and Mirror Pond are so picturesque that the city uses the view of them for its logo. In essence, the value to the city is incalculable.

Anyway, developers today are itching to build along the river once again.

Kirk Schueler, now a consultant, is pushing a public-private partnership to redevelop the area around the hydro facility and substation.

In 2013, Schueler was a high-ranking official at St. Charles Medical Center at the same time he was on the state board of higher education. Conveniently, the board approved the purchase of a 10-acre parcel, owned by doctors, for OSU-Cascades. Yes, Schueler did not vote to approve the acquisition, but still the state paid 22 percent more than it was assessed at. The land, adjacent to former industrial sites including a pumice pit and demolition landfill, was purchased for $2 million in 2002 and sold to OSU-Cascades for nearly $5 million.

It was a land scam, pure and simple.

The park district wants to sell its former headquarters at Pacific Park along the river north of the dam so that it can create a newer park, closer to downtown, where the Pacific Power substation now sits.

All well and good, but how much will the park district get for its riverfront land and will it be enough to pay for other improvements to the area? Or will the park district get screwed over like the state did in the OSU-Cascades fiasco?

To its credit, the park district knows that a variety of funding sources are needed for their master plan to work and are not rushing the process without due diligence.

There is no great urgency.

If Bend's citizens had a say, which they don't, they would more than likely prefer the river run its natural course through Bend with no dam. This would eliminate the need for future costly dredgings.

At some point, Pacific Power is going to have to do something with its dilapidated hydro facility and substation.

Let that deep-pocketed corporation pay what it should pay to clean up its own mess.

And don't let developers run this process. Since they would make a killing developing the land along the river, they should pay the lion's share of this makeover that guarantees public access to the riverfront.

It would be a travesty if Bend lost an opportunity to enhance its downtown core by enriching a handful of people at taxpayers' expense.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Is Gov. Scott Walker a racist?

We don't know. He hasn't told us person to person if he isn't.

Evidently, telling us on TV or radio or even facebook is not the same, according to the Wisconsin governor.

This is how Walker and Rudy Giuliani, along with dozens of other high profile Republicans, have treated President Obama by questioning his patriotism, religion and birthplace.

It's only fair that Republican candidates for president face similar scrutiny.

Here are a few questions:

1) Do you have a birth certificate that proves you're an American and eligible for the office?

2) It appears that your birth certificate is a copy. Don't you have an original?

3) Are (or were) your parents white?

4) Can you prove that you're not a Muslim?

5) Can you prove that you're not a homosexual?

6) Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?

7) Do you believe fluoride-treated water is a Communist plot to brainwash Americans?

8) Do you believe creationism/intelligent design should be taught in our public schools?

9) Do vaccinations cause autism?

10) Should we blame the Chinese for climate change?

11) Explain why women should make less than men for the same work?

13) Have you stopped beating your wife?

14) Should we get rid of the minimum wage?

15) Would you issue an executive order to nullify gay marriages in this country?

16) Will you authorize the U.S. invasion of Cuba or Iran or Russia or North Korea?

17) Will you finally get rid of federal income taxes and end, once and for all, this talk of merely "cutting" taxes?

18) Will you incarcerate anyone who tries to form a union?

19) Will you reward American companies with financial incentives for shipping jobs overseas?

20) Do you wear boxers or briefs?

21) Why do you hate Americans?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Don't end impact fees for 'affordable housing'

The biggest con job out there is the one that says if Bend pushed out its urban growth boundary then we would instantly have "affordable housing" for all those low-wage folks working in retail or in tourism in the city.

The other canard is that building impact fees or system development charges (SDCs) make housing unaffordable in Bend.

The real point is that affordable housing for many in Bend is gone, at least for the foreseeable future.

Paradoxically, the lack of affordable housing here is a sign of Bend's success as a desirable place to live.

The median price of a home in Bend is $298,400, according to Zillow.

Yes, more land and no SDCs could make some houses slightly less expensive, but they would not make homes more affordable. That's assuming, of course, that builders/developers would lower the price they charge. History has shown they would not. They would just increase their profit margin.

Currently in Bend, there are a number of subdivisions ready for new homes, but they aren't being built because the market won't allow for the kind of profits the builders want. No one is stopping a developer or builder from selling an "affordable" home. They would rather not, thank you.

The goal is to maximize profits, regardless of profession. Maximum profit in housing correlates directly to less affordability.

Adding more land at high prices by expanding the urban growth boundary will have little or no affect on the affordability of a home in Bend.

When home building took off in Bend in the 1990s and early 2000s, due in part to the availability of more land, housing prices soared.

As for SDCs, they're currently around $17,000 per home for the city ($11,000) and park district ($6,000). Take away that $17,000 from the median price of $298,400 and you get $281,400. Is that really affordable for people making the minimum wage of $9.25 an hour? Even with four people in a house making the minimum wage they still wouldn't be able to live a decent life with a home price of nearly $300,000. Actually, they probably wouldn't even qualify for a loan.

If there were no SDCs, the city would do even less than it does now for decent roads and other infrastructure. In essence, Bend would become less livable.

The park district, unlike the city, doesn't buy the argument that SDCs are impeding affordable housing construction. The park district knows that one of the reasons why Bend is considered "special" is because of its parks and recreation programs. With no SDCs for parks, Bend would become less livable and, ultimately, a less desirable place in which to live. Only when an economic collapse occurs or when a place becomes less desirable do housing prices decline.

Granted, in order to fully pay for their impact on city services, SDCs would need to be at least $50,000 per home. We'll never see that figure or anything close to it. But, that doesn't mean we should get rid of the $17,000 that is currently collected. It's better than nothing.

The only area where a reduction in SDCs make some sense is in the calculation for apartment buildings. They could be scaled downward per unit as the number of units increase.

Yet, the place where apartments are needed most, on Bend's west side near the proposed OSU-Cascades campus, there are no plans for any apartment buildings. Expanding the urban growth boundary or eliminating SDCs will not lead to any apartment construction on Bend's west side.

The only group working diligently to make housing affordable for low-income workers is Habitat for Humanity which has built 106 homes here since 1989. No other developer or builder can even come close to that number.

Obviously, 106 affordable homes are not enough.

The solution is to move to a more affordable place.

In Redmond, the median price for a home is $209,000. In Madras, it's $109,000. In Prineville, it's $170,000 and in La Pine, it's $161,800.

If you want affordable housing in Central Oregon, your best bets are moving to La Pine, Redmond, Madras or Prineville. Unfortunately, that is how "progress" works.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Kitzhaber resigns; Brown becomes governor

Kitzhaber, left, leaves office to Brown on Feb. 18
Three months after he was easily elected to an unprecedented fourth term as Oregon's governor and a month after being sworn in to serve that term, Democrat John Kitzhaber threw in the towel today after evidence mounted that his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, peddled her influence for monetary gain.

Much of  this information was made public before Kitzhaber's reelection in November, but his opponent, Republican Dennis Richardson, was so weak that Kitzhaber breezed to victory.

Also known at the time was Hayes' fraudulent marriage to an Ethiopian for money so he could gain residency in the U.S. And, Hayes' apparently sought to buy land in Washington state in 1997 for the purpose of growing marijuana well before it was even legal there.

Kitzhaber met Hayes, 20 years his junior, in Bend in 2002 and the next year he divorced his wife.

To say that Hayes is a conniving gold-digger is not far off the mark.

It also says much about Kitzhaber's judgment that he would take up with such a dubious individual.

Almost all the allegations so far centered on Hayes and not Kitzhaber, but that didn't matter in the end.

Because his third term as governor was so terrible, Kitzhaber shouldn't have run again. Yes, I voted for him all four times and have no misgivings about that.

The state health exchange, Cover Oregon, was a total disaster. Millions were wasted. This is ironic considering Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, championed health insurance for poor Oregonians.

Also, in his third term, Kitzhaber fired the popular president of the University of Oregon because he gave the professors a raise. Colleges in Oregon gets less than 10 percent of their budgets from the state. Kitzhaber was way out of line. Oregon now has an independent board of regents.

He hired the oft-fired Rudy Crew as state education czar who bailed after one year.

Meanwhile, high school graduation rates plummeted.

To be fair to Kitzhaber and Hayes, they'res alleged to have pushed for sustainability causes. Plus, Kitzhaber was considering a low carbon fuel standard in the fight against climate change.

Those are good causes, but the Big Oil lobby went on the attack, with Republican support, and we now know the result.

Influence peddling is nothing new. In fact, it is exactly how government operates. Sometimes you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar and sometimes you don't.

Hayes, apparently, got caught.

Kitzhaber, though, was a great gate-keeper for the environment, women's rights and gay rights against the assaults on those causes from the Republicans.

Now, we get Democrat Kate Brown, currently the secretary of state, as our next governor until at least 2016.

The Washington Post story focuses on her bi-sexuality, rather than her qualifications as governor. Oregon's speaker of the House is a lesbian. Obviously, Oregon is a tolerant place for LGBT candidates.

When Brown was reelected to her current post in 2014, no major newspaper in the state endorsed her. Instead, they backed Republican Knute Buehler, a political nobody from Bend. She won easily.

Brown is likely to get chewed up by the media scrutiny and will have a tough time being an effective governor.

This should open the door for the Republicans to finally regain the governorship after three decades in the wilderness.

Yet, to survive the Republican primary, the candidate has to be a right-wingnut whose values are too extreme for most Oregonians. Think Ted Cruz or Rand Paul.

That's okay by me. Democrats care more about the environment than Republicans do. They also represent all Oregonians, not just the richest 1 percent that Republicans routinely bend over for.

Goodbye Kitzhaber, you did well for the most part, but it was time to go.

Modern life all about managing addictions

This software goes for $30, or about $70 less
than what TurboTax charges for the same forms
All of us are addicted to something. Some know this, others don't.

Some addictions are necessary and others aren't.

When people hear the word "addiction," they naturally assume it only applies to drugs or alcohol.

But, they aren't the most common, not in this age of electronic gadgets where new addictions can sap the bank accounts of millions of people.

Such is the case with TurboTax, the popular tax software that I've been using for more than 15 years.

Intuit, the company that owns TurboTax along with Quicken, the checkbook-balancing software, felt that the addiction to TurboTax, which must be purchased every year, was so great that it could jack up the price without telling its longtime users.

Well, Intuit is learning otherwise.

This year, the Deluxe edition of TurboTax does not come with a few forms that longtime users had expected to see.

Specifically, those who have a rental home had to pay $90 for the Premier edition. And those who work from home had to get the Home and Business edition for $100. Previously, those forms were included in the Deluxe edition for $60.

Now, the easiest programs to create on a computer involve numbers. TurboTax is nothing but the processing of numbers. The programming skills needed to create a TurboTax are not that special.

Yet, the honchos at Intuit felt that their products are so indispensable to millions of Americans that they could do a bait-and-switch tactic and that TurboTax "addicts" would pay the piper.

In turn, Intuit could show Wall Street how they were "growing the business."

Indeed, Intuit's stock price hasn't been harmed that much by the outcry over its deceptive pricing "strategy." It isn't about the customer, but the shareholder.

Intuit, though, is learning that their tax software isn't that special afterall. In fact, it can steal your money.

There are plenty of legitimate options available.

Check out this IRS site that lists a number of alternatives to TurboTax, some of which are completely free of charge.

Thanks to Intuit, I'm no longer "addicted" to TurboTax. I'll be using one of the other software programs for free.

Or, I'll just pick up the forms at the library and save myself a hundred bucks.

Intuit is not alone in its hubris. Most tech companies believe that those who use their products are hopelessly addicted to them.

Clearly, Apple has the most addicts, Yet, you can get close to the same iPhone, iPad or Mac for hundreds of dollars less than what Apple charges.

That is why Microsoft Windows rules desktop/laptop computing and Google's Android rules the smartphone market.

I'm hoping that Apple introduces its breakthrough TV later this year because, thanks to Apple addicts, I'll be able to get a near exact copy from a competitor for hundreds less in no time.

I'm not addicted to any brand because companies today are acutely aware who uses their products and consequently extort more money from their users. Okay, I'm one of the few addicts left who subscribes to a daily newspaper, but I hope to kick that habit this year.

And yes, I'm a basic cable subscriber/addict, but I'm looking at ways to cut the cord this year.

I'll still have to pay a ridiculously high fee for high-speed internet, but I'm hoping Google Fiber will eventually push prices down for us internet addicts.

Actually, I'm hoping that free wi-fi access becomes universal so that I can stop paying the monthly internet bill altogether.

Of course, the telecom giants like their monopolies because they create addicts.

The monopolies that control my water, electricity and natural gas addictions sure like the status quo.

Like everyone else, I try to manage my addictions so that my monthly Netflix bill doesn't become the straw that breaks this camel's back.

In fact, I hope to cure my Netflix addiction once I figure out this "streaming" world.

I'd love to get an electric car with a suitable range. I would then get some solar panels just to charge the vehicle. This would enable me to kick my addiction to oil, which, in turn would decrease my support of oil-producing Islamic countries that fund terrorism. A win-win-win situation.

It's vitally important to routinely change products, from car insurance to computers, because otherwise you'll be taken advantage of.

American companies are the worst because the money they reap from the higher prices they charge   "addicts" goes directly to the executives and not to the people who produce the products.

The key is identifying your addictions and taking constructive steps to rein them in.

Thank you, Intuit, for this reminder.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Ignorance rises again over measles vaccinations

Kindergarten vaccination exemption rates - CDC
When the left and right go so far in opposite directions on some issues, they end up meeting each other on the wrong side of reason.

This is what we have with vaccinations, particularly now with the measles outbreak that emanated from Disneyland. 

In 2000, we had measles eliminated in this country. Now, we have many Americans choosing ignorance over enlightenment; selfishness over community.

Liberal states like Oregon and Washington have shocking high rates of non-immunizations. Conservative states such as Idaho and Alaska have high rates, too. Colorado, a purple state, leads the nation in non-immunizations.

Some believe in the long-discredited link between immunizations and autism and opt out. Others do so for religious reasons. Some believe that the human body can take of itself. Others are wary of "big pharma."

Here's a link to an interactive map of Oregon that shows the rates of non-immunizations throughout the state. 

The data show that private schools, high income public schools and charter schools have higher rates of non-medical exemptions from vaccinations. Some rural, libertarian areas in southern Oregon also opt out at higher rates.

In Bend, schools to avoid include: Circle of Friends Preschool and Kindergarten (46 percent not vaccinated); Amity Creek Elementary School (34 percent) and Westside Village Magnet School at Kingston Elementary (30 percent).

On the right, we have numskulls like Sen. Rand Paul and Gov. Chris Christie who believe immunizations should be optional for parents of young children and they cast doubt on the efficacy of vaccinations.

This is what we get for our non-belief in science and our selective memory of the ravages of measles.

As President Obama said, the science is indisputable, vaccines that stem measles, mumps and rubella, not to mention polio and other horrible diseases, do work.

It wasn't that long ago when measles killed here and elsewhere in the western world. Here's a link to Roald Dahl's heartbreaking story on how measles hit his family in the early 1960s.

Evidently, what many have learned from history is that they've learned little from history.

Good grief.