Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bend's eastsiders shut out of civic affairs

And we don't
When Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Companion ensemble played in Bend the first time in 2003, he was quick to notice the big differences from Bend's west side and its east side.

Even then, it was obvious to Keillor that the west side was upscale and the east side was downscale.

And that's the way the city likes it, or at least those making the decisions.

The local daily ran an interesting story over the weekend that showed that almost all of the city councilors and almost all of the various committees in Bend are made up of people who live on the west side.

The committees include infrastructure, UGB expansion, planning and budget.

In addition, the park and rec board only has westside members.

In other words, even though there are more voters on the east side of town, they are grossly under-represented on the councils and boards that matter.

The result is that the west side gets more parks, better roads with better landscaping and their snow is removed before the east side of town.

The potholes also get patched quicker than on the east side.

Even the sewer system that is now coursing through the southeast side of town is mainly for the benefit of the west side of Bend even though there are hundreds of homes along the new sewer route on the east side that still have no sewer service.

The paper quoted city councilors and others about the dramatic under-representation of east-side residents on the council and key committees.

They noted that the east side of Bend has more working-class residents who don't have the time to get involved with civic affairs. Those that do apply are bypassed in favor of west-side residents.

Meanwhile, the west side has more retired and affluent residents who have the time and money to steer the direction of the town in their favor.

What the paper failed to note is that west-side residents, because they have more money, are far more litigious than east-siders.

And, the city caves to whoever sues it, be it the builders or west-siders out to protect their turf.

The challenge to the OSU-Cascades campus location on contaminated land on the west side is spear-headed by west-side residents who have reasonable fears about traffic and congestion on a grid system that is currently failing to meet the current demands.

Even though they'll likely lose their lawsuit to thwart the west-side expansion of OSU-Cascades, they'll at least delay the inevitable for a year, maybe longer.

It's unfortunate, but it's the new normal in America.

And Bend is a microcosm of what's happening across the country.

Those who have the money and influence supersede the will of the voters.

We no longer live in a democracy, but rather an oligarchy, according to this study last year from Princeton and Northwestern universities. This is what the researchers had to say.

A democracy is a form of government in which the leaders are elected by the people and the power is vested by the voters.

An oligarchy is a form of government in which the power is controlled by a small group of people. The Wikipedia definition notes that throughout history, oligarchies have often been tyrannical.

This outtake from the study explains why more citizens are apathetic about voting or being aligned with a political party:

"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," they write, "while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."

In Bend, and elsewhere in the country, the oligarchy is not necessarily the government.

In fact, it is composed of those with the most money. Nationally, you could say it's the Koch brothers.

Locally, it would be the builders/developers and Realtors who wield undue influence on the growth of Bend.

The only recourse to challenge this oligarchy is through legal action, not the ballot box.

Until east-siders realize this, they will be consigned to second-class status.

So, east-siders, pool your resources and get in the game. Prepare to sue to get fair treatment in this town.

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