Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
$34 Million Tax Hike?
County wants record tax increase formassive cops/jails measure.
BUILDER WON'T SELL FOREST
For more than a year, a neighborhood group has fought to save a 40-acre plot of forested land between Dillard Road and Nectar Way from development. Now, the city wants re-negotiate a deal to buy the plot, but it may be too late.
|Local activists are working to save the Nectar Way forest from development.|
The land in question is one of the biggest unprotected parcels of high-quality habitat in Eugene, containing Amazon Creek headwaters, seasonal wetlands, upland wildlife habitat and several endangered plants. City of Eugene Parks Director Johnny Medlin calls the plot "the most pristine piece of land outside of public ownership in Eugene." The Parks Department is interested in incorporating the land into the Ridgeline Trail network.
The city has tried, and failed, to buy the plot before. Just as the city was poised to purchase the property in the spring of 2004, DDA Oregonia sold it to developer Joe Green. City officials maintain that they made a good-faith effort to obtain the plot, but DDA Oregonia local manager Munir Katul told neighborhood activists that the city never expressed an earnest interest in buying it. Regardless, Green won the bid and now owns the property. He later refused the city's offer to buy the plot at the appraised price of $430,000.
On July 18, the Eugene City Council passed a motion to direct the city manager to re-negotiate with Green about purchasing the property. Funds could come from city coffers as well as the neighborhood group working to preserve the plot, local nonprofits and a federal grant. Councilor Betty Taylor, who introduced the motion, feels that the city should do whatever it can to preserve the parcel. "It's wooded land with rare growth, the kind of forest that we don't have much left of," she says.
Southeast Neighborhood Association President Kevin Matthews says that the land is especially critical because it contains Amazon Creek headwaters. "It's a really important natural resource area, and we'd love to see it protected one way or another," he says. "I'm glad that the City Council has endorsed a stronger focus on solving that."
But on Aug. 15, Green's attorney, Mark Hoyt, wrote an e-mail stating that the developer is not interested in selling the entire parcel; he is only willing to negotiate selling a portion of the land around the stream corridor. "Without a willing seller, there's not anything more that we can do," Medlin says.
If the city's effort to purchase the plot fails, Green is likely to pursue his preliminary plan to construct 105 to 111 new houses on the property.
For more information about the effort to preserve the Nectar Way forest, contact Lisa Warnes at email@example.com — Kera Abraham
BREAK FROM RECRUITING
How will the teens and young adults in our community deal effectively with ubiquitous military recruiters in schools and on the phone? Eugene peace activists are doing some recruiting of their own for a regional counter-recruitment camp to be held Aug. 29 to Sept. 1 near Goldendale, Wash.
PeaceWorks and CALC's Committee for Countering Military Recruitment are promoting the Northwest "Not Your Soldier" student activist training camp for youth age 13 to 22. The cost of the camp is $25-$250 sliding scale, with scholarships available.
Registration includes meals, housing, transportation, activities and workshops. "The focus of this event is to empower young people to return to high school and college campuses ready to oppose military recruitment and work to demilitarize their schools," says Phil Weaver of PeaceWorks.
Sessions will include training in nonviolent direct action, basic rights, issues of race in military recruitment, guerilla theater, public speaking, working with adult allies, alternatives to the military, student privacy, conscientious objection and the draft .
The camps are a joint project of the Ruckus Society, Code Pink, War Resisters League, Teen Peace and the Committee for Countering Military Recruitment. For more information or to register, visit www.notyoursoldier.orgor e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 343-8548 ext. 1.
LOGICAL & PUZZLING
Eugene actuary and puzzler Mark Danburg-Wyld may be the first person in the U.S. to personally create brand-new, computer-generated brainteasers called sudoku, a Japanese word for the "single number" game that created a frenzy among players in Great Britain before jumping to America in 2005. The craze began in the 1980s in Japan and has spread throughout Asia. Eugene Weekly welcomes Danburg-Wyld's Sudoku puzzles in this issue.
Warning: This game is addictive. Use a pencil, with an eraser. Logic and reasoning, not lucky guesses, are required. The goal is to fill in the blank cells on the three-square by three-square grid that makes up a sudoku puzzle. In each of these nine boxes the numbers 1 through 9 may occur once only. Likewise, numbers 1 through 9 may appear only once horizontally in each row, and only once vertically in each column.
Danburg-Wyld suggests that the puzzle evolved as a "natural progression" from what are called "Latin Squares," but in sudoku the clues (some numbers are filled in) are "arranged symmetrically." I don't know exactly what he means by that, but I am pleased to note that no math is involved in solving the puzzle — you don't add or subtract to get the values.
Before you dust off your thinking cap and attempt this brain-stretcher, Danburg-Wyld has a few tips. First, look at the grid as a whole and begin working with those numbers that are closer to being done. For example, if the puzzle has five out of nine 1's filled in but only three 2's, it may be easier to place the remaining four 1's. To do that, get systematic. Pencil in all the numbers (values) that could go into a cell. This will let you see patterns otherwise not obvious. You may see that in one box, there is only one cell that could contain a 1. Put it there.
Another trick: When you end up with two cells in a column that could contain one of two values, pencil both values in each. Eliminate these values as choices for the remaining cells in that column. (I know: Words are hard to visualize. But when you try this trick, you'll see it in a flash.)
I'm not yet a sudoku addict, but I have started playing. For a word-addled brain like mine, it's reassuring to have nine possibilities per cell rather than 26 as in crosswords. If one puzzle a week doesn't satisfy your craving, check out Danburg-Wyld's website at http://sudokuplace.com (he also has an Excel-powered puzzle solver if you get desperate). Now, go to page 33 and get started. Enjoy! — Lois Wadsworth
DEALIN' CARDS FOR AMBER
Most 25-year-olds wouldn't think twice about taking the dog out for a hike, walking up a flight of stairs or even going outside to grab the mail on a hot day. But for Amber Wesemann, these seemingly simple activities are difficult — if not out of the question. But then again, most young adults are fortunate enough to live without cystic fibrosis (CF).
Weseman was diagnosed as a baby with CF, a terminal disease that affects the mucus-producing cells of the body, especially those of the lungs and digestive system. As CF progresses, the pulmonary function of the lungs decreases. Currently, Wesemann's pulmonary function is 25 percent. She is prone to damaging infections of the lungs due to underperformance by the cells that normally keep the lungs clear of infection.
Hope might come in the form of a little-known procedure called a living-donor lobar lung transplant. Every person has five lobes in each lung, and one of those lobes can successfully be removed. Two living donors would provide lobes to be transplanted into Wesemann's chest to serve as her primary lungs until a full lung transplant is possible. Normally, donors would be easier to find than they are in Wesemann's case: She has the rare B-negative blood type, shared by only a small percentage of the population.
So where to find donors? In Eugene, perhaps. On Sunday a benefit poker tournament will be held to raise money and awareness, and hopefully to find willing lobe donors. The Texas hold 'em style tournament start at 2 pm and takes place at four bars around the city. At each bar, participants are given a playing card for their poker hands. The tournament ends at the Downtown Lounge, where prizes will be given out for the best and worst poker hands. The benefit was arranged by Allison Kramer, one of Wesemann's best friends since childhood, and by Kramer's boyfriend, Casey Johnson. The money raised will go toward supporting the lobe donors while they are in the hospital and throughout their recovery process.
Without the lobe transplant, Wesemann will have to manage until she is selected among hundreds for a full lung transplant. "I've been on the list for three years," Wesemann says, "and they've moved maybe two people off the list in that amount of time. But my age is perfect, and since last May the people who have the more severe cases will be given first consideration. So I should be up near the top of the list."
Information will be available at the Downtown Lounge Sunday about living donor transplants, and full details about the event as well as information about donations can be found at www.angelsforamber.com — Emily Freeman
KICKER HELPS BIG BUSINESS
Oregon corporations finished the 2005 legislative session scoring a 23 percent reduction in their 2005 corporate income taxes, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP). And the Legislature didn't even have to vote on it. The tax breaks will come about because revenue receipts in the 2003-05 budget period significantly exceeded official state revenue projections.
The tax cut, commonly referred to as the "kicker," is currently projected to total $62.6 million. The final calculation will be included in the "close of session" revenue forecast in the September economic and revenue forecast by the Office of Economic Analysis.
Corporations will take the kicker tax cut as a credit against their 2005 tax liability.
"Oregonians won't be able to hold their legislators accountable to a vote on this tax cut because it takes action by the Legislature to stop the corporate kicker and the Legislature didn't have the gumption to put the issue to a vote," says Charles Sheketoff, executive director of the OCPP.
"They just sat back and let the tax cut happen, while also doling out other permanent tax cuts for Oregon corporations and cutting programs and services Oregonians use and rely upon each day," he says.
The OCPP notes that Oregon corporations are now paying less than 5 percent of Oregon's income taxes, down from 18 percent in the mid-1970s. The kicker tax cut only benefits profitable corporations, not new or struggling businesses more likely to need help rebounding from the recession.
A news brief about the new LRAPA board member last week incorrectly stated that William Carpenter serves on "a committee assisting the UO law student group Friends of Land Air Water." Carpenter is on the board of directors for Friends of Land Air Water, a nonprofit that works with the UO law student group Land Air Water to co-sponsor the annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.
Bob Warren of the state Economic & Community Development Department wrote an essay for the R-G Sunday (8/14) trying to clarify some of the confusion surrounding enterprise zones. But twisting facts is no way to make complex issues simple. He tells us "government incentives are the norm and even required for municipalities to be considered" for new business, when in fact a lot of new businesses locate and expand here without tax breaks. He tells us it's "unlikely Hynix would have located in west Eugene without the enterprise zone in place," when the scenic location, educated, low-wage workforce, and abundant, cheap and clean water and power were more likely the determining factors. And this year Hynix announced its $500 million expansion before the vote on the new tax break. Warren tells us community standards are too expensive to administer and can "exceed the benefits of the zone." But the wage-cap community standard salvages $4 million in tax revenues, and the administrative costs are minimal. In fact, there appears to be very little city auditing of businesses taking advantage of enterprise zones. Who's counting heads at Hynix, besides Hynix?
The Eugene City Council in February made a "neighborhood initiative" a top priority. The smart (and overdue) idea: to open communications between neighborhood groups and city staff in order to better serve neighborhoods' specific needs. The problem is, city staff didn't consult the Neighborhood Leaders Council when drafting its action plan for the initiative, released last month. How can the city improve communications with Eugene's neighborhoods without seeking input from our 20 active neighborhood associations? Does anyone on city staff notice the elephant in the room?
The Legislature's failure to pass the biofuels bill, which would have set Oregon up to become a leader in the production of plant-based vehicle fuels, is a total bummer. The House and Senate passed different versions of the bill, and legislators couldn't reconcile their beefs in conference committee. Senate Democrats held firm to a requirement that all fuels sold in Oregon contain a certain percentage of biofuel, while House Republicans defended an add-on provision that would give $12 million in tax credits to corporate polluters. Making matters worse for Oregon's air was a possibly unconstitutional insertion into the state budget directing the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality not to pursue stricter vehicle emission rules. As Sen. Charlie Ringo told EW, "Senate Democrats were really, really egregious in agreeing with the Republicans that the DEQ may not adopt the Cali vehicle emission standards. It blows me away that we don't want clean cars in this state."
One grieving mother of a dead soldier is grabbing more headlines than a whole string of White House scandals. It seems people can relate to Cindy Sheehan's grief and yearning for truth. Bush could get the California mom off his back and return to enjoying his extended Texas vacation by simply meeting with her. Generic platitudes just didn't do it for Sheehan. She wants answers. Bush could admit to her that his preemptive attack on Iraq was a massive blunder based on flawed assumptions, apologize for the widespread death and destruction, and promise to bring all the nation's sons and daughters home as quickly as possible. Bush won't admit any fault, of course. This mess is all God's doing. Sheehan's impromptu vigil has become a focal point for Americans who are fed up with the Bush administration's arrogance and deception. Approval of Bush's handling of Iraq is at a new low of 38 percent as the body count of U.S. soldiers creeps toward 2,000. Want to support Sheehan? Visit www.MoveOn.org to find out how to organize a local vigil. Several bloggers are dispatching hourly from Camp Casey, including the Lone Star Iconoclast (http://126.96.36.199), which includes photos.
SLANT includes short opinion pieces, observations and rumor-chasing notes compiled by the EW staff. Heard any good rumors lately? Contact Ted Taylor at 484-0519, email@example.com
$34 Million Tax Hike?
County wants record tax increase formassive cops/jails measure.
BY ALAN PITTMAN
Lane County appears heading toward seeking a huge tax increase for cops and jails. The cost for the average homeowner would be as much as $400 a year.
The measure would likely go down in flames if it ever comes to a vote. A survey paid for by the county in March indicated that only about one-third of voters would support a tax rate that high. Even cutting the tax rate in half would likely fall short of passing at an election.
Smaller tax increases for county cops and jails have failed at the polls a dozen times in the last decade. This proposal for a permanent tax increase is much larger and would more than double the county's tax rate.
At the ballot box, support could be even lower as the public learns of controversial elements of the tax proposal.
The big tax increase of $34 million or more per year would likely wipe out city of Eugene revenue to support local schools and libraries and take a big bite out of the city general fund. The county tax increase would push the area over Measure 5 property tax limits and require reduction of other tax rates to stay under the cap.
While Eugene residents would see their schools and libraries hurt by the county tax, they would be asked to subsidize law enforcement for rural county residents who frequently have voted against higher taxes. About $5 million a year of the tax would go to fund rural patrol and resident deputies who would not serve Eugene residents. Another $2 million a year would go to subsidize operations of Springfield's proposed city jail.
While many voters in Eugene favor crime prevention, the county proposal is heavily weighted towards enforcement. At least 80 percent of the money would go toward cops and jails, according to a draft of the proposal.
The county envisions hiring an estimated 146 additional law enforcement staff, including about 50 in the Sheriff's Office and 30 in the District Attorney's Office. In addition, local jails would add about 330 more beds supervised by at least 41 more deputies and 20 more probation officers.
Law enforcement is very expensive. Each patrol deputy in the proposal costs almost $200,000 a year in salary, benefits, equipment and support staff. By comparison, the proposal includes only $200,000 a year to fund the Healthy Start program, a proven child-focused crime prevention program, throughout the county.
The county plans to use a controversial special district for the big tax increase to get around property tax limitations passed by voters. Members of the Eugene City Council have opposed such a district because it would be less accountable to voters.
The County Commission's recent role in forcing the city of Eugene to give Hynix another $10 million in property tax breaks while asking homeowners to pay more could also hurt the cops and jails measure at the polls.
Another complicating factor is uncertainty about whether the county will receive about $20 million in federal money in coming years as replacement for lost timber receipt revenues. If the county pleads poverty and then gets the federal money, it could "give us a big black eye" before voters, County Commissioner Faye Stewart said.
The jail/cop tax increase has even left conservatives shaking their heads.
Eugene Republican Jim Hale testified to the county's Public Safety Task Force last week that Eugene taxpayers shouldn't be asked to pay for Springfield's jail and rural law enforcement. "Ask people that live in unincorporated Lane County to pay for their own police," he said.
City Councilors John Woodrow of Springfield and Michael Fleck of Cottage Grove objected to the fact that the proposed tax could reduce revenues from police levies in their jurisdictions.
Cottage Grove Councilor Lindsey Haskell, marveled at the about $100,000 per employee in pay in benefits in the proposal. "If you're looking for sympathy from Joe Six-pack from Cottage Grove, you ain't going to get it."
Oakridge Councilor Rayetta Clark said the tax increase was too big. "My poor people in Oakridge aren't going to want to pay any more taxes."
Several task force members suggested pairing down the massive proposal. But Jim Johnson, the lead staffer for the task force, said the county views the $34 million as just a "first step" toward meeting its needs and that even more tax increases could follow.
Commissioner Stewart said that he'd like to see the tax measure automatically increase 6 to 9 percent a year to keep up with the county's internal inflation rate.
Stewart acknowledged that the tax increase might not pass, but said he was willing to put a tax increase in place even without a vote. That would be legal if the county tax was not a property tax, such as a sales tax.
Although the massive tax increase appears likely to fail, the county continues to push forward with it, spending thousands of dollars on consultants and staff time. Johnson told commissioners and task force members, "it seems like what you're saying is we are heading in the right direction."