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Eugene Weekly : News : 4.26.07



News Briefs: City May Pay $35 MillionWhole Foods Returning?Stopping the InterceptorSwitch to SwitchgrassTime to RelocalizeLane County Herbicide Spray Schedule |

Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes

News:

Envision Oregon


1000 Friends asks if y'all wants sprawl

Happening Person:

Carole Benfield


CITY MAY PAY $35 MILLION

As EW went to press Wednesday morning, City Manager Dennis Taylor and his staff were continuing to advocate for a Portland developer's large proposal for downtown involving at least $35 million in public subsidies and tax breaks without a public hearing or detailed information.

City staff recommended that the City Council vote on Wednesday, April 25, to approve KWG's concept for a million sq. ft. redevelopment. Any public hearings, public involvement and disclosure of project details would only come after the decision.

KWG proposes that the city and taxpayers provide an estimated total of about $35 million to subsidize its development, according to city and KWG documents. That taxpayer subsidy includes $16 million for 600 underground parking garage spaces, $5 million in utility upgrades, $1 million in offsite costs, $1.6 million to buy land and a $1.3 million subsidized loan, according to a staff report.

The $35 million total subsidy estimate also includes about $10 million in property tax breaks. City staff did not provide an estimate of the cost of the tax breaks in their report to the council, but KWG said in its proposal that it wants 10 years of tax exemptions for its project. Those tax exemptions could cover about 80 percent of the $191 million project. Based on city urban renewal information, a tax break of that size would be worth about $10 million to KWG.

KWG wrote that the subsidies are needed for it to make a 13 percent profit on the development. City staff describe the subsidy as an "investment," but the proposal does not include any return in the way of profit-sharing for taxpayers.

The KWG development proposal offers taxpayers no certainty that the subsidy numbers would not increase in the future or even that the project will ever be built. KWG describes its project as contingent on letters of intent from key cinema, hotel and grocery store tenants and "market substantiation" of the actual tenant demand for the project.

In choosing KWG, city staff are recommending that the council reject a smaller, incremental development proposal by Beam Development, also of Portland. The Beam proposal asks for $1.6 million in public subsidies plus possible tax breaks for a mixed-use project about one-tenth the size of KWG.

Beam describes its proposal as a "feasible" historic preservation project that will provide "affordable" space to local and small retailers, businesses and non-profits.

KWG said its project will include "national retailers" and will "seek to upgrade the character" of the area to make it more "upscale." KWG said it will try to accommodate local retailers but, "they will have to be able to afford the new rent." — Alan Pittman

 

WHOLE FOODS RETURNING?

Will a new subsidized development plan for downtown include Whole Foods?

The KWG development proposal that city staff are supporting includes a conceptual drawing of a 58,000 sq. ft. grocery store across from the downtown library. The grocery would cover half the block in a five-story, full-block building that would also include other ground floor retail space and an upstairs movie theater and residences.

A proposal to in effect subsidize an earlier Whole Foods development proposal with a $12 million adjacent city parking garage caused a furor last year with local grocers and their supporters filling a three-hour public hearing to oppose subsidies to corporations competing with local businesses. Citizens also questioned the need for the garage. The Whole Foods proposal on the east end of downtown fell through when the developer said construction costs had increased too much.

The KWG proposal for tearing down much of four blocks downtown for chain stores and condos involves a subsidy of roughly $35 million from the city, including tax breaks. KWG doesn't mention the controversial Whole Foods, but the square feet of its proposed grocery is nearly identical to the square feet proposed for the failed Whole Foods project last year. — Alan Pittman

 

STOPPING THE INTERCEPTOR

A public meeting April 5 on a 1.5 mile long city wastewater pipe through several acres of west Eugene wetlands drew a strong and negative response from citizen groups and individuals questioning both the environmental impact and the need for the project.

Public Works Engineering is planning to excavate a trench up to 21.5 feet deep and 10 feet wide to bury a 48-inch wastewater pipe between Terry Street at Roosevelt northwest along the Fern Ridge bike path, across Royal Avenue to end at the intersection of Avalon and Legacy. The pipe would be buried beneath the Greenhill tributary of Amazon Creek.

"The application seems to entirely ignore the technically challenging issues of crossing of the Greenhill tributary; with no sections or engineering design," says Lauri Segel of the Goal One Coalition. "This is especially problematic, since the tributary crossing seems to violate the hydrological design assumption of flat level strata."

Segel says the application does not acknowledge the impact to fish-bearing streams or breeding water birds, which have been observed on site.

"The proposed Legacy Pipe project has had no alternative analysis and has failed to substantiate the reason for this specific alignment," says Segel.

A statement from Public Works says the project is identified in the 1992 Sanitary Sewer Master Plan and is needed to "allow continued growth in the Bethel South and Bethel North subbasins, all within the existing Urban Growth Boundary." The pipe is designed to carry 20 million gallons of sewage a day and is "the shortest practicable route between the two connection points."

The city says an impervious bentonite seal over the trench will "effectively prevent surface water from infiltrating into the trench." The statement adds, "This project does not reduce, increase, impact, change, alter or otherwise modify surface or subsurface characteristics."

Kevin Matthews of Friends of Eugene objected to the plan from a number of angles. "The statement of need for this project is entirely non-quantitative, so whether or to what degree the project is indeed a matter of required capacity is impossible to evaluate or refute," he says. "The application provides no consideration of impacts outside of minimum project footprint. Yet direct and indirect impacts of such a large construction project over a mile and a half length are not likely to actually be limited to the documented 90-foot-wide strip."

Citizens for Public Accountability also weighed in on the plan recently, saying, "This isn't just 'any' sewer. This would be a 4-foot-tall sewer pipe in a 21-foot trench into West Eugene wetlands that we (and the Army Corps of Engineers) recently got Hayden Homes to back out of." — Ted Taylor

 

 

SWITCH TO SWITCHGRASS

With one full-service biodiesel and bioethanol station operating and the city's Public Works Department using biofuels, Eugeneans appear to be endorsing alternative fuels. But at City Club of Eugene April 13, UO astrophysicist Greg Bothun questioned whether biofuel could really take the place of crude-oil based fuels. In addition to his work in physics, Bothun teaches courses at the UO in alternative energy sources.

Switchgrass being grown for biofuel

According to Bothun, biodiesel can't replace crude oil gas because the U.S. can only grow enough soybeans to produce 2 billion gallons of diesel in a year. This is not enough to satisfy the U.S. annual gas consumption of 200 billion gallons of gas.

Bothun said ethanol, as it is currently produced, won't work either. Ethanol comes mainly from grain, usually corn. Bothun said, "We don't have enough cropland to grow enough grain-based ethanol to cover our needs." He calculated it would take 78 percent of all U.S. cropland to grow enough corn to replace the gas we currently use. We need much of that land to produce food.

However, Bothun does see ethanol as a possible replacement for our dependency on crude oil. He said cellulosic ethanol, which can be produced from agricultural and industrial plant wastes, and energy crops such as switchgrass could replace crude oil.

Switchgrass a hardy perennial that grows rapidly, requires little herbicide or fertilizer use and has a large biomass output, according to sources on bioenergy. Bothun said that with today's improved farming and if switchgrass breeding techniques improve, switchgrass-based fuels could be produced at 60 to 90 cents a gallon by 2015. Currently it costs about $1.30 a gallon to produce crude oil and another 80 cents for refining crude into gasoline. Add taxes, distribution costs and profits, and the Oregon average retail gasoline price this week is $3.12 a gallon. — Camilla Mortensen

 

TIME TO RELOCALIZE

The Lane County Relocalization Conference is happening Friday and Saturday, April 27-28. What is it? Individuals, groups and civic leaders are gathering to talk about how we can take care of our basic needs closer to where we live.

"The conference will look at five topics," says organizer Jan Spencer, "food, energy, local economy, land use, and culture, exploring how we can take care of these needs in a more eco-logical way."

Spencer says relevant issues include climate change, resource depletion, an unsteady global economy and the environment in decline, "and other trends tell us loud and clear that human impact on planet Earth is having severe consequences that cannot be sustained."

The conference will begin at 7 pm Friday at the First Christian Church, 1166 Oak St, with keynote addresses by Daniel Lerch of the Post Carbon Institute and Spencer.

Saturday's session will be at the Friendly Street Church of God, 2290 Friendly St., from 8:30 am to 6 pm. Morning panels will discuss each of the five topics and afternoon sessions will be facilitated discussions.

Cost of the event is suggested $5 to $25 sliding scale. For more information, call 686-6761, email spencerj@efn.org or visit www.suburbanpermaculture.org

Lane County Herbicide Spray Schedule

Near Marcola Elementary School: Oregon Forest Management Services (896-3757) will ground spray 78 acres with Clopyralid and Hexazinone herbicides for Weyerhaeuser (741-5211) April 27 — June 1 (No. 55407).

Oregon Forest Management Services will ground spray 741 acres with Velpar and Transline herbicides for Weyerhaeuser near Clark Brook, and Parson Creek tributaries including within 10 feet of domestic use watershed in Section 22, Township 16 S., Range 2 W. (No. 55406).

For complaints about ODOT spraying of highways call (503) 986-4366.

Last week in this box, the wrong number was listed for the toll free-ODOT number for information regarding roads which are being or have just been sprayed. The correct number is (888) 996-8080.

Compiled by Jan Wroncy, Forestland Dwellers: 342-8332, www.forestlanddwellers.org

 

 

SLANT

Check out a map of Eugene and Springfield and look where the new medical centers are going (see push-pins). If McKenzie-Willamette gets its way, both will be way out on the outskirts, far from the metro population centers. What's the point of having a hospital in Eugene if it's farther from downtown than Springfield? PeaceHealth started this absurd shuffling of health care services by building in north Springfield, and now MWMC has gotten sucked into this illogical rural mindset. MWMC's main justification now is that the doctors will find it convenient, but what about patients and their families, nurses and other hospital workers? Approval of MWMC's new hospital is coming to a head with the city planning staff giving its nod to the Metro Plan amendment, rezoning and other requirements. A public hearing before the Eugene Planning Commission was this week (April 24). The commission will make its recommendations to the City Council, and any council decision is certain to go to the state Land use Board of Appeals. Unfortunately for us health care consumers, MWMC has several factors working in its favor: Eugene has never turned down any major development, regardless of its negative impact on the community. Rules and regulations that seem clearcut to most of us are subject to interpretation, tweaking and exemptions. Councilors are paranoid about being blamed if Eugene ends up with no major medical center. And Mayor Piercy came out early in favor of the siting, making it difficult for her to change her mind if she becomes the tie-breaker. So it's up to the public to weigh in loudly on these plans, and this series of hearings and meetings is our first real chance. Let our elected officials know that building hospitals out in the sticks is a bad idea when good sites are available in the urban center — sites without the access problems
of RiverRidge.

Speaking of tie-breakers, back when Torrey was mayor and carried the swing vote, a lot of forward-thinking issues never came up for a vote. Progressive councilors surveyed their fellow councilors and didn't bother if they couldn't count on a 5-3 vote. Torrey would always favor the conservative view in a 4-4 tie, though Councilor Gary Papé was less predictable. Now Mayor Piercy's in a position to break ties with a more progressive view, and we're pleased to see she's doing it. The wise decision to finally condemn two tracts at the headwaters of Amazon Creek to create a city park would not have happened with Torrey at the gavel. Back in January, Piercy broke a tie to stop a premature and expensive land supply survey that Torrey would have loved. We predict more positive tie-breaking votes are coming. Meanwhile, a conservative and predictable voting bloc of Councilors Clark, Solomon, Poling and Pryor has formed. Clark ran unopposed last November and came into office without needing to air his views on the issues. He told us he was open to new ideas and to expect some surprises in his voting. We're still waiting.

What's up with the idea that Eugene has to expand its urban growth boundary if we create a park where homes could have been built? Seems like just another excuse for sprawling. Eugene and Springfield both have plenty of land for infill and redevelopment within our existing UGB. The pressure to sprawl is not coming from the people of Lane County; it's coming from builders who can make more money by developing cheap land on the outskirts — and passing on to taxpayers the tab for infrastructure. Rep. Terry Beyer wants the Legislture to sever Springfield from Eugene for purposes of land use planning. Just another attempt to make Lane County look more like Orange County.

Never thought we'd see the day when the competing Oregonian and The Register-Guard would arrive in our box cozily wrapped in the same plastic bag. That's all about saving circulation costs for both the big dailies and, we presume, to keep one more piece of plastic out of the landfill. Big benefits, but if the papers were free, as some say they eventually will have to be, door-to-door driving would fade away, too. Think of that environmental benefit!

We often bitch about superficial "If it bleeds it leads" local broadcast news, but there is some decent reporting out there on the air waves. Congrats to KOPT, KLCC and KTVL for taking top awards at the recent Oregon AP Broadcast Association awards.


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, editor@eugeneweekly.com

 

 

CAROL BENFIELD

She was born in Eugene, but Carol Benfield grew up in Merritt, B.C. After high school she came back to Oregon, worked for a while in Eugene and Madras, then joined the Army. She met her husband, Roger, in Panama, where they both worked as meteorological observers on research projects. "It was a great job," she says. "But they made those positions civilian and we lost them." The pair left the Army and moved to Eugene, where both took the postal service exam. "After a year and a half they called us," says Benfield, who has by now walked the same route, south of the UO, for 20 years. "It's a second family for me," she says."I see the kids grow up and go off to college. I definitely know the cats and dogs. I love them all." Dog lovers at home as well, she and Roger share evening outings with Deja Vue and Diablo. Benfield estimates she knows 100 dogs and an equal number of cats. "Carol is one of the strongest community builders I have met," says neighbor Camilla Mortensen. "She engages with everyone she meets. She knows everyone by name, knows every pet by name."