News Briefs: Locals Will Struggle to Pay Big Bills for Hospital | Ballot Title Prepared | Eugene Soldier Goes to Prison | Suburban Downtown | Letter Sent to Conyers | Bike Tours in the ’Hood | Low Impact Climate Converging | Activist Alert | War Dead | Lane Area Herbicide Spray Schedule
Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Ruiz talks cops, pits and taxes in divided city
Is a Fed Bear a Dead Bear?
Florence has bears in the backyard
Happening Person: Geoff Hughes and Tom Dickason
LOCALS WILL STRUGGLE TO PAY BIG BILLS FOR HOSPITAL
Lane County residents and businesses already struggling to pay for rapidly increasing health care costs will be forced to bear the burden of PeaceHealth’s decision to build a posh new half-billion-dollar hospital at RiverBend.
Health care experts, such as a report this year by the Center for Studying Health System Change, have long said that such expensive hospital projects are a prime driver in rapidly increasing health care costs.
Since 2001 the cost of health insurance has increased 78 percent while wages have remained largely stagnant. This year Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield announced a 26 percent rate hike on its Oregon insurance plans, and many other companies announced similar rate hikes. Now health insurance for a family costs about $12,000 a year.
Many local people just can’t afford it. One in five local residents are uninsured, according to a Lane County study.
The local United Way’s 2007 survey of community needs makes no mention of the need for a new hospital with chandeliers, lush paneling, flat screen TVs, chandeliers, a multi-story stone fireplace and a “Northwest lodge feel” that PeaceHealth built at RiverBend for $567 million.
“The most severe problems experienced by households are related to paying for medical care and dental care,” the United Way reported. More than 25 percent of households report problems paying medical bills.
The survey found that 9 percent of households couldn’t afford health insurance for their children. Almost a third of households reported a person with a debilitating chronic medical condition and about a third of those households reported they couldn’t afford needed medical care.
People can choose not to pay for the amenities at a ski-lodge by not going. But PeaceHealth has a near medical monopoly locally and people may face a choice of suffering or dieing or paying for the hospital’s “hotel-like amenities.”
Meanwhile, the PeaceHealth “non-profit” corporation reported $99 million in “excess” on its latest tax return on $1.1 billion in revenue, a 9 percent profit margin. The local Sacred Heart Medical Center accounts for about two-thirds of the Bellevue-based corporation’s profits.
PeaceHealth officials appear clueless that local people may not be able to afford the pricy new hospital they built. An extensive press kit from the hospital on the new facility makes no mention of affordability or the crisis in rising health care costs.
PeaceHealth CEO Alan Yordy makes $1 million a year, with a flock of eight vice presidents earning $400,000 to $800,000 per year, according to the tax return. PeaceHealth doctors earn even higher salaries. The hospital reported paying one Eugene doctor $1.7 million a year.
Meanwhile, the average local household income is about $40,000 a year. Half of households around that income told the United Way survey they were having financial difficulty. — Alan Pittman
BALLOT TITLE PREPARED
Eugene’s city attorney this week prepared ballot language for the proposed charter amendment that will go on the November ballot. The purpose of the amendment, proposed by Councilor Bonny Bettman, is to strengthen Eugene’s city auditor function. The deadline to legally challenge the language in the measure is July 30.
The caption for the measure is “Eugene Charter Amendment on External Review of Police.” The question reads: “Shall Charter require, rather than allow, Council to appoint police auditor and review board, and to authorize duties and powers?”
The summary reads: “Section 15-A of the Eugene Charter currently allows, but does not require, the City Council to appoint an independent police auditor and a civilian review board. If the voters approve this measure, the Charter will require the City Council to appoint a police auditor and a civilian review board.
“Section 15-A also authorizes, but does not require, the City Council to grant to the police auditor and civilian review board certain powers and duties related to complaints of police misconduct and the administrative or criminal investigations of those complaints. … If the voters approve this measure, the City Council will no longer have the discretion to determine which of these powers and duties will be granted. Instead, the City Council will be required to grant the specified powers and duties to the police auditor and civilian review board.”
EUGENE SOLDIER GOES TO PRISON
Eugene soldier James Burmeister was given six months in prison during his Army court martial last week. Burmeister has been called a whistleblower for drawing attention to the military’s bait-and-kill tactics using small kill teams in Iraq.
Unable to face the possibility he was killing innocent Iraqi civilians and troubled by injuries from a roadside bomb, Burmeister went AWOL last year, fleeing to Canada. He returned to the U.S. and has since lingered for four months at Fort Knox awaiting judgment.
Burmeister was charged with AWOL and desertion. According to reports from supporters present in the courtroom, the prosecution used media stories, including a PBS interview and an article in The Oregonian in which the AWOL Burmeister discussed the bait-and-kill tactics, as evidence against him.
Army desertions have been steadily rising for the past several years but actually being convicted of going AWOL or desertion is relatively rare. Of the 4,698 soldiers who were charged with desertion in 2007 (AWOL for more than a month) only 108 were actually convicted of the offence. Three hundred and ninety-five soldiers were convicted of the lesser charge of AWOL.
Charged with “desertion with intent to shirk important service,” Burmeister pleaded guilty to AWOL to avoid a longer sentence.
In addition to his six-month prison sentence Burmeister will receive a reduction in rank and pay, and a bad conduct discharge. The bad conduct discharge means he will not have access to veterans benefits, including medical care for his post-traumatic stress disorder and head injury.
Burmeister’s family had hoped he would be given a discharge in lieu of a court martial and return home to Oregon to help take care of his family. His mother, Helen Burmeister, suffers from multiple sclerosis, his sister is a diabetic with no health insurance to pay for insulin, and his brother has been diagnosed schizophrenic. Burmeister turned 24 in prison on Wednesday, July 23. — Camilla Mortensen
The city of Eugene will allow more parking lots downtown in a move that state land-use regulators criticize as violating efforts to reduce driving and permitting “suburban-density in the region’s core.”
The Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) questioned whether the drop in density requirements is consistent with state regulations requiring efforts to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT). The VMT regulations are the state’s chief means of reducing urban sprawl and fighting global warming caused by car pollution.
The City Council voted July 14 to reduce required density in a large part of downtown by about a third. The old regulations would require a one-story building to fill its site. But the DLCD wrote that the new density reductions “would appear to allow a one-story building with parking underneath to cover less than one-third (32.5 percent) of its site.”
The council voted 6-2 for the density reduction with Councilors Bonny Bettman and Betty Taylor opposed. The reduction does not apply to a central, 18-block area downtown where higher density requirements remain in place.
Bettman said the city was now moving in the “opposite direction” from long-standing efforts to promote downtown density to reduce sprawl and driving. “I don’t think we should reduce density this extremely in the urban core.”
But other councilors and city staff argued that developer Hugh Prichard and others had said that the regulations had blocked projects in the downtown area. “The whole downtown has been rapidly deteriorating since we implemented the code,” said Councilor Jennifer Solomon.
But many projects have been built downtown in compliance with the density requirements including the Heron Building near Down to Earth, the new library and the new office building and apartment building at the old Register-Guard site. The city has also permitted two drive-through coffee kiosks under the code.
The council also voted to create a loophole by allowing unrestricted parking for a project on an adjacent lot. But the council did vote against a proposal to limit project surface parking downtown to 20 spaces. “The issue really is do we want to build our downtown for vehicles or do we want to build our downtown for people,” Bettman said. — Alan Pittman
LETTER SENT TO CONYERS
A letter with more than 100 signatures of local residents and community leaders was faxed to Congressman John Conyers July 14, calling for a congressional investigation into federal involvement in the controversial community political demonstration in Eugene May 30.
Conyers is chair of the House Judiciary Committee and the letter was also addressed to the committee and the Constitution Subcommittee. Other letters from other local groups and individuals may follow this week.
“We ask for your committee(s) to scrutinize the actions of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issuing directives from the Denver ‘Mega Center’ to agents of the Federal Protective Agency to conduct undercover surveillance of citizens expressing community concerns,” reads the letter. “This is an illegal practice being done by the DHS, not only targeting citizens of Eugene, Oregon, but also citizens in communities throughout our country. We believe these onerous activities undertaken by DHS are being done to intimidate and suppress citizens engaged in legal, peaceful demonstrations.”
The letter goes on to urge a “cease and desist” order to be issued by the Judiciary Committee to the DHS to “stop their illegal surveillance.”
Signing the letter were Carol Berg-Caldwell, Josh Schlossberg and more than 100 others. Copies were sent to federal, state and local officials, along with the ACLU.
BIKE TOURS IN THE ’HOOD
Four Eugene neighborhoods are planning bike tours to show model locations all around town where people are making better use of assets on site to decrease their ecological footprints. “Soil, sun and rainfall are available to most residential locations and many people are putting them to work,” says Jan Spencer, one of the organizers. “Others are going beyond the natural resources and creating nonconventional households and collaborating with neighbors for mutual assistance.”
The bike tours will show grass-to-garden, reclaiming parking space from automobiles, rain water catchment, active and passive solar design, cooperation between neighbors and more. The first tour will be at noon Saturday, July 26 with a gathering at 212 Benjamin St. in the River Road area. The next will be 1 pm Aug. 9 at the Friendly Market, followed by 10 am Aug. 23, at 2755 Kincaid in the Amazon Neighborhood, and 11 am Sept. 6 at the Red Barn in Whiteaker.
The tours, organized by the neighborhood associations and organizations, show there is increasing interest in greening the neighborhoods by those organizations, says Spencer. He says a new committee has now been formed within the Neighborhood Leaders Council. The new panel has members from 10 neighborhoods and is “creating a new look to neighborhood organizations as activists on the ground and doing hands-on projects in the neighborhoods for the environment, local food production and to build community.”
Spencer says many residents in the city aren’t interested in “wonkish” meetings on city policy, but will show up to get involved in practical environmental projects, such as turning lawns into gardens or capturing rainwater.
LOW IMPACT CLIMATE CONVERGING
Are you ready to help fight the battle against climate change? If so, the second annual West Coast Convergence for Climate Action is a great place to start.
The convergence will consist of eight days of “low-impact living and high-impact action,” and activities that include skill shares, sustainability demonstrations, direct action, community organizing and loads of entertainment, according conference organizers. The convergence will be held at River’s Turn Farm four miles northwest of Coburg. Camping is available and a $10 a day donation is requested to cover costs.
Last year’s Convergence for Climate Action was held in Skamokawa, Wash., and had a total of about 400 visitors throughout the week, according to Monica Vaughan, a conference organizer.
“It was amazing. It brought together lots of generations,” she says of last year’s conference. “It was people talking to people and acknowledging serious issues,” says Vaughan.
The gathering is part of an international network of climate “camps” which began in the summer of 2005, according to Vaughan. This year’s West Coast Convergence takes place alongside gatherings in Virginia, New York, the U.K., Germany, Australia, Denmark, Russia and New Zealand.
Vaughan expects a larger crowd this year and says that people from as far away as Canada and Mexico will be coming.
During the eight days, there will be workshops on issue education, organizing skills and tactic trainings, and sustainable living skills. Issues include liquefied natural gas, logging and saving the salmon. There will also be keynote speakers, music performances and three meals a day.
“The entire event is off-grid. All energy is produced on-site,” says Vaughan.
Vaughan believes that Eugene is such an important political core that it will be a great place for communities to come together and discuss the root causes of climate change.
“It’s about how we as a community can build the future we’d like to see,” says Vaughan.
The West Coast Convergence will be held July 28 through Aug. 4. Directions and a map can be found at the conference website. For more information, contact Monica Vaughan at 521-1832 or visit www.climateconvergence.org
A rally with the Pitchfork Rebellion kicks off the conference at noon July 27 at Pioneer Square in Portland. The rally against the WOPR (Western Oregon Plan Revisions) will feature speakers on forest and civil rights issues as well as performances by Afro-beat musician Thomas Mapfumo and others. Federal agents please note: Pioneer Square is not a federal building, there are no plans to march to federal buildings and it’s perfectly legal to have a rally to save old-growth trees. — Courtney Jacobs
• The Pitchfork Rebellion will be joining anti-WOPR activists in a major forest practices rally planned for noon Sunday, July 27, at Portland’s Pioneer Square on SW 6th Avenue.
• LTD open house on the West Eugene EmX Extension, the “West 11th Avenue Alternative and West 7th Place/Stewart Road Alternative” will be from 6 to 8 pm Monday, July 28 at the Elks Lodge, 2470 W. 11th. The next WEEE meeting on the “Amazon Channel Alternative” will be at the same time and place Aug. 18. See www.ltd.org for future meeting dates.
• DeFazio wants your sole. The congressman is participating in the National Recycling Coalition’s “Congressional
Reuse-A-Shoe” challenge to collect worn-out rubber-soled shoes to recycle into donated play and sports equipment. Shelter Animal Resource Alliance (SARA) is collecting shoes at SARA’s Treasures Gift & Thrift Shop, 871 River Road, until 6 pm Tuesday, July 29.
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week’s numbers in parentheses):
• 4,125 U.S. troops killed* (4,119)
• 30,324 U.S. troops injured* (30,324)
• 145 U.S. military suicides* (145)
• 314 coalition troops killed** (314)
• 1,123 U.S. contractors killed (accurate updates NA)
• 93,880 to 1 million civilians killed*** (93,778)
• $538.6 billion cost of war ($536.6 billion)
• $153.1 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($152.6 million)
* through July 21, 2008; source: icasualties.org; some figures only updated monthly
** estimate; source: icasualties.org
*** highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate civilian deaths as high as 655,000 to one million.
Lane Area Herbicide Spray Schedule
• Near Triangle Lake School (and nearby communities): Weyerhaeuser (744-4600) will ground spray Garlon 4 plus other herbicides and Moract (ether) adjuvant on 763 acres starting July 31 (#50583)
• Near Marcola/Mohawk schools: Weyerhaeuser (741-5211) will ground spray 34 acres with five herbicides plus silicon surfactant starting July 30th (#55545).
• Near Battle and Crow creeks: Oregon Forest Management Services (896-3757) will ground spray Arsenal and Chopper herbicides on 414 acres for Seneca Jones Timber (689-1231) starting July 26 (#50575).
Compiled by Jan Wroncy, Forestland Dwellers: 342-8332, forestlanddwellers.org
• We toured PeaceHealth’s new campus at RiverBend in north Springfield over the weekend and were impressed with the spacious, well-designed patient rooms, operating rooms, artwork and advanced technology. It’s a huge campus and you can get a good workout just walking from one end to the next. Construction and landscaping are continuing and dirty windows mar the views of the McKenzie River from the upper floors, but in terms of sheer size of buildings and grounds it’s a remarkable project.
The R-G and local broadcast media are heaping accolades on the new medical center and its ski lodge-like lobby, and we’re left with the task of providing balance to editorials that read like hospital press releases. Come on, people, it’s an impressive facility and many of us will likely end up there gasping and wheezing for life, but let’s keep it in perspective. The siting is forcing Springfield’s McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center to relocate to Eugene, a very expensive unintended consequence. And half a billion dollars could have built an architecturally stunning high-rise medical center in downtown Eugene near the central Lane Transit District (LTD) bus station. An urban hospital would have been more compact and energy efficient and require less driving and parking. The upper levels of a downtown hospital would offer panoramas of the Coast Range to the west and the Willamette River to the east, city lights at night and the warm glow of field burning in the distance to the north.
With all the talk about the “healing environment,” let’s not forget why people end up in hospitals instead of doctors’ offices or outpatient clinics: It’s mostly about emergency intervention and critical care. The healing comes later at home. But interfering in that healing will be the stress of high medical bills, the leading cause of bankruptcy. The median cost of a heart attack these days is $20,000, due in part to high hospital costs. PeaceHealth’s palace, along with the renovation of the Hilyard facilities and McKenzie-Willamette’s forced relation, will place an economic burden on local health care consumers for decades to come.
Are there lessons here for McKenzie-Willamette as it looks at a new location for its hospital? PeaceHealth missed a golden opportunity by abandoning Eugene’s population center to build an inconvenient sprawling edifice on the outskirts. We think Eugene would welcome a more modest and compact, community-centered hospital downtown.
• What’s in the future for the West Eugene transportation corridor? The West Eugene Collaborative is wrapping up public meetings in anticipation of making recommendations to local government agencies. And another related and somewhat coordinated process is the planning by LTD for the third phase of bus rapid transit, aka EmX. Phase I was the Eugene-Springfield route; Phase II, already designed, will be a loop including downtown Springfield, RiverBend and Gateway. Phase III will run from downtown Eugene to points west, as far out as Beltline or Greenhill. Considered routes are along West 11th and 13th, or 6th and 7th.
It’s called the West Eugene EmX Extension (WEEE) project and we predict the routing and construction of the western bus lanes will be more complex and controversial than Phases I & II. At issue will be access to businesses, driveways, street parking, bicycle crossings, tree removal, property acquisition, etc., in an area with a long history of haphazard development. Rumors are already flying that the bus lanes could replace the popular concrete bike paths west of City View along Amazon Creek near West 11th, but that seems unlikely due to potential public outcry. Federal funding for the project requires a high benefit-to-cost ratio and minimal environmental damage. Amazon Creek riparian restoration projects, for example, should not be compromised by the construction of new bus lanes.
Public meetings and open houses are under way and will continue at 6 pm Monday, July 28 at the Elks Lodge, 2470 W. 11th, and again Aug. 18 and 20, and Oct. 20. These are opportunities to get educated and provide feedback. Find the schedule at www.ltd.org under “upcoming events.”
• What would a quarter-block city park cost the city? Last week in this column we wrote about the lack of a public space in the leading proposals for the half-block of city land across from the Eugene Public Library, and we included a design by Thomas Lincoln. We’ve since heard from Lincoln that he calculates the total cost of his proposed project would be about $1.6 million, including an “interactive” water fountain. The city already owns the land. And if a play station for kids were added, the designer says the cost would still be under $2 million. This could be a back-up plan if the developers drop out, or such a park could be located elsewhere downtown, ideally in the city center, or as part of a string of parks connecting Eugene’s park blocks to the river. Such a relatively small investment by the city could pay off long-term in stimulating nearby residential and commercial redevelopment. For example, the apartments and businesses surrounding New York’s Central Park are some of the most desirable properties in the nation.
GEOFF HUGHES & TOM DICKASON
A nationally ranked runner as a high school kid in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Geoff Hughes got back into running in his late 20s when he moved to Eugene with his wife, Therese, and a newly minted degree in sculpture from the SF Art Institute. Hughes sold sand-cast candles in the early days of the Saturday Market and worked in construction until the early-’80s timber bust, when he started his current 24-year career as a financial planner with Wachovia Securities. He chaired the Oregon Track Club’s recently completed eight-year campaign to renovate the Prefontaine Jogging Trail, in partnership with Eugene Parks and Open Spaces. “I competed in the first race on Pre’s Trail in 1975,” he says. “It’s more well-known to runners around the world than it is locally.” In the photo, Hughes competes a Saturday-morning tour of the 4.2 mile trail along with running partner Tom Dickason, another member of the restoration committee. Check out Hughes’ newest metal sculpture, a memorial bench for counselor and fellow Pennsylvania native Neila Campbell, near the gazebo in the Owens Rose Garden.