News Briefs: To Recruit or Not to Recruit | No Toxic Toys for Your Tots | Requests for Food Rise to Record Levels | Butterfly Expert Gives Free Talk | Sites Track Road Miles | Paying for Pay Phones | Activist Alert | War Dead | Corrections/Clarifications |
Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Recycling Our Bucks
Alt-weeklies seek to help the economy
Happening People: Tulsi Wallace
TO RECRUIT OR NOT TO RECRUIT
What is the best strategy to create a strong and sustainable economy in Lane County at a time when the private sector is in recession and the public sector is struggling to maintain even basic public services? Communities have traditionally tried to recruit new business and industry as an economic strategy, but not all the experts agree.
Two economists from EcoNorthwest spoke to a packed room at City Club Nov. 7, and both said Eugene should not be trying to recruit new industry as an economic strategy. Ed Whitelaw and Bryce Ward favor working instead to support local business and industry.
But after the meeting, the county’s leading economic development specialist, Jack Roberts, said it’s not that simple. Roberts is executive director of the Lane Metro Partnership. “I’ve heard a lot of good arguments why we shouldn’t spend a lot of money trying to entice companies to move here,” he said. “I’ve never heard a good argument why we shouldn’t try to actively market our community to those who are considering coming here. Frankly, there is no better way I know of to compete for good, family wage jobs.”
Whitelaw, also after the meeting, said “the problem with recruiting is that it doesn’t really work.” He said recruiters frequently “crow about their success” recruiting companies, but he questions whether the recruiting efforts produce actual gains for the community. “Would the community have reached the same levels of employment without the recruiting?” And he also questions whether the benefits the recruited company brings the community are sufficient to justify the costs.
“The academic literature suggests negative answers to both of these questions,” said Whitelaw. “On average it is not a great investment strategy. You spend a lot and don’t get huge benefits in return. And the very few studies that have examined the effect a new, big company has on the smaller firms already in the community have found the effects large and negative.”
“My frustration with the kind of things that Ed Whitelaw keeps saying,” said Roberts, “is that he has made no effort to learn about what we do or how we do it. My understanding is that he was telling the City Club that we shouldn’t be wasting resources trying to entice businesses to move here. The truth is, we don’t. In the early days, the Metro Partnership (like a lot of economic development agencies) spent a lot of money traveling around the country and on advertising intended to convince companies to move here. That is notoriously ineffective, not to mention expensive.”
Roberts estimates his agency only spends about one quarter of its $360,000 budget on bringing in new business, mostly responding to leads from the state economic development agency or from business consultants. “Most of those leads are business expansions or new developments, not relocations. Rather than trying to entice them to move, we are responding to their inquiries about whether this is a good place for them to expand or locate a new operation.”
Each year Lane Metro gets $50,000 each from Eugene and Springfield and $100,000 from Lane County’s video lottery fund. “The rest we primarily raise in donations from individuals and businesses,” said Roberts.
Whitelaw favors “basic investment in public services” for improving both the quality of life for residents, and facilitating a better business environment. — Ted Taylor
NO TOXIC TOYS FOR YOUR TOTS
Not very many kids put lead, mercury and chromium at the top of their Christmas list. So this year, make sure they won’t be unwrapping toxic toys under the tree: Get their presents tested at the “Toxic Toy” event on Dec. 13 at the Science Factory.
The Oregon Toxics Alliance and the Science Factory are working together to make sure that all of the children’s products you wrap up to give away this year are safe and toxic free. Tests will be conducted on new children’s products by a trained operator from the Innov-X-Systems company. The toys will be screened for any of eight different toxins by a small handheld device that gives quick and accurate results and also gives a printout of what exactly was detected.
“We just want to give people the opportunity to give people safe gifts,” says Jennifer Bell, executive director of marketing at the Science Factory.
In recent reports, a number of popular children’s toys have been shown to contain lead and other toxins known to be dangerous to their health.
According to Lisa Arkin, executive director of the Oregon Toxics Alliance, lead is often found in anything with metal, such as cheap children’s jewelry and trinkets, mirrors and even metal lunchboxes. Arkin also says “anything made with vinyl is often a big problem.” She says that most of the harmful children’s products are from China. “We import them, and we don’t check them,” says Arkin.
Arkin also says that a child with an existing disability might be even more vulnerable to these toxins. “Some theories say that an autistic child doesn’t have the ability to metabolize toxins as efficiently as a child without a disability. Thus, hazardous materials can accumulate in the body,” Arkin says. “The damage it can cause can be life lasting.”
The testing happens at the Science Factory from 10 am to 3 pm Saturday, Dec. 13. Admission is $4, and each adult can bring two toys with them. Extra toys can be tested for $2 each. The screening process only takes about 10 seconds.
REQUESTS FOR FOOD RISE TO RECORD LEVELS
Requests for emergency food are skyrocketing to record levels throughout Oregon, according to the Oregon Food Bank Network’s first-quarter reports (July 1-Sept. 30). Distribution of emergency food boxes increased 13 percent in Oregon compared to the same period in 2007. In some parts of the state, distribution has increased more than 40 percent.
“Layoffs, foreclosures and other economic disruptions are taking a terrible toll on our neighbors,” said Rachel Bristol, executive director and CEO of Oregon Food Bank. “Nine of our 20 regional food banks report that distribution of emergency food boxes has reached record levels as unemployment hits its highest level in four years.”
The news follows an annual report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Food Security in the United States.” The report shows that even before the economic downturn, Oregon had jumped from number 19 (in 2002-04) to 15 (in 2005-07) in the ranking of the nation’s states for food insecurity and has shot from number 18 to three in the “very low food security” category.
Oregon had 12.4 percent of its population (458,000) living in households that struggled with hunger or were “food insecure” during 2005-2007, according to the report.
In Eugene, comparing the first quarter of last year to the first quarter of the year, the number of food requests have increased 7 percent, from 19,646 to 21,009. Springfield numbers were not provided separately.
In Corvallis, food requests during the same period have risen 11 percent, from 8,545 to 9,521.
FOOD for Lane County is accepting food donations at various sites around the valley, including Goodwill stores, Northwest Community Credit Union sites and the Eugene YMCA. Financial donations can also be made online at www.foodforlanecounty.org
BUTTERFLY EXPERT GIVES FREE TALK
At a time when the summer’s butterflies are long gone from Eugene’s parks, the Rio Grande Valley’s International Butterfly Park is alive with wings.
Those lamenting November’s lack of flutter can take a vicarious trip to tropical southern Texas on Monday through a lecture by butterfly expert and author Jeffrey Glassberg, founder and president of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA). He will be speaking at 7 pm Monday, Dec. 1, at EWEB in Eugene about Mexican butterflies and native plant restoration at the NABA International Butterfly Park. His talk is free and open to the public.
The Butterfly Park, which is close to the Mexican border, comprises 100 acres of land that used to be farmed for cotton and sugarcane. NABA is attempting to restore the land back to its native state and so far has planted six acres with native species. The park’s blooming native plants attract thousands of butterflies and hundreds of butterfly species, some of which have stayed to breed after migrating from Mexico in the fall.
Glassberg himself is a colorful specimen. As a child, he fell in love with butterflies but went on to work in genetic research and invent DNA fingerprinting, which is now used by the FBI. He later returned to the study of butterflies, developing field marks that allow butterflies to be identified through binoculars rather than through capture. Glassberg’s Butterflies Through Binoculars field guides helped promulgate the idea and practice of recreational butterfly study. His most recent book is A Field Guide to Mexican Butterflies. — Jessica Hirst
SITES TRACK ROAD MILES
Vehicle miles traveled on U.S. roads and streets is down 4.4 percent, comparing September numbers from 2007 and 2008, but will falling gas prices in October reverse the plunge in road travel? The statistics for October are being tabulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (www.dot.gov) and will be reported in late November.
The October vehicle miles report will show whether lower gas prices are prompting people to return to their old driving habits. But prices at the pump might not be the only factor in determining driving habits and fuel consumption. Some consumers are expecting gas prices to rise again and are making choices accordingly. Sales of low-fuel-mileage vehicles are down and housing prices in distant suburbs are falling faster than housing in urban cores where mass transportation is more available.
“The current decline in miles driven is more precipitous than during the early ’70s oil crisis and about the same as the 1979-1980 decline,” according to the Post Carbon Oregon blog at the Goal One Institute website, www.goal1.org
PAYING FOR PAY PHONES
The city of Eugene will pay a Chicago company $1,986 a year to continue to operate three payphones downtown that the company says are unprofitable.
The annual payment will come in the form of a waiver of telecommunications fees the company, FSH Communications, would otherwise owe the city.
Nationwide, companies have removed more than half of the public pay phones as people rely more and more on cell phones, according to press reports. The loss of iconic phone booths has led to jokes about Superman getting arrested for indecent exposure.
But advocates for the poor and homeless have expressed concerns that low income people will not be able to find jobs and services or communicate and call 911 without pay phones.
But the U.S. Census estimates that, overall, cell phones have helped reduce the number of households that lack a phone. The percent of homes without a telephone dropped to 2.4 percent in 2000, compared with 5.2 percent in 1990, the Census reports.
An estimated 8 in 10 people in the U.S. now have cell phones, the CTIA wireless association estimates.
At least eight states have enacted laws to subsidize public phones in locations that are in the public interest, but apparently not Oregon.
Pay phone advocates have also pointed out that hard-wired phones can better withstand disasters. Many of the wired phones may continue to operate in a regional blackout that would take out or overload cell phone towers. After the Sept. 11th attacks, many New Yorkers lined up at pay phones when cell phone capacity jammed with calls. Now many of those phone booths are gone.
Here are the locations of the public phones the city of Eugene is paying to keep: 100 E. Broadway, 1000 Oak St. and 175 W. Broadway. —Alan Pittman
• Roger Ebbage, director of NW Energy Education Institute, will speak to the SW Oregon Chapter of the NW Ecobuilding Guild at 7 pm Wednesday, Dec. 3, at BRING’s Planet Improvement Center, 4446 Franklin Blvd. in Glenwood. Ebbage will discuss a few of the continuing education options offered at LCC including The Sustainable Building Advisory Program and solar PV and water heating courses.
• The final public meeting of the West Eugene Collaborative is set for 1 to 5 pm Tuesday, Dec. 9, at the Downtown Fire Station, 13th and Willamette. The WEC has been meeting to discuss possible solutions to traffic congestion in west Eugene following the decision to abandon plans for the West Eugene Parkway. Recommendations of the group will be presented to local government agencies. See www.westeugenecollaborative.org for meeting reports and numerous documents.
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week’s numbers in parentheses):
• 4,204 U.S. troops killed* (4,201)
• 30,832 U.S. troops injured* (30,793)
• 167 U.S. military suicides* (167)
• 314 coalition troops killed** (314)
• 1,123 U.S. contractors killed (accurate updates NA)
• 97,337 to 1.1 million civilians killed*** (97,094)
• $573.9 billion cost of war ($571.9 billion)
• $163.2 million cost to Eugene
taxpayers ($162.6 million)
* through Nov. 24, 2008; source: icasualties.org; some figures only updated monthly
** sources: icasualties.org, defenselink.mil
*** highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate civilian deaths as high as 655,000 (Lancet survey, 2006) to 1.1 million
(Opinion Research Business survey, 2008)
• When we tried to ask Lance Sparks why he omitted the name of Pfeiffer Vineyards from his Thanksgiving Wine Tour last week, we found him at his desk, showed him the glitch. His reply: “Nonono, the name’s right there. See? Pfeiff .... No, see, I typed it. I KNOW I typed it. It WAS there when I proofread the piece. You’re from Dick Cheney, right? Wait, take your hands off me! I’m not wearing that jacket ....” To the folks at Pfeiffer Vineyards, our apologies, and we hope visitors find you anyway. And Lance will be OK. Soon. We think.
• The byline was misspelled in last week’s news brief about the Proposition 8 protest in Eugene. The author was Grant Cogswell, a wandering writer for The Stranger who is visiting Eugene from Seattle or Portland or Mexico, or someplace.
• We’ve heard about buy-local campaigns for years, so what’s the big deal? Well, our economy is tanking, things could get a lot worse, and it’s maddening to watch our federal government pump billions into unsustainable businesses and industries, propping up greed and incompetence. But we can do something to help make our local economy stronger. Instead of simply cursing the darkness, we can light a hand-made candle from the Holiday Market or Down to Earth.
Our news story this week eyeballs the economics of buying locally. It makes sense anytime, but this year we have an excellent excuse to evolve our buying habits: It’s a matter of survival. Love Starbucks? Fine, but also try the coffee at an independent coffee shop. New iPod on your gift list? OK, but who on your list might like something hand-made from Holiday Market? K-Mart sells hats and scarves from China, but have you seen the selection at Greater Goods? Apples can be purchased just about anywhere, but the quality and price at Kiva or the Farmers’ Market might surprise you. Adore good beer and wine? No need to buy anything trucked in from out of state (or even out of county).
Our Gift Guide focuses on locally owned businesses and local vendors to give you some ideas, but there are plenty of other locally owned places to go. Check our website this week and sign up to pledge to spend at least $100 at a locally owned business. You could win a prize, a gift certificate to — you guessed it — a locally owned businesses.
• It looks like new rules providing access for the police auditor are going to be shelved despite strong objections raised by the public at the City Council meeting Monday night. Inviting the police chief, police union and Police Commission to weigh in on these proposed rules over the next four months is an awful idea, the worst we’ve seen from the council in a while. So what could go wrong? Without trying to be too paranoid, we predict the loaded panel will argue that these rules are just fine but need just need a wee bit of tweaking to make the auditor and Civilian Review Board’s work “more efficient.”
At some point the panel will conclude that so many fine details need to be worked out that this process should be delayed a few more months. A comprehensive package will be drafted, and someone on the panel will suggest that it really needs to go back to the voters. And another year or two will go by, and independent police oversight will once again be compromised.
• Greenwashing? Corporations are constantly talking about the environment to cover up their ongoing destructive practices. Some Eugene students are involved in a new website dedicated to “greenwashing awareness.” The website is a PSU capstone project and can be found at http://sites.google.com/site/ecomerge2008 The site is still very basic, and its real value might be in its links. To suggest new links, email Tina Lymath at email@example.com Meanwhile, some good academic work on greenwashing is happening at UO with School of Journalism and Communication prof Kim Sheehan and others; and Mark Robinowitz has a couple of politically loaded local sites, www.greenwasheugene.com and www.sustaineugene.org
Portland native Tulsi Wallace came to the UO to study metalsmithing. After a few years away to explore spiritual paths, she returned to finish a degree in landscape architecture in 2001. “My first job out of college was an urban water study under a grant for EWEB, working with Thurston High School students,” she says. “We took bacteria counts in east Springfield and developed a dog-waste disposal campaign.” Wallace currently works for EWEB as a land-management consultant, facilitating projects with at-risk kids. She has developed a stewardship model for the Leaburg and Walterville hydroelectric facilities of the lower McKenzie that includes a number of trails and bird gardens. “They’re really native plant gardens,” she explains. “The first one is being installed by students from the Lane Metro Youth Corps, on Camp Creek Road at mile marker 7.” Another aspect of the model is the Native Wildflower Seed Bank: students from Walterville School will plant seeds gathered in the area earlier this year to create a small native upland prairie. “I call it, ‘Celebrating our Partnership with Nature,’” Wallace says. “We need to evolve into a pattern of giving back.” Learn more online at ewebbirdgardens.org