Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Happening People: Martin Owino
SPRINGFIELD VS. SANCTUARY
On Jan. 20 the Springfield City Council will decide if Pam Basilius will lose her home and business to a proposed connector road leading to the new hospital at RiverBend.
Basilius says this isn’t the first time Springfield has tried to take her home for PeaceHealth’s new hospital. The first time it threatened eminent domain six years ago, the city backed down after a loud public outcry, she says. Basilius was moved to turn her almost 100-year-old home into a bed and breakfast catering to the friends and families of patients staying at the hospital. She named her small business A Sanctuary Place. She also runs a bookkeeping business out of her home.
Basilius says she was told at the time that if she didn’t accept fair market value for her land, the city would proceed with eminent domain. She was offered $20,000 less than the land was worth, she says, and after she and two other families hired lawyers to fight the issue, the plan was dropped.
That was, it was dropped until this fall, when the Springfield City Council scheduled a public hearing about how to proceed with acquiring Basilius’ property. The hearing, scheduled for Nov. 3, was rescheduled for January. The road is going to be built; the question is how Basilius will be compensated.
She says she wants “an acre for an acre.” According to Basilius, “PeaceHealth is the largest land owner in Lane County. PeaceHealth owns all the land from the edge of my property down to the McKenzie River and plans to put in housing for 600-800 people.” The simple solution, she says, is for the city or PeaceHealth to pay to move her house to another nearby acreage, where she can keep her cottage and maintain her business. “If you’re going to take my land, then give me land,” she says.
She compares her property to Hendricks Park, with tall rhododendrons, a walnut grove, maples and a madrone tree. She says no other property would compare, but she’s willing nonetheless to have the cottage moved.
Basilius is asking that people “respectfully demand the city of Springfield and the City Council to do the right thing.” She says, “No one should have to settle for less than fair compensation, especially if the city is taking your home for big business.”
She is asking for people to write letters and emails to Springfield, the City Council and PeaceHealth, and to send a copy of the letter to firstname.lastname@example.org
ELK GROVE COPS TASER TEENAGER
Former Eugene Police Chief Robert Lehner is now police chief in Elk Grove, Calif., and has “kept a low profile” so far, according to Dan Gougherty, publisher of the Elk Grove News, a regional paper. But that could change, depending on public reaction to the use of a Taser on an unarmed teenager involved in fisticuffs at a local middle school.
The 17-year-old suspect, not a student, reportedly fled the scene of the fight Dec. 12 and was apprehended half a mile away by police using a Taser. The electronic weapons have been known to kill people and police departments have different policies on how they are to be used. Lehner was criticized in Eugene for allowing his officers to use Tasers to subdue suspects who are unarmed. The local ACLU has called for Tasers to be used only as an alternative to bullets.
In the Elk Grove incident, says Gougherty, “police did not report this on their daily watch summary.” The Tasering was reported five days later in the local community paper, The Elk Grove Citizen, without any mention of the controversy surrounding Tasers. — Ted Taylor
BOTTLE BILL A BIT BETTER
Oregon’s 1971 Bottle Bill (aka the Beverage Container Act) helped establish this state as a leader in environmental legislation — a position many argue we no longer hold — and a long-overdue update goes into effect this week.
The original bill was supposed to help with a growing litter problem, and the first version of the bill only addressed carbonated drinks and malt beverages, since those were the most commonly found trash along Oregon’s highways, according to the DEQ. Oregon is one of only 11 states that have a bottle bill.
The bill that was enacted by the Oregon Legislature in the early 1970s is the reason that you pay a nickel deposit when you buy beer and soda, and that’s why you can return those bottles and get your money back. As bottled beverage choices have changed over the years, there have been many proposals to update to the bottle bill, but few have passed.
The changes that did pass over the years include a 1977 amendment that demanded the plastic rings that hold a pack of bottles together be bio- or photodegradable, since wildlife were getting caught in and choked by the rings. A later amendment allowed stores to forbid a single person from redeeming more than 144 bottles in a day.
The 2007 amendment, which will take affect Jan. 1, adds water and flavored water beverage containers, to reflect the upsurge in bottled water drinking and littering. Consumers will have to spend an extra 5 cents now when they buy bottled waters, and as with beer and soda, they can recoup that at the store if they return the bottles. Oregon has an 84 percent redemption rate on bottles, according to www.bottlebill.org
The bill also requires large stores to recycle brands of beer, water and soda that it doesn’t carry. Before, if a store didn’t carry a particular brand of beverage, it didn’t have to accept those containers for recycling.
More bottle bill changes may be coming. The Bottle Bill Task Force, created by the 2007 amendment, has made some recommended future changes to the bill, such as expanding the bill to cover all beverages by 2013 and increasing the deposit and refund to 10 cents. — Camilla Mortensen
NEW YEAR BRINGS HIKE IN WAGES
A 45-cent hike in the state’s minimum wage takes effect New Year’s Day, rising from $7.95 to $8.40 per hour. Oregon’s lowest-paid workers will get some help in making ends meet. The raise means an extra $936 a year for a family with one full-time minimum wage worker. That translates to $17,472 per year, still well below the federal poverty line for a family of three.
“We’re still a long way from having an Oregon economy that works for all working families, but a minimum wage tied to the cost of living is a step in that direction,” said Michael Leachman, policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy.
Leachman says the raise will be “an economic stimulus for working families and Oregon. It puts money into the hands of the people who are most likely to spend it, spend it quickly and spend it here in Oregon.”
The adjustment reflects the rise in the cost of living as defined by the Consumer Price Index and is mandated by Ballot Measure 25, approved by voters in 2002, when the state was in a recession.
“Tying the minimum wage to inflation has been good for Oregon, preventing the lowest-paid workers from falling too far behind,” said Leachman, adding that the restaurant industry and others that complained the most about Measure 25 have done well since the measure’s passage.
LOW-SALT DIET FOR LOCAL ROADS
Eugene escaped the second week of snow that hit Portland and Seattle, but Eugeneans have been checking the news each night to see if temperatures are going to drop again and make the morning commute a little more special.
Eugene seems to shut down for a couple days each year, thanks to the wintery weather — something that doesn’t happen in other northern cities where it snows all winter. What gives?
It hasn’t made financial sense to plow the roads nonstop in the Northwest like they do in the Northeast and Midwest (see EW 12/18). But why, you might ask, do Eugene and the rest of Oregon seem to use sand and gravel on the roads rather than just salt them and get rid of the ice?
Eugene and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) have reduced their use of salt on the roads because salt not only rusts vehicles and bridges, it isn’t very enviro-friendly.
A study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology showed that when sodium chloride (salt) is used on roads, it builds up and is retained in groundwater and soils. The authors concluded that the salt buildup can affect drinking water, kill off freshwater species and even allow more invasive species to come in to an ecosystem.
The city and ODOT do use things like magnesium chloride on some roadways, which is less toxic than regular rock salt, which contains cyanide (something that’s also not great for freshwater fish). ODOT says magnesium chloride is also cheaper and less prone to hurting your car (though they recommend washing it anyway, after the de-icer builds up.)
Less toxic isn’t the same as nontoxic, so why not just use sand? Sand and cinders are great for traction, ODOT says, but sand can crack and chip your car’s windshield and paint job, clog the stormwater system and contribute to air pollution by increasing particulate matter.
And while you’re out there, trying not to slip and slide, go easy on the kitty litter spreading too. Like sand, it doesn’t really melt ice, just provides traction, so you’re better off shoveling your sidewalk if not slipping is your goal. The clay in kitty litter can also get into stormwater when the ice melts, and clay-based (sodium bentonite) kitty litters often come from eco-unfriendly strip mining operations.
So shovel away, drive carefully and hope it snows a little more in the mountains and a little less in downtown Eugene. — Camilla Mortensen
• The new Police Auditor Ordinance Review Committee will have its first meeting at 5 pm Monday, Jan. 5, in the McNutt Room at City Hall, 777 Pearl St. On the agenda will be discussion of the group’s mission, ground rules, and setting a meeting agenda. City Attorney Glenn Klein may also have comments on the proposed rules. The new rules follow passage by voters in November of a charter amendment strengthening the auditor’s position. Proponents of a strong, independent police auditor have objected to the committee and its membership, which includes police officers who have been strident opponents of any form of independent review.
• The annual Citizens State of the City and County address is planned for noon Monday, Jan. 12, at Harris Hall, 8th and Oak in Eugene. Organizers are calling the event “a grassroots initiative to highlight practical approaches to the interconnected ecological, energy and economic crises.”
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week’s numbers in parentheses):
• 4,219 U.S. troops killed* (4,212)
• 30,904 U.S. troops injured* (30,879)
• 167 U.S. military suicides* (167)
• 316 coalition troops killed** (314)
• 1,123 U.S. contractors killed (accurate updates NA)
• 98,413 to 1.1 million civilians killed*** (98,218)
• $583.7 billion cost of war ($581.7 billion)
• $165.9 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($164.9 million)
* through Dec.29, 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)
• Readers ask us how Eugene Weekly is doing as print media struggle all over the nation. More than 10,000 newspaper employees lost their jobs in 2008, and even some free weekly papers are in trouble. So far we are doing OK. We are wrapping up 2008 on budget, with revenues about the same as 2007, and we still have 20 great people on staff.
We don’t know what 2009 will bring, but we’re optimistic. One reason for our continued success is that we don’t rely on many national advertisers or big box stores. Small businesses owners tell us advertising with EW keeps them afloat, and it’s encouraging to see new advertisers trying us out as a cheaper alternative to other local media. Let’s support all our advertisers and keep as many dollars as possible circulating locally.
Our printing costs keep going up (20 percent in 2008), despite lower demand for newsprint. We hear paper companies are cutting back on newsprint production in favor of making the expensive paper used for those slick ad inserts that grow thicker as daily newspapers get thinner. EW spends about $400,000 a year printing our nearly 40,000 papers; so to keep printing costs down, we’ll be publishing shorter cover stories, more concise reviews, shorter letters (200 words, please) and shorter Viewpoints (you can say a lot in 500 words).
We’re also tightening up a bit on our distribution so that fewer papers will be left in boxes and racks each week. Leftover papers get recycled, but they are still a waste and an expense.
Our readership remains strong, and the Media Audit 2008 survey tells us we are reaching 89,600 Lane County readers in print alone, a double-digit jump over 2007. We rank third in the nation among alternative newsweeklies in terms of market penetration: EW is read by an exceptionally high 32.8 percent of Lane County residents. Why? We benefit from being free and accessible, and we provide content that cannot be found anywhere else. And our web presence continues to grow, with page views each month exceeding 250,000.
Thanks to all our readers and advertisers who continue to support what we do, year after year, in good times and not so good times. Happy New Year!
• Our cover story this week is a wish list for what we’d like to see happen, or begin to happen in 2009. It’s apparent to us that the residents of Eugene and Lane County are, in some ways, thinking ahead of local government agencies and officials. We’ve not seen the kind of visionary leadership here that other cities and counties around the country have enjoyed. We’re making progress slowly, but we’re held back by outmoded ideas, a lack of focus and little sense of urgency. We must do better in 2009. Progress doesn’t require brilliant innovation; examples of better government, for example, can be found right here in Oregon.
Mayor Kitty Piercy is a big improvement over Jim Torrey, and County Commissioner-elect Rob Handy will be a big improvement over Bobby Green. But not all the best brains are serving in elected office or on government staffs. If we want a clearer view of what practical changes need to happen, we need to look to community groups such as Citizens for Public Accountability, Friends of Eugene, Eugene-Springfield Solidarity Network and dozens of others.
• Hardly anybody’s talking about the War on Drugs and its impact on our nation’s economy. We don’t advocate drug abuse; we do advocate common sense in dealing with marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth, psychedelics and other illegal drugs. Prohibition on alcohol in the last century was an abject failure and led to a huge growth in organized crime. Surprise! The same dynamics are to be found in today’s outdated and ineffective drug laws.
Legalizing, regulating and taxing street drugs in America would free up court dockets and prison cells; fund drug education, intervention and treatment; and give our economy a big boost. In the end, we could reduce the incidence of fatal and disabling overdoses, create hundreds of thousands of new and legal jobs and actually reduce drug abuse through education. Federal taxes on street drugs could be used to stop drug smuggling, which would cripple the international drug trade and in turn boost our national security.
Legalizing pot would finally put an end to our nation’s idiotic laws forbidding the growing of hemp, a profitable and sustainable crop that would benefit American farmers. Crisis brings opportunity.
“I started as a little kid, going to the forest to collect flowers, roots and leaves,” says third-generation batik artist Martin Owino, a Kenyan of the Luo tribe. “Some are cooked, some put under the soil to make them rotten.” Dyes are ground from the processed plant materials and applied to raw cotton fabric in a traditional wax-resist technique. Owino made a living selling his batiks at open-air markets in Nairobi and Kisimu in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. After a visit to Oregon in 2001, he stayed on to work the Northwest art fair circuit. His depictions of everyday life in East Africa have appeared at Eugene’s Holiday Market every year since then. He lived in Eugene for three years, in Oakridge for one and now lives in Portland, producing batik with dyes sent over by his mother. At age 49, Owino will leave Oregon in January to look after his family’s 350-acre farm in western Kenya, the area of the world most severely affected by HIV. “Kids are taking care of kids in the village,” he says. “That’s why I’m going back.” Along the way, he will join his mother and his grandmother Sara in Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of his cousin Barack Obama. Look for him in the Obama family contingent.