News Briefs: Big Legal Bill to Fill Sears Pit | Iraq War Begins 7th Bloody Year | Big Cat Kill Still Gets Big Bucks | Urban Renewal Reform? | Propagation Pushes Food Independence | Activist Alert | War Dead | Corrections/Clarifications |
Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Stiffed on Stimulus
ODOT diverts cash from local, green projects
Big Legal Bill to Fill Sears Pit
More than 10 percent of the $440,000 the city of Eugene plans to spend to support an office project in the Sears pit across from the downtown library will go to the private law firm that has a near monopoly on city legal services.
“It seems to me that it’s time to consider an in-house attorney,” city Budget Committee member John Barofsky told the council at a public hearing March 9. Barofsky noted that at an estimated $200 an hour, the $50,000 payment to the private firm works out to 250 hours, or more than 31 eight-hour days or six entire 40-hour weeks of legal work.
Barofsky said the city manager would better be able to control the time of an in-house employee rather than just wait for a bill from the external private law firm. “I don’t doubt that they’re above the board and legitimate, but I think it’s an area we can save money,” he said.
The city spends more than $3 million a year on legal services, according to its budget document. City Manager Jon Ruiz gives almost all the money to the private law firm of Harrang Long Gary and Rudnick. The private firm, which also has worked for tobacco companies and local big businesses, has had a near monopoly on city legal work for the past three decades. The city manager and his law firm have claimed that under the City Charter, the unelected manager has the sole power to control or change how the city gets its legal services.
Asked by Councilor Alan Zelenka to explain the legal costs, city planner Nan Laurence said, “much of the complications of a development project such as this really depends on legal expertise, and we’ve used that as judiciously as possible.” Laurence said staff hope the actual bill will come in lower than the $50,000 appropriated.
Mayor Kitty Piercy thanked Barofsky for his testimony. “Your comments are well taken.” The mayor said, “We have asked the city manager, and he has said that he will look into at some point the possibility of an in-house city attorney.”
The mayor said the same at her state of the city address two months ago, but nothing has happened and no meeting is scheduled to discuss the issue in coming months. The council voted unanimously to approve the $50,000 legal expense without change. — Alan Pittman
Iraq War Begins 7th Bloody Year
To commemorate the anniversary of the Iraq invasion, a coalition of local peace and justice groups have planned an event on Saturday, March 14, to raise awareness of the Iraq War’s consequences and discuss how to repair the damage done at home. The invasion of Iraq by mainly U.S. forces began March 20, 2003.
Local activists are organizing a rally and march at noon at the Eugene Public Library, followed by a walk to the Federal Building at 7th and Pearl for a 12:30 pm demonstration with music and dance. Participants will then walk to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at 13th and Pearl to join an afternoon of speakers and workshops.
Afternoon events begin at 2 pm and will feature two keynote speakers. Leah Bolger is national vice-president of Veterans for Peace, and will talk about keeping Oregon’s National Guard from being deployed to Iraq. Anita Weiss is a UO professor who specializes in Pakistan and South Asia, and she will discuss the deteriorating political scene in Pakistan today and how it affects the war effort in Afghanistan.
After the speeches will be a workshop on “How Combat Impacts Soldiers and Their Families” with Iraq veterans Suzanne Swift and James Burmeister, and a film featuring Dr. Edward Tick on War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation's Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
After the events, participants are invited to Cozmic Pizza for a free community celebration featuring old-time music with Glory Daze from 5:30 to 7 pm.
From 1 to 3 pm Sunday, a rally and march organized by the statewide Keep the Guard Home Coalition will be held on the Capitol steps in Salem. Dozens of peace and social justice organizations from Oregon will call for an end to the U.S. war in Iraq and urge Oregon State legislators to stop the spring deployment of the Oregon Guard to Iraq.
From 8 am to 2 pm Monday, March 16, will be a “Democracy Bailout Lobby Day of Action” at the capitol. Citizens will meet with their legislators to voice opposition to the upcoming Guard deployment and support legislation that promotes community needs and human dignity concerns.
Call CALC at 485-1755 or see www.calclane.org for further information on any of the events.
Big Cat Kill Still Gets Big Bucks
A week after Oregon lawmakers voted to reduce funding for education and social service programs, the conservation advocacy group Big Wildlife wonders why a plan to kill 2,000 cougars is still fully funded.
Brian Vincent, Big Wildlife communications director, calls the state’s Cougar Management Plan wasteful spending. “This is the perfect pork barrel project to shelve,” he says. “The Oregon Senate is cutting programs to keep predators off the street and to prevent sexual assault, and going after K-12 schools,” Vincent says. “But they’re spending half a million dollars a year on a program that actually makes communities less safe. The average Oregon taxpayer would be outraged,” he says.
In 2006, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife launched a four-year plan to kill 2,000 cougars across the state, saying that it wants to reduce cougar populations to 1999 levels. The plan allows the state to deputize hunters to kill the big cats. It also allows hunters to use hounds, rolling back a 1994 voter-approved ban on hounding. The plan costs $500,000 or more each year to implement.
“There’s a perception that cougars are a threat, but they’re not a threat to communities,” Vincent says. “Occasionally, a cougar will kill a domestic animal — that does happen.”
But Vincent says that the cougar plan makes things worse by allowing hunters to kill cougars “indiscriminately.” Vincent cited a 2008 study by Washington State University’s Large Carnivore Conservation Laboratory, which demonstrates that killing large numbers of cougars creates social chaos. Trophy hunters tend to target the older males that help keep younger, more aggressive males in check by driving them out of large territories. With the dominant males gone, the study says, the younger cougars have free reign.
Also, Vincent says, the cougar plan doesn’t necessarily target the “rare cougar” that has had a run-in with people or animals. “Right now, it’s shoot first and ask questions later,” Vincent says. “It’s not a good long-term solution.”
Vincent notes that Washington state reduced its killing of cougars by 40 percent based on the WSU study. “Why is Oregon continuing down a path that is making the situation worse and throwing taxpayer money down a rat hole?” he says. “The average Oregonian would scratch their head.”
According to Vincent, the cougar plan favors hunters. Vincent says, “The ODFW has bent over backwards for hunters, even reduced the cost and the tax to kill a cougar. You can kill a cougar in Oregon right now for less than a beer and a pizza.” — Jessica Hirst
Urban Renewal Reform?
Back in 2007, 64 percent of Eugene voters defeated a city scheme to use the state's "urban renewal" law to divert $40 million from school and government services and taxpayers. The city wanted the money to instead subsidize parking garages and other hand-outs for chain-store development downtown.
Now, the state Legislature is considering a bill to limit Portland's ability to use urban renewal’s tax diversion financing, Willamette Week reports.
Multnomah County Commissioner Jeff Cogen told WW he objects to a Portland idea to spend up to $40 million in urban renewal to subsidize a private developer's major league soccer project. "The city is talking about taking money from school kids and the poor to fund a soccer stadium."
Portland Democrat Nick Kahl has proposed a bill that would require Portland to get county approval for the tax diversion and allow urban renewal money to be spent on social services such as helping the homeless.
The bill apparently wouldn't apply to Eugene. But it could be amended. Using urban renewal for the Eugene Public Library has been popular with voters here. But diverting school and social service money to destroy historic buildings and trees to build parking garages for developers has not. In 2007 local State Rep. Paul Holvey and County Commissioner Peter Sorenson said they were interested in legislative reform.
Statewide a total of about $165 million a year in tax money is diverted for "urban renewal." That diversion is now occurring at a time when schools are cutting instruction days and/or increasing class sizes and state and local governments are complaining they lack funding for basic safety and social services. —Alan Pittman
Propagation Pushes Food Independence
The Eugene Permaculture Guild, other local volunteer groups and non-profits are joining this year to put on the Spring Propagation Fair, a free exchange of fruit-tree cuttings (called scions) and veggie seeds.
The event is from 10 am to 4 pm Saturday, March 14, at the LCC Cafeteria. LTD bus service is available and carpooling is being coordinated by Julie at 762-1051.
“The long-established scion exchange in Portland attracts thousands of attendees,” says Nick Routledge, chief organizer of the event. “This is the first occasion I have heard of where a seed and scion exchange have been combined.”
The event is designed to support home orchardists and vegetable gardeners in and around the southern Willamette Valley. A great variety of scions and seeds will be provided free of charge. Grafting assistance and workshops will be provided, with rootstocks (mostly the super-dwarfing, dwarfing and semi-dwarfing stocks favored by home-gardeners) available for a nominal fee. Spanish-language support will be offered.
Everyone is welcome. “You don’t have to bring scions or seed to share freely in the bounty” Routledge says, “but gardeners can support the event by bringing labeled cuttings and divisions of figs, grapes, berries and other fruits, along with fresh seed, plants and divisions.”
Co-sponsors of the fair include EPG, the Seed Ambassadors Project, LCC Garden Club, Victory Gardens For All, the School Garden Project of Lane County, Huerto de la Famila, ECOS, the Springfield Transitions Garden, Food Not Lawns, Food for Lane County’s Gardens Program, the UO’s Urban Farm and OSU Extension Service in Lane County.
• A fundraiser for Lane Bus Project is being held to raise at least $3,000 to get the group’s “little bus insured and on the road ASAP, so we have a vehicle for hands-on democracy that is also street legal,” according to organizers. The Lane County ShowBUSiness featuring food, fun, talent and “ninja waiters” will be from 5 to 8 pm Sunday, March 15, at Davis' Restaurant, 94 W. Broadway. A $40 minimum donation is being asked.
On stage will be Rep. Chris Edwards, Sen. Vicki Walker and “special surprise guests.” RSVP at http://lanebus.org/370/ or send a check to OBP, care of Rose Wilde, PO Box 1301, Eugene 97440.
• An event March 16 will commemorate the sixth anniversary of the death of Evergreen College student Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death in 2003 by an Israeli Defense Force bulldozer while attempting to block the demolition of a Palestinian home. The program, sponsored by the Al-Nakba Awareness Project, will show the film Occupation 101 in which independent Portland journalist Alison Weir appears, followed by discussion led by Weir, who has documented U.S. media bias in reporting the Israel/Palestine conflict. The event begins at 7 pm Monday at Harris Hall, 8th and Oak in Eugene.
• Zonta Club of Eugene is holding a semi-annual forum on “Women in Crisis: Homeless in Eugene.” The event is from 11:30 am to 1 pm Tuesday, March 17, at the Eugene Hilton. Cost of $25 includes a buffet lunch. Panelists will represent the Eugene Mission, Looking Glass, Shelter Care and White Bird Clinic. For information and registration, call Liz Humphrey at 607-0868 or Pam Henderson at 461-0698.
• EWEB commissioners will hold a second public hearing Tuesday, March 17, to gather public comments about a proposed increase in water rates. The hearing will be held during the commissioners’ regular board meeting, which begins at 7:30 pm in the North Building at EWEB. The first hearing was held Feb. 17. EWEB is considering an increase in water rates that would add about $3.44 per month to the average residential water bill. The rate change would be reflected in May bills.
• Spraying to control gypsy moths is the topic of a town hall co-sponsored by Mayor Kitty Piercy, the Oregon Toxics Alliance and the Southeast Neighbors neighborhood association. The meeting will be from 7 to 9 pm Thursday, March 12, at City Council Chambers, 777 Pearl St. ODA’s public comment period on the planned spray to eradicate the gypsy moth ends March 13.
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week’s numbers in parentheses):
• 4,256 U.S. troops killed* (4,253)
• 31,102 U.S. troops injured* (31,089)
• 176 U.S. military suicides* (176)
• 317 coalition troops killed** (317)
• 1,123 U.S. contractors killed (accurate updates NA)
• 99,433 to 1.2 million civilians killed*** (99,180)
• $603.3 billion cost of war ($601.4 billion)
• $171.6 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($171.0 million)
* through March. 9, 2009; 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)
• In last week’s cover story on Luis Fernando Mancheno of Ecuador, the gay exchange student talked about being sent to a "treatment center" in his home country and being forced to have sex with a prostitute. After reading the story, Mancheno tells us he forgot to say he was so traumatized by the idea that he convinced his parents that he had changed. He told them he was dating a girl, and he was allowed to leave the center before he would have been forced into the nonconsensual sex.
• Regarding his letter to the editor Feb. 26, “Environmental Madness,” Shannon Wilson tells us he made a mistake. “The new rock crushing manufacturing facility will only produce 38 tons of particulates per year, not 38 million tons,” he says.
• In Slant last week, the name of Bellevue, Wash., was misspelled.
• With the short-lived Oregon Daily Emerald strike apparently being smoothed over, we’re struck by just how bad journalists are at communicating. Why didn’t the paper’s board respond to the student staff about their concerns? Why didn’t the board pass the concerns on to consultant Steve Smith? Why didn’t they all sit down and talk about whether Smith’s proposed salary of $80,000, almost 10 percent of the small paper’s revenues, was really sustainable? Why didn’t the newsroom staff talk to Smith about their serious concerns before the strike? Most of the blame for the misunderstandings falls on the board; they’re supposedly the more mature adults here.
Moving forward, maybe the students should use their cyber savvy and start their own truly independent online news website (they blogged at independentjournalism.wordpress.com for a while during the strike, and we hear they may continue). That would provide great, cutting-edge job experience, and the well-wired campus offers a fertile market. All week, we’ve been reading suggestions from other college journalists that they do just that, and as the Emerald newsroom staff and board hammer out the hiring strategy for the publisher, we know we’ll see more and more information online.
• The recession is not hurting local bicycle, scooter and motorcycle dealers and repair shops. Shane Ayrsman of Revolution Cycles (www.revolutioncycleseugene.com) says “business is expanding and more products will be offered here than last year. So far spring is a bit slow, but a bit more sun and watch out. Winter was really good, and all indications are positive for the future.”
And while medical care for humans is feeling the economic hit, we hear some veterinary care is expanding. Mark McConnell, vet and co-owner of the Emergency Veterinary Hospital in Springfield, now has a new Animal Urgent Care clinic in Eugene at 11th and Beltline, and it will remain open 24 hours a day on weekends in addition to regular weekday hours. The Springfield clinic at 103 West Q St., is already open 24/7.
More encouraging news? Check out our report on Eugene’s bar scene in Swizzle this week.
• The invasion of Iraq began March 20, 2003. The mainstream media ignores Iraq these days, despite the continuing death and destruction. The number of Iraqi civilians who have perished has been estimated as high as 1.2 million, mostly from the civil war that followed our dismantling of Iraq’s police and military. Some 5,300 Americans have died in the war, including at least 1,100 American civilian contractors. More than 31,100 U.S. soldiers have been wounded, nearly half so seriously that they were not allowed to return to duty. In our own Civil War in the 1860s even minor flesh wounds could mean death by infection. In this new war it is common for soldiers to survive massive head injuries and loss of multiple limbs.
Our new president promises to end the war, but he can’t do it alone. This weekend begins a series of public events (see News Briefs) intended to mobilize support for ending the war, and also educating ourselves about the challenges ahead, not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan and Pakistan.