Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Happening Person: Michael Phinney
INDEPENDENT PARTY FOR CITY MANAGER
Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz, the region’s most powerful local government official, has changed his voter registration from Republican to the Independent Party, according to Lane County Elections records.
Voter records from Fresno showed the former Army colonel hired for Eugene’s top job two years ago had registered as a Republican in California.
But a few months after he moved to Eugene, a city that votes about two-thirds Democrat, Ruiz changed his registration to the Independent Party.
The Independent Party has become the fastest growing political party in Oregon, some say because of confusion. “There’s widespread belief that many registered Independents don’t realize they’re in a political party,” The Oregonian reported last month. Many voters may have thought they were registering as small ‘i’ independents or unaffiliated voters rather than joining a political party.
The Independent Party was formed by Dan Meek, a public utility activist and Ralph Nader supporter, but doesn’t appear to have much of an official political platform beyond campaign finance reform and increasing ballot access for third parties.
Voter records show Ruiz voted in two local elections after registering but didn’t cast a ballot this past May when John Kitzhaber won the Democratic nomination for governor and the county Extension Service levy failed.
Ruiz will never have to face voters in an election. He was backed by conservatives and hired by a 5-3 Eugene City Council vote. Under the Eugene charter, the manager controls all city contracts and more than 1,600 city employees. — Alan Pittman
WOLVES GET REPRIEVE
Wildlife Services has temporarily called a halt to what local conservation groups are calling the “state-sponsored hunt of two of Oregon’s 14 endangered wolves,” thanks to a lawsuit filed by Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild and two other groups.
Wolves in Oregon are protected under the state Endangered Species Act.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife issued two permits to the USDA’s Wildlife Services to kill two uncollared wolves from the Imnaha pack. ODFW also issued seven permits to ranchers to kill wolves that are caught in the act of wounding, biting or killing livestock and those permits allow the killing of collared wolves. The alpha male and female, which make up the breeding pair, are among the four collared wolves and are currently believed to be raising a litter of pups. The alpha male has since gone missing.
The temporary halt on the wolf hunting permits is “a much-needed reprieve for the budding wolf population in Oregon while the case is briefed in the courts. Wildlife agencies must do all they can to ensure the survival and recovery of the gray wolf in Oregon,” says Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands.
Laughlin says with only 14 confirmed gray wolves in Oregon right now, and possibly 13 if the alpha male of the Imnaha pack is dead, it “underscores the need to safeguard this population.”
Oregon’s Wolf Management and Conservation Plan allows for the killing of gray wolves that attack livestock in eastern Oregon, where the wolves have reentered from neighboring states.
Laughlin says that in addition to the federal suit against Wildlife Services, Cascadia Wildlands and other groups are about to file a lawsuit in state court this week against ODFW. The lawsuit accuses the state of for failing to properly implement the Oregon Wolf Plan. Ultimately it was the state of Oregon that authorized the ongoing hunt, the groups say. The wolf advocates believe that ODFW isn’t following its regulations with regard to lethal action. The wolf-killing reprieve ends July 30. — Camilla Mortensen
AVOIDING $2.5 BILLION IN DEFICITS
State Rep. Phil Barnhart at a Bus Project Brewhaha panel last week (see news story, 7/1) said Oregon could be facing a $2.5 billion deficit in the 2011-13 biennium. In a follow-up this week he said “the $2.5 billion number is a reasonable marker, but the actual amount could easily be higher or lower than that.” Barnhart is a Democrat and chair of the House Revenue Committee. His numbers are from the Legislative Revenue Office.
Barnhart says state does have some reserves left, and revenues will “probably be up, but not enough to make up for the fall since the recession started in late 2007.” The state received $1.6 billion in stimulus funds from the federal government in February 2009 which had to be spent in three years or less. “That leaves no fed stimulus for 2011-13 and very little reserves.”
Barnhart says the last revenue projections in May showed a $577 million shortfall which led the governor to use his allotment authority to make across-the-board cuts of about 9 percent. Those cuts apply to funds left to be spent in this current biennium.
“When the final decisions get made about the cuts that are happening now, we will be able to tell better how much more will have to be cut next time in the Current Service Budget to balance with revenues,” he says. The next legislative revenue projections will be announced in late August and again in November. Oregon’s overall two-year budget is currently about $18.2 billion.
“A key issue for me,” says Barnhart, “is that we not be in the position the Republican Legislature was in 2003. The state had to borrow nearly half a billion dollars to close out ’01-‘03. We are still paying that back now and will be for a couple more biennia.”
Barnhart says borrowing reduces funds for current programs in future years and “also risks our bond rating, potentially costing us higher interest rates and millions more dollars of taxpayer money.”
“One sign of successful budget management will be that we do not have to borrow to close out ’09-‘11,” he says. “The cuts the governor has ordered are very painful but also necessary.” Barnhart is also calling for reform of our state tax system, including modifying the kicker law to build state reserves. “Oregon families pay their taxes, but fat cats do not,” he says at www.philbarnhart.com “If we stop spending our tax dollars on corporate loopholes adopted during the 16 years of Republican control, we can make our tax system fairer and have more funds to pay for essential services without raising taxes.”
Republicans in the House are not calling for tax reform or fixing the kicker but are rather blaming the crisis on growth in state hiring in recent decades, along with relatively high government salaries and expensive benefits, such as PERS. Oregon is in such “dire straits,” according to Rep. Dennis Richardson in his latest newsletter, due to “unsustainable growth in government expenses.” The southern Oregon Republican says “It is time for state workers to pay their ‘fair share’ of their retirement and health benefits.”
Oregon lawmakers are still debating whether or not to call a special session to deal with budget cuts. A May 26 vote to set a special session failed with a tepid response. Lawmakers in both parties appear to want to avoid a risky and contentious debate in an election year. — Ted Taylor
DOWNTOWN COPS OUT
The city of Eugene said in a press release last month that it purchased a new building for a police headquarters for $10.2 million, but a purchase agreement shows the city’s purchase cost could be $500,000 higher.
The agreement requires the city to deposit $500,000 in an escrow account for seismic upgrades and tenant relocation costs. If the building upgrades and relocating a dentist tenant cost the city less than $500,000, whatever is left “shall be paid” to the seller, the agreement specifies.
The city plans to spend “up to $5.8 million” beyond the $10.2 million to renovate the building in north Eugene for relocating the police from downtown in early 2012, the press release states.
The move represents the worst blow to downtown jobs in decades. Downtown will lose about 300 employees plus visitors to the police station. By comparison, the city has pledged about $8 million to subsidize a new LCC building downtown bringing about 50 more employees in addition to planned housing for students.
The police presence driving through downtown will be reduced at a time many are complaining of crime problems from a lack of police downtown. The city has said it may open a police kiosk downtown, but has not said how it will pay to build or staff it.
The city’s decision to spend $16 million from reserves on a new police building comes at a time the city is laying off staff and cutting citizen services to balance its budget. New police headquarters have failed three times at the ballot, but using the reserves avoids a public vote. — Alan Pittman
LOCAL POLITICOS RATED BY OLCV
The Lane County chapter of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters has released its environmental scorecards for both the Lane County Commission and the Eugene City Council. The scorecards are now online at www.olcv.org/lane
City Councilors George Brown and Betty Taylor both scored 100 percent, as did former councilor Bonny Bettman McCornack. Councilors Alan Zelenka and Andrea Ortiz scored 92 percent and 83 percent respectively. On the low side, Councilor Chris Pryor scored 42 percent, Councilors Mike Clark and George Poling scored 25 percent, and Councilor Jennifer Solomon came in last at 9 percent.
“The Lane County Commission showed marked improvement on environmental protection in the region,” says OLCV Political Director Katy Daily in the report. “Local leaders realize that their communities care about preserving the unique quality of life in Lane County as the region faces challenges around growth and land uses.”
Commissioners Rob Handy and Pete Sorenson each scored 100 percent. Commissioners Bill Dwyer and Bill Fleenor received 91 percent and 83 percent respectively. Commissioner Faye Stewart, who earned only 47 percent in 2008, showed significant improvement, scoring 64 percent. Former commissioner Bobby Green earned a 50 percent.
“The Lane County Commission voted on a range of issues from protecting clean water and air to preserving forests, farmland and Oregon’s coast. They voted to protect the environment 10 out of 12 times,” Daily says.
“Voters have the opportunity to maintain the pro-conservation majority on the commission in November,” says Daily, noting that OLCV has endorsed Pat Riggs-Henson for the Springfield seat currently held by Dwyer, who is not running for reelection; and Jerry Rust in west Lane County for the seat held by Fleenor, who is also stepping down. Riggs-Henson is facing Springfield Mayor Sid Leiken in November, and Rust is facing Jay Bozievich.
The scorecards tally votes on disputed environmental issues between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2009.
PREDATOR POISON BAN?
Compound 1080, or sodium fluoroacetate, is an odorless, tasteless poison that has been used for decades to kill coyotes, wolves and other predators in the West. Rep. Peter DeFazio has introduced a bill in Congress that would ban the substance in the U.S. According to Brooks Fahy of Predator Defense, the collateral damage of the lethal drug has also been pets and sometimes even humans.
There have also been concerns over Compound 1080’s possible use as a chemical weapon, says Fahy.
“This would be a great 60 Minutes exposé,” he says, with viewers thinking “surely they’re not putting out something like this near kids and pets.” But Fahy alleges the poison, as well as deadly M-44 predator poison devices, have been found near areas frequented by kids and dogs, with no signs to warn of the danger.
Last week, DeFazio introduced HR 5643, which would prohibit the use, production, sale, importation or exportation of the poison sodium fluoroacetate and prohibit the use of sodium cyanide for predator control.
According to chief of staff Penny Dodge, DeFazio often makes the point that “the Wildlife Services agency runs an indiscriminate program that uses highly lethal poisons which the FBI has stated are likely to be used by terrorists.” She add that he also says, “we need to eliminate welfare for ranchers, placing the responsibility for livestock protection where it belongs — with producers rather than the American taxpayer.”
Thirteen dogs have died since January in the town of Salmon, Idaho, stricken by the poison. Authorities never established the source of the poison, but pesticide experts speculate that someone could have stockpiled the poison before its use was restricted.
Compound 1080 and M-44s are authorized for use by Wildlife Services. The agency is currently the target of a lawsuit by local conservation groups over the authorization to kill Oregon’s nascent wolf pack (see story this issue).
Compound 1080 is not registered for use in Oregon but M-44s are legal in Oregon to poison predators.
Fahy says one way the poisons might be distributed is via New Zealand. He says 90 percent of Compound 1080 manufactured in the U.S. is exported to New Zealand, where it is used to wipe out the invasive mammals. New Zealand’s only native mammals are bats; humans have brought in vertebrates from deer to destructive bushy-tailed possums. He says the poisons could then make their way back to the U.S. “We know there’s a black market on 1080,” he says.
Fahy says Predator Defense has worked on similar bills in the past. The current version before Congress has 12 cosponsors, with bipartisan support from Rep. John Campbell, a Republican from California. — Camilla Mortensen
• The Oregon Country Fair this year includes numerous political and environmental talks and exhibits. Check out the complete schedule at www.oregoncountryfair.org Among them is Mark Robinowitz on “Peak Choice: Cooperation or Collapse” at 2 pm Friday, July 9, at the Front Porch Stage and again at 2 pm Saturday at the Chez Ray Stage. A panel on forestry, sustainability and greenwashing will be at 1 pm Friday at the Rabbit Hole Stage.
• Pat Riggs-Henson, candidate for Lane County commissioner, is hosting her fall campaign kickoff at 10 am Saturday, July 10, at The Washburne Café, 326 Main St. in Springfield. The event will feature various elected officials and she says she will “underscore her commitment to support public safety needs, create jobs and protect the middle class.” Her campaign manager is Matt Keating, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 515-3819.
• For the first time ever, the president of the UO came over here to Lincoln Street to meet with Eugene Weekly. Richard Lariviere, finishing his first year in his first college presidency, came to talk June 22, mostly about his new UO funding plan and governance proposal (we’ll write more about those later). Inevitably, the conversation slipped into athletics and big donors (see The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 13, for an excellent UO story). We also talked about Lariviere’s hopes of better connecting the university and the city, an important effort already showing some progress. The Courthouse Garden happened because the UO signed on with the city, EWEB and community volunteers. Lariviere inherited a mess with the Riverfront Research Park, but he has named a task force to look broadly at the interface with the river, and he doesn’t want anything new built before the RRP plan is updated. He paraded with the Eugene Celebration, strolled the Country Fair and walked the Butte-to-Butte with Mayor Kitty Piercy. He’s indicated an interest in student housing downtown. We’re looking forward to another conversation on Lincoln Street.
• Forecast for the Oregon Country Fair this weekend is the low 90s, but we predict it will be more like the late ’60s or early ’70s, with a chance of paisley. Dress appropriately. If you’ve never been, well … it will be memorable. The fair is a visual and auditory feast; and there’s food for the brain and belly as well. Take the kids and grandma, too. It’s a celebration of life and art and a bit like Mardi Gras, without quite so many beads. Saturday will be crowded. Mellower days are Friday and Sunday.
• A cell phone conversation overheard at Art and the Vineyard outside the gates just before the fireworks: “Aww man, they checked my pipe and kicked me out.”
• What goes on in the back of the bus? We know the Bus Project is a great place for smart young people to get together politically, and now we hear there’s a lot of love business going on as well, even marriages. Makes sense. Rub together a bunch of passionate people in their 20s and 30s, and sparks will fly.
• Rep. Phil Barnhart told us at Brewhaha (see news story last week) that the $577 million deficit Oregon state government faces in this biennium could turn into a $2.5 billion deficit in the next biennium, unless the economy improves, and/or we reform our tax system. Pessimistic Republicans are projecting a deficit even higher, up to $2.7 billion. Meanwhile, economist Paul Krugman, writing in The New York Times June 27, tells us we could be on the brink of a third depression. Krugman in part blames hard-line conservative members of Congress for belt-tightening when they should be spending and investing more. Last week the U.S. Senate voted against renewing a jobs bill that would extend unemployment benefits. So what can we do here in Lane County to insulate ourselves from the volatile national and global economy? For starters we can work to strengthen our local economy and become more self-sufficient. Bring our money home and put it to work. And over the long haul we can lobby for reform of our outdated and unfair state tax system.
We reported last week that Barnhart wants to repeal the kicker law, but he says that’s not quite right. He’d rather see a modification. He says the current rule in effect limits how much the Legislature can spend in a biennium to the amount of the governor’s estimate; and “it tells what to do with the unanticipated revenues if they exceed 2 percent of the estimate: Return them to the taxpayer.” He proposes “a small change” that would “deposit the unanticipated revenues in a constitutional reserve account that can only be spent if certain problems arise ordered by a super majority in both houses of the Legislature and signed by the governor. When that reserve account reaches some percentage of the General Fund (I favor 20 percent), any additional amount is returned to the taxpayers just as it is now.” Makes sense to us.
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 at eugeneweekly dot com
For Michael Phinney, owner of Full City Coffee Roasters, the typical workday (seven days/week) begins at 4 am at the roasting plant. On MWF, he follows up with an 8 to 11 am shift behind the counter at the Palace Bakery, his companion business adjoining the Pearl Street store. He puts in hours at both FC locations and does maintenance and deliveries. Two or three times a year, he visits his coffee growers in the Americas and Africa. “I was the only kid in my class in third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade,” says Phinney, a student in the two-room Fisher Grade School in the Five Rivers area. He later rode the bus two hours each way to high school in Waldport. “I learned to sleep on the bus.” Working in plywood mills to pay his way, Phinney earned a UO history degree in four years. He also learned to hang out in coffee shops. In 1979, he took a job at the Coffee Corner. “I was a barista before we called it that,” he says. “I found I have a knack for roasting.” In 1990, he and two partners opened Full City. Now the sole owner, Phinney is celebrating FC’s 20th Anniversary this month by donating a full day’s gross receipts to CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused and neglected kids. Learn about CASA at http://casa-lane.org