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Slant 6-13-2013

Envision Eugene, the community process that gathered public input on how Eugene should grow over the next 20 years, won a planning award from the Oregon chapter of the American Planning Association May 30. That’s great but we’ve been skeptical about this process that has gobbled up thousands of hours and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the past, citizen-involved plans have gathered dust on shelves while developers do whatever they want. Envision Eugene did generate a massive amount of useful information, and dozens of citizens got educated on the technical aspects of our built environment. Such citizen involvement may inspire more people to serve on committees and commissions. Now the challenge will be for the city to implement Envision Eugene’s recommendations with some finesse. For example, we need more infill but we don’t need more subsidized, high-rise student housing in our neighborhoods. 

What Eugene still lacks is real leadership in urban planning. Where are the architecture design standards, the mini-parks downtown, the walkway connecting downtown to the river, the Emerald Canal, the protected bikeways and the city codes for solar access and historic preservation? For every bit of progress we make, we compromise away another bit of our city’s charm and livability.

 • Terry McDonald debunked a persistent local myth June 6 at the City Club of Eugene. McDonald is executive director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County since 1984 and was asked whether offering excellent social services in a community attracts outsiders who need them. McDonald is invited to speak all over Oregon and beyond, and he said every community he goes to raises that same question and it’s not true. He said a very high percentage of homeless, hungry people needing help come from right here in our own community. 

Downtown Eugene was the place to be on First Friday, June 7. Art lovers, track fans done with the day’s NCAA events, good weather, new and old restaurants, new movie theaters, music on the public square, brought the vitality that City Manager Jon Ruiz, Mayor Kitty Piercy, downtown businessmen and developers have struggled to revive. What can we capture on second Friday, third Friday, and all the days in between?

 • It started as a protest over a government plan to destroy Gezi Park in Ankara, Turkey’s Taksim Square and turn it into a shopping center. It has spiraled into tens of thousands of protesters calling for the resignation of conservative Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan amid tear gas and police confrontation. Andew Revkin in The New York Times this week (wkly.ws/1hv) draws parallels between the Turkish protests and Eugene’s June 1, 1997, protest over cutting historic downtown trees for development on Broadway. Revkin quotes filmmaker Marshall Curry, who documented how the Eugene park protest spurred some enviros on to more radical moves, such as arson: “There are clearly differences between the protests in Turkey and the one that occurred in Oregon. But in both cases, a small demonstration about trees was met with extreme, inflexible force, which fanned the flames of protest and delegitimized the government.” 

• Former KMTR weatherman Joseph Calbreath wrote a passionate post on his Facebook page about the loss of jobs at the local NBC affiliate, calling it a “blood bath.” Few former employees were able to speak out, as part of their severance deals, but Calbreath had already retired and could speak freely. The loss of at least 30 jobs is one of his concerns, but so is the fact that KVAL (CBS) and KMTR will be owned by one company — Fisher Communications out of Seattle. And KVAL has a “news share” with KLSR (Fox), leaving KEZI (ABC) as the only non-linked news station. Fisher is due to be sold to the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, known for airing a highly biased political program during the last presidential election and censoring a Nightline episode exposing the impact of war on soldiers. Calbreath himself says he’s going to read the newspaper instead of watching the news, and we hear local TV advertisers are re-examining where they put their ad dollars. Care about local news coverage? It’s time to start telling the news media what content you need in order to make informed decisions. 

• Big changes afoot at KLCC public radio and we’re curious how that will all shake out later this summer. News junkies among us keep bouncing around the radio dial between KLCC, KOPB and KUGN and we’ve long called for more local public affairs programming for Eugene and Springfield. But we also value KLCC’s Living Large program with Eric Alan featuring local and regional music and arts. We want it all and hope new KLCC General Manager John Stark can pull it off. See our Back Beat column this week (in the music section) for information about a rally coming up Friday.

A nickel for a paper bag? We rant incessantly about the growing gap between rich and poor, but 5 cents is nada when your drafty apartment’s heating bill is $200 a month, gas is $4 a gallon, movie popcorn is $6 (the bag is free) and an apple costs 75 cents. Councilor Mike Clark wants to put the nickel charge to a vote of the people? Absurd.

• The flames of protest continue to be fanned as the feds announced a plan to take gray wolves off the endangered species list, the Oregon Legislature voted in favor of HB 2596, making it easier for logging companies to sue protesters for “financial damages,” and Monsanto’s genetically modified wheat was found on the loose in Oregon. Maybe the state and federal government and big corporations didn’t get the memo about the rest of us caring about trees, open spaces and wild things?