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Slant 1-22-2015

Arnold Ismach
Arnold Ismach

EW lost a trusted friend and critic when Arnold Ismach died on Jan. 16 at age 84. Ismach was dean of the UO School of Journalism and Communication from 1985 to 1994 and has criticized us for “too much entertainment — not enough news.” But his most recent observation, maybe two weeks before his death, was “I read the Weekly Thursday nights and it makes me feel good.” Ismach was a lifelong journalist, one whose curiosity and passion for the world around him lasted long past his retirement from the UO. He volunteered for years for Planned Parenthood, many other civic groups and local candidates, plus attended most meetings of the City Club of Eugene where his sharp questions reflected his years of journalistic experience. Arnold Ismach truly wanted to make this world a better place.

A decision on MUPTE, the city of Eugene’s Multiple-United Property Tax Exemption program, is on the Eugene City Council agenda after we go to press this week, and we expect a revised MUPTE will be passed. Too bad, unless by some miracle the tax giveaways are tweaked to encourage truly affordable housing in some parts of town that really need it, such as Hwy. 99. Instead, Eugene will likely continue its tradition of rewarding millionaires with tax breaks for building housing on prime property that would likely have been built anyway. And these new, subsidized apartment buildings will compete with the existing, non-subsidized rental market. The new and improved MUPTE will have well-meaning rules and a review panel for oversight, but we predict developers will find ways to build whatever pencils out, with up to 10 years of tax breaks boosting their profits. Student housing projects might be banned from the new MUPTE, but we expect students will end up living in some of the units anyway, with a wink and a nod.

Councilor George Brown has been critical of MUPTE as it’s proposed, but came up with some ideas this week to make it more fair and transparent. Brown drafted some motions that would require half the rental units in MUPTE projects to be “workforce and/or affordable” housing and provide clear ways for the city to audit and recoup windfall profits from those projects. In lieu of a major overhaul, MUPTE should be written off as a failed experiment in urban planning.

• Fierce lines are already drawn in the Oregon Legislature, not yet in formal session, over a carbon tax. Tina Kotek, speaker of the House and a Portland Democrat, told a City Club of Eugene audience Jan. 16 that a carbon tax will be “difficult to do in this session.” That’s probably not what Democratic environmental legislators want to hear. Then comes the newsletter from Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg)  talking about the governor’s “socialist, environmental agenda.” He sees the low carbon standards extension and the carbon tax as two of the worst environmental issues, both expected to come early in the session. Kruse says, “Oregon contains 1 percent of the population of the U.S. and the U.S. population is 3 percent of the world population. Clearly anything we would do would be symbolic at best.” Clearly, those of us concerned about global climate change better sharpen our pencils and prepare to go to Salem.