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Slant 3-26-2015

• The May 19 4J School Board election got hotter last week as several new candidates squeaked in on the filing deadline. Incumbent Jim Torrey is facing off against two opponents: Oregon Democratic Party Regional Director Kevin Cronin (also EW’s “Best Local Hellraiser”) and Whiteaker Community Council member David Nickles. Torrey has served on the board since 2007 and is currently chair. While he said last year that he’d like to take 4J into an era of greater transparency, it’s hard to take seriously when 4J sued the R-G early this year over a public records dispute involving outgoing Superintendent Sheldon Berman. Not exactly a dazzling show of transparency. Cronin and Nickles, running on platforms of funding and school choice, respectively, could bring fresh perspectives to a board that seems distant from its community. But is the community ready for such a big change?

4J will see a few more school board races this year: Incumbent Mary Walston is up against substitute teacher Colin Farnsworth, who is also a coordinator for activist group People Against the National Defense Authorization Act. Board Position 4, to be abdicated by Craig Smith this year, involves a race between social worker Eileen Nittler, retiree Scott Landgreen and John A. Baumann, executive director of the currently closed Eugene Hearing and Speech Center. “It is nice to see democracy in action, and now I’ll have to work harder, which is probably a good thing, right?” Nittler tells EW regarding the sudden influx of candidates.

• Should we bury the train tracks through Eugene? Creating a railroad quiet zone with improved track crossings is gaining traction, but the idea of putting our trains in a ditch is always dismissed as “too expensive,” even though it would solve multiple problems associated with the tracks and make Eugene much more livable. Other cities such as San Diego and Reno have done it successfully with a combination of federal grants and local taxes. Let’s face it: Eugene will need to do it someday, and if we wait another 20, 30 or 50 years, the project will be even more difficult and expensive. The benefits include sound reduction, greenspace opportunities, increased real estate values along the tracks, unimpeded car, bike and foot traffic — and better connection of our downtown and campus with the riverfront.

One factor that could kickstart this process is the UO Foundation’s winning proposal to buy and redevelop the excess EWEB riverfront property. The foundation wants a railroad quiet zone established for the property, and trenching the tracks would be ideal. How can we muster the political will to pursue this ambitious project sooner rather than later? Local landscape design and natural history instructor Whitey Lueck has been talking about this for years. See his website, wkly.ws/1z5.

• Will the Oregon Legislature dilute Measure 91 to undo the will of the voters? We hear Anthony Johnson of New Approach Oregon, the leading voice on the legalization of marijuana for adults, is worried. He says proposed legislation, if passed, would allow cities and counties to either ban all marijuana sales or levy local sales taxes on pot. The criminal black market would continue to thrive under such amendments. These bills might not make it far, but Johnson says, “the fight to protect Measure 91 has just begun.”  

• We’ve predicted in years past that climate refugees would be flocking to the relatively rainy Northwest from Southern California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico, but where are they? We’ve met a few, but also talked to some Cali transplants who couldn’t handle our dreary winters and moved back to rejoin family and friends in the sunny land of cactus and white gravel landscaping. Turns out it’s not easy pulling up roots, even if those roots are dry and shriveled. The climate refugees will come eventually, not with a flood but with a trickle. Meanwhile, we can’t dismiss the shocking state of California agriculture under worsening drought conditions. Oregon’s agricultural land must be protected — every acre. We will need it. 

Magnolias can be spectacular this time of the year, making their exuberant but brief showing on bare branches before most rhodies and azaleas wake up. We hear the bloom is well under way at Ruff Park north of Thurston Road at 66th Street in Springfield. The park is considered the largest magnolia arboretum west of the Mississippi.