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Letters to the Editor: 5-14-2015

A LITTLE NOW, OR MORE LATER

Please join me in voting “yes” on Lane County’s vehicle registration fee. It is needed, fair and Lane County’s only practical option.

To be sure, the proposal isn’t perfect. Economists say we’d have a more efficient transportation market — i.e., we’d reduce overall spending — if we adopted a package of user fees more closely tied to actual costs. In an ideal world, first we would adopt a fee to maintain our existing roads based on miles driven and vehicle weight. (Oregon already does this for freight trucks but not for passenger vehicles.) Second, we would adopt an additional fee for driving during peak hours, as traffic congestion creates the need to construct new and wider roads. (For example, we are spending over $200 million on just the I-5 Beltline interchange in response to commuter traffic.) Third, we would adopt a fee for emissions linked to climate change and other environmental problems. Fourth, to ensure that those who don’t drive can nonetheless get around, we would invest in safe, practical and affordable options for riding the bus, bicycling or walking. Finally, to ensure a level playing field from place to place, such a package would be adopted nationally, or at least statewide. Alas, we don’t live in an ideal world. With Washington, D.C., in gridlock and Salem in the slow lane when it comes to transportation funding, we aren’t likely to see such a package anytime soon.

Meanwhile, federal timber payments have officially ended (although we might receive some federal money for a couple more years). With this major source of funding for road maintenance drying up and with no one else in sight coming to our rescue, responsibility for maintaining our roads rests with us. We can choose to pay a little more now with a vehicle registration fee — or a lot more later. The vehicle registration fee will also provide funding to all 12 cities in Lane County to help maintain local streets.

The Lane County Roads Advisory Committee reviewed some 28 different funding options and concluded unanimously that the only politically and legally feasible way to raise the needed funds was with a vehicle registration fee. In particular, current state law limits a local gas tax to less than what is needed.

Fortunately, although not perfect, the proposed fee is relatively fair. Anyone who can afford thousands of dollars a year to own, insure, maintain and fuel a vehicle should be able to afford a modest $35 extra per year. As most vehicle owners drive similar distances — the industry standard is 12,000 miles per year — the fee is roughly if not perfectly proportional to miles driven and actual wear and tear on roads. And with the use of vehicle fees protected by both the state Constitution and an annual citizen audit committee, voters are assured that taxes will go just to maintaining roads.

The vehicle registration fee is needed, reasonably fair and inexpensive to administer. It will end up saving taxpayers money. It is the responsible choice, as there is no viable alternative available to us. Join me in voting “yes” on Measure 20-231.

Rob Zako, Eugene

 

SCAPEGOATS DOWNTOWN

Regarding the Kesey Square cover story May 7: First they demolished the Olive and Broadway fountain. That was where old people hung out. The pool was round with a low smooth flat edge you could sit on, and had a fountain in the middle. Around it, concrete chess tables with inlaid marble where elders played chess and fed the pigeons, kids splashed in the water.

Then they removed the Broadway playground, a solid, safe playground enjoyed by families with children. Then they took out the benches where everyone rested. Then there was no way to be comfortable. The adolescents didn’t mind. They needed a place! People called them mall “rats,” which is extermination language.

Then came “Broadway, a Great Street.” Pictures showed the wonderful new street with cars, children holding balloons and guitar players on benches. Now cars drove on it. Any place to sit was blocked. Some can endure this environment — homeless, adolescents, people shopping, drinking or walking through.

 The word “fascism” is thrown around, mostly inappropriately. But to blame homeless people for the alienating landscape is straight-up fascist scapegoating. 

A successful square did have a life of its own. Restoring its life will require understanding basic human needs and pleasures.

Kari Johnson, Eugene

 

URBAN BLIGHT

Poor Eugene, suffering so much — and all self-inflicted by “public servants.” The City Council ignores its only objective study and approves a City Hall proposal; almost immediately, it adds millions to expand the project. Meanwhile, council debates continuing a tax-exemption program responsible for Capstone — during a rental market glut! And the city and 4J School Board refuse Fred Meyer’s bid to acquire Civic Stadium — citizens later learn that the owner of competing grocery stores is a committee member and that he’ll purchase some of the property. Concurrently, the school board that hired the debacle that was Shelley Berman (this alone should have led to resignations, at least out of shame) obsesses over secrecy and tolerates a member advocating the destruction of information (illegal). These role models, mind you, are responsible for the education of our children. 

It is blindingly obvious that Eugene has a cabal of insiders and leaders whose shelf life has long expired. Hubris and incompetence have become the norm.

It falls to us, the fed-up, to let them know how we feel now and, when the opportunity appears, vote them all out and begin anew with fresh faces and new ideas.

Enough is enough.

Jayme Vasconcellos, Eugene

 

STAND FOR WHAT?

After the scandal that the 4J School Board has been mired in due to its lack of transparency, it is imperative that voters have full information about the organizations that are supporting the incumbents running for reelection. The 4J School Board incumbents are endorsed by the advocacy organization, Stand for Children. 

Perhaps in honor of 4J’s quest for transparency and accountability, Stand For Children should be re-named Stand For Standardization. Stand For Children has voiced its support for the shameful Race to the Top legislation as well as tying teacher and school evaluations to student standardized test scores. In 2010, Stand for Children received a $1,378,527 grant from The Walton Family Foundation, the anti-union owners of Walmart. 

Recently, Stand for Children has stood against HB 2655. This Student Assessment Bill of Rights would ensure that students and parents receive detailed information about any scheduled assessments, are provided clear information about the legal right to opt out, and are allowed to opt out for whatever reason they choose. 

Stand for Children has been a long-time supporter of the ever-expanding, profit-driven high-stakes testing movement. Its opposition to HB 2655, a bill to provide clarity, expanded rights and openness for parents and children, puts them in opposition to transparency and accountability in testing.

While Stand for Children has done valuable work in support of adequate education funding, we should not stand for its relentless advocacy for high-stakes testing and its stand against parent and student rights.

Laura Farrelly, Eugene

 

CHALLENGING TORREY

Kevin Cronin killed it at the Amazon Neighbors’ debate April 30 against Eugene’s former Republican Mayor Jim Torrey. When I heard that a 20-something kid was challenging Torrey, a local political heavyweight, I showed up to what I assumed would be a calf sent to slaughter. 

But Cronin held his own, showing he knows a great deal about the problems facing 4J schools and has a realistic and keen grasp of the work ahead of us to improve them. 

Many people who talk about Oregon schools say we need to “stop throwing money at the problem,” not realizing that we did stop throwing money into our schools and that this is exactly the problem. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist,” Kevin said, to understand that our trip from having the top schools in the country to some of the worst “is a direct result of Measures 5, 47 and 50. They drained money out of our schools, and we need to decide how to give our kids some of that money back.”

Cronin says he wants to join the board for the long haul. I believe him. The first step is engaging our community and helping them understand our schools have a problem — and that the principal part of that problem involves finances — limiting administrative bloat and increasing our investment, as well as having knowledge about how to run a statewide initiative campaign. At SEIU, our union that has endorsed Cronin, I have witnessed how his knowledge of campaigns and the mechanics of our state legislature can be an impressive asset to that end.

I’m not knocking Torrey’s time on the board — he’s done OK. But Cronin’s energy, fresh approach and organizing prowess would be great on the board. I’m sticking to my union, SEIU local 503, and voting Kevin Cronin for local school board. 

Madison Hibler, Eugene

 

OUR DESPERATE NEED

I’m ready for Kevin Cronin to bring the change we need to the 4J School Board. As someone who’s been through the school system himself and understands how often it fails students, he can bring a unique voice that is too often ignored in the conversation about schools. 

We know our schools are in trouble. It’s easy to get distracted by petty politics and the blame game, as the current board has. But we need to remember the human cost of our actions. As someone who was also recently in high school myself, I remember my sophomore class being made up of around 40 students. By the time I graduated it dropped to about 20. 

Cronin doesn’t just bring a vital student perspective; he brings experience that matters. Whether it’s as chair of the LCC Budget Committee or organizing for local measures designed to hire more teachers and lower class sizes, Cronin understands the cost of the path we’ve put our kids on, and he has the vision, optimism and determination to make changes for the better.

We desperately need change on the 4J School Board. Let’s give Cronin and his new ideas a chance. 

Kenneth Sergienko, Eugene

 

MARCOLA IN TROUBLE

It is a fact that the Marcola Elementary School is in horrible shape and we cannot continue to educate our children in that building. I have had trouble getting behind supporting the $7 million bond because of my intense distrust of the current superintendent. But like all the other 10 or more superintendents I have seen come and go in my 29 years with the Marcola School District as a parent, foster parent, cheerleader, critic, employee and volunteer, this one will also go, eventually. If it is with this feather in his cap, he can take it, but at least we will have a usable school and, as promised, a community center. 

Last year I was on the selection committee for a new superintendent and I was as excited about having Bill Watkins come on board as I was disappointed just a few months later, from personal experience. While he has made the positive changes he has boasted about, it was not his magic wand that allowed him to do so. It was the sacrifices of the staff, community and the last administration that kept our district afloat during the recession, giving him a solid foundation to start from. 

It will be the people of this community and school staff that will keep working for the students, and maybe the superintendent will surprise me. But Marcola cannot survive without a new school; we won’t have a community if our kids are shipped to Springfield every day — which will also tax us.

Ellen Furstner, Marcola

 

FIX THE BIGGER PROBLEM

Oregon PERS isn’t responsible for the loss of funding for school districts. Oregonians approved Measures 5 and 50 that reduced the property taxes allocated for schools. Before, school districts and other taxing districts increased property taxes to fund operations. Now, the tax burden for schools has shifted to Oregon’s General Fund revenues. Unfortunately, no provision was made to provide funding to cover the loss. The state government, relying on income tax receipts, is consumed by funding education.

The Supreme Court declared the PERS COLA allocation scheme a “contractual impairment.” PERS is effectively off the table as a revenue source. The solution is obvious. Fix the fatal flaws in Measures 5 and 50 by providing an additional revenue source dedicated to education. A sales tax, a net profits tax or some other revenue can refund the education budget.

Vilifying and ridiculing public employees or wishing they’d just die already is not going to solve the problem. What we need is for our political and commentary class to find legal, ethical and courageous solutions to the financial problems of our schools. What other ideas do we have? Let’s find some that are acceptable and don’t set one group against another.

 Gerry Merritt, Eugene

 

CHANGE-MAKER

I’m supporting a new face on the 4J School Board! Education in Oregon needs dollars to return our state to a higher level of learning for our children. I know Kevin Cronin and I believe he has the energy and ability to reverse our funding for schools and that is why I give him my vote! Every level of education needs a different approach, and businesses as well as families will see that Kevin can make the changes needed without flat taxation! 

Ruth Duemler, Eugene

 

PAYING TRUE VALUE

This is in response to Sam Porter’s letter [“Structural Injustice,” 4/30], regarding the low wages paid to farm workers. Immigrant workers send around $7 billion a year back to their families in Mexico. The $7.25 hourly wage they earn is approximately 10 times the amount they would make in Mexico for the same work. 

I, too, think it’s unfortunate that this situation exists, but for a different reason than does Porter. These workers are supposedly doing work that U.S. citizens would not undertake. If agribusiness corporations paid citizens for the true value of their labor, we would see plenty of willing workers. Food prices, however, would increase quite a bit. I would gladly pay more for food that is grown and harvested by U.S. citizens. 

 Philip Ratcliff, Salem

 

CELL TOWER PROBLEMS

Crossfire Church is trying to put a 75-foot cell tower in a residential neighborhood near daycare centers, schools and homes.

The Crossfire pastor took over the payments on the property at the end of 2012. At the cell tower pre-application meeting on January 2014, he told neighbors that the cell tower was the only way he could pay the mortgage. I found this disturbing. To me it seemed that the property was bought for its potential as a possible cell tower site and not a community church. 

You can’t have a community church when your neighbors are concerned about health risks, losses of property value, view and tranquility. Cell tower cooling equipment is noisy; sometimes even with this equipment there are fires.

In May 2014, the Eugene planners’ initial report found 10-plus pages of problems with a cell tower at the Crossfire site, i.e. “the simulated mono-pine looks comical in the setting.” The Amazon Trail across from the site was developed with tax dollars and belongs to all of us.

There will be a public hearing at 5:30 pm Wednesday, May 27, at Harris Hall, 125 E. 8th Ave. See FriendsofAmazonCreek.org. 

Cindy Allen, Eugene

 

SUPPORT HAMILTON

Linda Hamilton is clearly my choice for a spot on the Lane ESD Board. I served with her on the Eugene Human Rights Commission and the Police Commission. I worked with her as an advocate for the human rights support system in Eugene.

I have seen her leadership for several years in the Eugene-Springfield Blacks in Government organization and her work as a parole and probation officer for Lane County has been solid.

Linda asks important questions, makes significant observations and is a strong and sensitive leader. She is trustworthy, hard-working and honest. She represents these qualities that are deeply important in personal, professional and political areas: transparency, collaboration and accountability.

I urge your vote for Linda Hamilton.

Neil Van Steenbergen, Eugene

 

A HUGE VICTORY

Pop the champagne corks, folks! On May 11, 2015, Oregon became the eighth state to require life-saving Brady background checks for all gun sales, when Gov. Kate Brown signed SB 941 into law, making every Oregonian safer, and continuing to build exciting and unprecedented national momentum state-by-state.

States with expanded background checks see 46 percent fewer women murdered with guns by intimate partners; 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers killed by guns; and 48 percent fewer gun-related suicides, according to a recent report by Everytown for Gun Safety.

This is a huge victory that will save lives in Oregon by keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people who will no longer be able to exploit the vast “internet loophole” to buy guns for cash in back alleys without a background check. Lives will be saved as a result. It also shows the nation the kind of real progress we can make when elected leaders put the interests of the citizens ahead of the radical agenda of the corporate gun lobby. And we are not going to stop until Congress gets the message loud and clear: Expanding Brady background checks saves lives and it is what the American people want. 

Curtis Taylor
, Eugene

 

REASONABLE CARE?

Lane County has just declared open season on pedestrians. DA Alex Gardner’s decision to not press charges in the deaths of three children from the negligent operation of a motor vehicle has given running a red light and killing a free pass. His rationale doesn’t hold up against the DMV’s decision to suspend the driver’s license for a year due to “negligent or recklessly operating a motor vehicle.” I suspect Lane County weighed the costs of bringing the case to court against the value of the lives of 3 dead children, the children lost. 

Gardner’s rationale for not prosecuting is hogwash. According to the Oregon Court of Appeals, to determine whether the person acted with “criminal negligence,” the court will look at whether the person’s actions were “a gross deviation from the standard of care of a reasonable person.” “The court will consider whether the actions that caused the death were an unavoidable accident where a death could not have been anticipated, or whether a reasonable person should have expected that a death would occur given all the circumstances.” 

To me a “reasonable care” standard for operating a motor vehicle is stopping at red lights, the DA’s office seems to think otherwise. It’s open season folks.

Daniel H. Schlender, Springfield

 

TEAM CLINTON

 Our country hungers to be led with integrity. It is remarkable that a biracial man leads our country. He did not come from privilege. He is a Harvard law graduate. It may not be known that Michelle Robinson Obama also holds a law degree and that her one brother Craig coached basketball at OSU. The Obamas are people of high moral character and they separate church from state as our forefathers intended. I say let Obama lead now and may Republicans rise to the challenge.

 I now want to elect a woman for president. Let a woman lead this country and better yet let it be a husband and wife team. Hillary Rodham Clinton can lead. She has served in the senate. She has been secretary of state.

 I suggest a second Democratic ticket with native Oregonian Nicholas Kristof and his Chinese-American wife Sheryl Wudunn. 

If the Republicans want to lead, they need to get their act together.

 Marti Berger, Eugene

 

BULLYING UNACCEPTABLE

There is a 6-year-old in our community who is afraid to run in front of others because she has been bullied into thinking that it will be scary and someone will make her feel sad if she does so at school. She is so afraid that the very thought of having to play a game involving a short amount of running in class made her cry quietly and whisper to me that she was afraid, “they always call me a slow poke.” 

This is just one heart-wrenching example of the stories I hear working within our local school districts. Almost daily I am confided in by one of these amazing children who has been brought down by their school peers, made to feel shameful, unworthy, partially broken for being their own exuberant selves. Today I asked a group of second-grade to fifth-grade students if any of them felt like they had been bullied at school this year — the answer was a unanimous “I have.” One child in our community may grow up sedentary due to a fear of being put down! This is not acceptable! 

The prevalence of bullying, especially in elementary school, is growing and yet our children are not being given the tools to stand up for themselves in a nonviolent way. Our playgrounds lack adequate peer mentors, our school budget lacks adequate funding for specialized staff such as school counselors. Our children are not being taught to expect respect. 

I work with hundreds of first through eighth graders in three local school districts and see the challenges they face daily. Bad attitudes happen, people are going to be mean, we must teach our children personal power, give them the tools to communicate for themselves, give them support and help to build their confidence, and let them know that they are valued and supported by not only adults in their lives but by their friends and peers. 

I suggest talking to your kids about bullying, run through scenarios and let them think of creative ways to solve problems that don’t necessarily involve adult intervention. Teaching our children that it is also okay to step in when someone else is being treated badly is essential to creating a healthy community amongst our youth. We need to give our children the skills to deal with problems and know when to ask for help. Please consider having a conversation with kids in your life — just listening will show them that their voice matters, and you may find yourself surprised at just how much they have on their plate finding their place at school. 

Elizabeth Goward, Eugene

 

JUST CLICK ‘I AGREE’

How many times do we click “I agree” to in fact avoid reading what we are actually agreeing to? Well, one recent long document (finally released to be read) probably should be read — the 400 pages of the FCC regulations that propose to preserve “the open internet.”

We (well not all of us) were hoodwinked -this is the start of closing the internet, not opening it. Who thought that in response to Wikileakes and the ability of terrorists and protestors alike to use the internet that the government would call for a more open internet?

Unlikely. But here we now have it, 400 pages of regulations for a start.

Everyone needs to read this. At least skip the first 400 odd paragraphs and start at the “free speech” section. Perhaps Google “Devil and details.”

Michael Lee, Eugene