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Slant 11-5-2015

Eugene voters gave a marginal nod to the five-year library levy on the ballot this week, but the low voter turnout indicates that either this issue is not real high on the public’s priority list, or voters were conflicted and undecided. Normally, library measures in Eugene get a more enthusiastic response, and we remember the community coming together in grand fashion to build our downtown library in 2003, followed by campaigns to fund its ongoing services and branch libraries. The mood has changed a bit over the years, but the library did see a big boost in users during the recession that began in 2008. Unemployed and low-income residents find the library’s books, CDs and DVDs, periodicals, research assistance and more than 100 computers to be very useful. It’s apparent the citizens of Eugene still value their library services, despite grumbles about how the city taxes development, blunders planning and allocates its resources. The city got a victory this election, but if meaningful reforms do not happen, the next time the city goes begging to voters, the results might be different. 

• Portland puts a bird on it; Eugene puts a building on it? It’s time to stop thinking of Kesey Square as a “problem” or “troublesome” and time to think of it as a valuable public and cultural space to be preserved and utilized. Eugene doesn’t know what it’s lost until it’s gone, until we’ve “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Witness our mourning over Civic Stadium, now burned, and City Hall, now demolished. Dropping a building on Kesey Square won’t solve the greater societal problem of the unhoused, and taking away public gathering places won’t improve downtown. This is a failure of city planning and programming, yet the transient population is perpetually the scapegoat. It’s time to think outside the box. Judging from the social media outcry, people are pissed at the idea of the city considering granting a tax exemption through MUPTE for developers to take over a public plaza. So what should we do to make the square more inviting? We can’t figure out why the city hasn’t taken Ali Emami up on his repeated offer to open up the brick walls around the square and make the place truly a plaza with places to eat, sit and socialize. “Don’t it always seem to go/ That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?” Let’s save the square while we still can. 

• New UO President Michael Schill rapped the knuckles of the Oregon press for focusing on the university’s past problems rather than its bright future when EW talked with him Oct. 30. Fair enough, from his perspective, the new guy innocent of past UO mistakes and eager for a shining future. But wait! Some stories such as continuing lawsuits and retaliation charges must be reported by the Oregon press and even national media. And deep-seated grievances against institutional betrayal should be addressed. Schill, the newbie, has the opportunity to deal privately with those grievances while at the same time avoiding protection of this institution so badly served by administrators before him.

• We’re willing to wager that Gov. Kate Brown, after she’s reelected, will not allow clearcutting of the Elliott State Forest, 93,000 acres in Coos and Douglas counties with high public values including carbon sequestration. The fate of the Elliott was the topic Oct. 30 at the City Club of Eugene. Brown is only one of three members of the Oregon State Land Board, which controls the fate of the Elliott, but she’s a lawyer, environmentalist and smart politician highly capable of doing the right thing for the people of this state. Write to her, the secretary of state and state treasurer if you care. Go to goo.gl/AR2SE1 for contact information.

• Construction has begun on a replacement building for Theodore Roosevelt Middle School, and we like Lane County Historical Society Director Bob Hart’s suggestion that District 4J drop “Theodore” from the new school name and honor all three prominent Roosevelts, TR, FDR and Eleanor. The two presidents were cousins and Eleanor was a distant relative to FDR. The Roosevelts, contradictions and all, are an important family in U.S. history, and their legacy inspires some teachable opportunities for RMS students.

• Eugene native Forrest Watkins is off on a great adventure, bicycling around the world and documenting how people are responding and adapting to their changing environment. We’ve run his dispatches from Asia in print and on our website, but he tells us he has only about 400 people following his blog 360bybike.com. “I’m not very good at social media,” he tells us. He’s a sharp observer, a concise and upbeat writer and a good photographer. Check him out, particularly if you are weary of climate gloom and doom. Watkins is Eugene’s own Bill McKibben.

Boots on the ground in Syria? This is how we escalate wars, with well-intentioned military “advisors.” U.S. military interventions in the Mideast have an atrocious track record, with extreme groups such as ISIS filling the power vacuums we create. Syria’s complex internal strife is fueled by regional power plays, and we haven’t even clearly identified our enemies. Now our very presence will be used to recruit more extremists. Best we not get sucked into another convoluted proxy war.