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Bonny Bettman McCornack is back in our pages this week reviving her City-Zen Journal column. We’ve missed her strong voice and clear analysis of complex issues. She retired in frustration in 2009 after a memorable eight years on the Eugene City Council and numerous committees and commissions in Lane County. Often she was the only voice in public meetings asking tough questions and calling for accountability and transparency.

• The proposed $10 a month stormwater fee hike has been reduced to $5 after a public outcry against it and doubts that the City Council would approve it. But some interesting ideas have surfaced that might be worth pursuing as the city struggles to raise much-needed revenues. One proposal kicking around unofficial email lists is changing our city stormwater fee to reflect the footprint of living units and other impermeable spaces.

The city is in a fiscal pickle with major cuts in city services behind us and more to come, but how do we go from sour pickle to sweet pickle? Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz and his staff have come up with a set of fees (in lieu of new taxes) that would cost each household in the city up to $240 a year, with partial waivers for low-income households. The city is currently facing a $6 million budget gap and the proposal would generate about $7.5 million a year, eliminating the gap and restoring some services that have already been cut.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is upon us once again and we are reminded of how far we have come as a nation, and, alas, how very far we still have to go. Our nation takes an entire day each year to honor King’s dreams and quote his speeches, but are we really listening to his message? If so, why the growing disparity between rich and poor? Why are unions constantly under attack and shrinking? Why are women, blacks, Latinos and Native Americans still earning less than white men?

A critically important message to American educators, and all the rest of us, came from Dr. Yong Zhao Jan. 4 at the City Club of Eugene meeting at the Hilton. He’s the UO College of Education associate dean for global and online learning. Zhao said American education is copying Chinese education while the Chinese are moving in the opposite direction, copying America. That means more standardization, more centralization and more testing for American kids, practices in China that have hurt innovation and entrepreneurship.

• Former ACLU field director Claire Syrett took the Eugene Ward 7 city councilor position vacated by Andrea Ortiz, and we were delighted at the choice. We still have high hopes for Syrett as a much-needed addition to the progressive voices on the City Council, but we’re a bit puzzled by a couple of her votes so far. She voted to sell the 1.89 acre Courthouse Garden property, which donates about 6,000 pounds of food each year to feed Lane County’s homeless and hungry, without any public discussion or a plan in place for a new garden site.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all our local teachers who wore yellow and blue, the colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School, on the Monday after the tragic Friday. America’s teachers have joined cops and firemen as first responders, and we need to better support them.

Happy New Year to all those who seek knowledge through higher education and training, the hard work of learning and refining of skills, and to all who teach and mentor them. Our future depends on critical thinking and our ability to adapt and evolve.

Mass shootings are now part of our national identity, and each incident seems to trigger the next one. The solution to gun violence, we hear from folks like Rep. Dennis Richardson, is more guns. Arm those teachers with Colt .45s and Bowie knives! Install hitching posts in front of every school! But hardly anyone in the media talks about this tragic phenomenon in terms of lack of health care. When the topic of mental health does come up, it usually just adds to the false perception that mentally ill individuals are all dangerous.

A homeless micro-housing pilot project requires four to six months to get a conditional use permit? Holy freezing to death on the streets, Batman. We respect the need for due diligence, but when lives are at stake, a little expediency is in order. Kudos to the council for approving the Opportunity Village pilot project, and in particular to Councilor Alan Zelenka for making sure a location was chosen before the council’s winter break, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking those at risk on the streets are now safe.

Tax breaks for developers have persisted for decades as a major economic development strategy, and for decades we at EW and progressives in local government have insisted they do more harm than good. The New York Times has investigated these billions of dollars in tax incentives nationwide and published a story Dec. 1 saying “The giveaways are adding up to a gigantic bill for taxpayers,” and the results are tenuous at best.

Thanksgiving is a big family holiday for some, a celebration of “America” for others and, for many indigenous peoples, a reminder of racism and genocide. We give big props first to members of the Eugene community for speaking out about their feelings about a flyer that advertised the “Spanksgiving” Fetish Ball using an image of a woman in facepaint and an “Indian headdress.” And second kudos to Diablos Fetish Night for immediately responding to those concerns from the Native community. You can catch some of the dialogue on EW’s and Diablos’ Facebook pages.

• Veterans Day this week went by without the presence of a prominent local Vietnam vet, John “Mac” McFadden, who died Oct. 16 at the age of 66. “Mac McFadden was the veteran of a war no one much talks about anymore,” says local writer Hart Williams. “A war, that, had we remembered its lessons, would have prevented us from invading Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that Mac was against.

• Votes are still being tallied as we go to press this week, but we’re encouraged by what we’re seeing. Eugene City Councilor Betty Taylor gets another four years, and it’s clear Juan Carlos Valle would have done much better if he had run in a different ward. Chris Pryor, for example, was unopposed in Ward 8, but he got only 3,600 votes out of 8,200 ballots cast in that ward. That’s a huge undervote in that race, and also in the race for the County Commission seat that now belongs to Pat Farr (16,816 undervotes).

• Will your vote bring back the unicorns? Probably not right away. But not voting might bring back the dinosaurs. A few zombies are also on the ballot, hoping voter apathy will allow them to rise and feed. Mmm. Brains. Deadline for voting is 8 pm Tuesday, Nov. 6, and white ballot boxes can be found around town and on campus. Many of the races and issues in this election are too close to call. This is a time when an individual can make a difference. 

• Find our condensed endorsements ] in this issue, a 350-word version of last week’s 3,500 words of analysis and recommendations. Our short picks are a handy way to compare our endorsements with those of the R-G, which were also compiled this week. We differ from the daily on the regulate pot measure, corporate kicker measure, the Circuit Court write-in, Court of Appeals, Eugene City Council Ward 2 and House District 7.

It’s election time again and the state and local Voters’ Pamphlets are a hefty quarter of an inch thick. It’s all fascinating reading (especially between the lines), reflecting the brilliance and dimness of current political thought and our messy experiment with representative government, aka democracy. Every voter should read it, along with absorbing all the propaganda in print and on the web, in the broadcast media, around the kitchen table and at the water cooler.

Ballots go in the mail starting Friday, Oct. 19, and our election issue, including endorsements, will be next week, Oct. 18. We’ll have more election stories right up to Nov. 2, our last issue before the Nov. 6 election. Haven’t registered to vote, or moved since you last voted? Better hurry. The deadline is next Tuesday, Oct. 16, and it’s easy to do online at oregonvotes.org or down at Lane County Elections, 275 W. 10th Ave., in Eugene. Call 682-4234.

The fate of the West Eugene EmX extension is pending as we go to press this week, and we hope a majority on the Eugene City Council recognize the long-term benefits of efficient rapid transit throughout the metro area. We heard Councilor George Poling was planning a motion at the Sept. 26 meeting that the EmX extension be sent back to LTD with a call for a public vote. This proposal flies in the face of comprehensive transportation planning. Decisions such as extending EmX involve many thousands of hours of research and analysis by experts in the field.

• Lots of chatter out there about Gov. Kitzhaber’s continuing meetings with business, labor and other state leaders about restructuring Oregon taxes. Current projection is that a proposal won’t be ready for the 2013 session of the Legislature. Will we all live long enough to see a “reasonable” proposal pass? That’s the governor’s goal. In all the talk about small business, big business, etc., we want to interject the theme that a state’s strongest draw for economic success is an excellent education system. Oregon’s current tax system is seriously hampering public education.

• We’re pleased to finally see a pro-EmX group coming together in Better Eugene-Springfield Transit (BEST). The nonprofit will soon have a website and Facebook page, and we see a broad spectrum of noted community leaders on the board of directors. BEST will be lobbying undecided Eugene city councilors in advance of the council’s upcoming key vote on the West Eugene EmX Expansion and will be supporting local mass transit well into the future.

• Commentary from our Duck Desk: Duck fans saw two blowouts last Saturday: The Ducks won the first half 50-10, but got whipped by Arkansas State in the second half 24-7. That may be bad news for Duck fans hoping for a national championship. Championship teams have enough depth and competitive fire to make sure teams like Arkansas State don’t thump them, even for a half. With Fresno State coming to town next, we better hope the Ducks get better fast. And we like the terrific new yellow and green uniforms. We’re waiting for rhinestones.

• Another great Eugene Celebration is behind us and the band Volifonix was judged the winner of our Next Big Thing music contest on the KRVM/Eugene Weekly Stage Saturday afternoon. Members of Volifonix are Tomo “The Samurai” Tsurumi, Blake Forbess, Joe McClain, Trevor Forbess and Elijah Median. Judges also liked finalist Paul Quillen, and we’re talking about having a singer-songwriter category next year. It’s hard to compare a singer with a guitar to a full-blown band. Volifonix and some other finalists will perform at our Best of Eugene Awards Show Oct.

• The Eugene Celebration Parade begins at 10 am this Saturday at South Eugene High School, heading up High Street. Good places to watch are along High and Pearl between 11th and 18th. Expect abundant political entries this year. Rep. Peter DeFazio traditionally shows up with his wheelbarrow and shovel to scoop up the virtual horse crap. Will Pete’s November opponent Art Robinson be in the parade tossing “healthy” radioactive dust from his float? Probably not, but joining DeFazio this year will be state Sen.