Zelenka and Clark will shape city’s future across political divide
Story and photos by Alan Pittman
The Eugene City Council is split down the middle. On many important issues, such as the West Eugene Parkway and urban sprawl, the vote falls 4-4 with the mayor breaking the tie for progressives.
This year two new councilors jumped into that split, splintering left and right. Alan Zelenka from Ward 3 near the UO, an Emerald People’s Utility District (EPUD) administrator, counts himself as a proud progressive. Mike Clark from Ward 5 in northwest Eugene is a Republican campaign and commercial marketing consultant who questions global warming. Here’s a look at these two new councilors from either side of the political divide who will likely play a leading role in debates on the city’s future for years to come.
Alan Zelenka, 46, has two golden retrievers but no kids and has lived in the same house in the Fairmount neighborhood since 1984. That’s when he and his wife, Susie Smith, a manager for the local sewage treatment system, moved here after graduating from Berkeley.
At Berkeley Zelenka earned a bachelor’s degree in political economy, and at the UO he got a master’s in energy and environmental policy, an interdisciplinary program he designed. After the UO he went to work for EPUD, where he does legislative and computer work for the rural public utility. At night through the 1990s, he served as a volunteer on the Eugene Budget Committee.
Over lunch in the EMU courtyard, Zelenka said he’s still struggling to balance his day job, personal life and the demands of being a city councilor. “I have two stacks of paper this tall,” he said, holding a hand four feet off the ground. His eyes twinkle with humor, and there’s a smile beneath the mustache.
Last May, Zelenka beat two opponents for the Ward 3 seat with 69 percent of the vote. Ward 3 surrounds the UO and is the most progressive council ward in Eugene, voting 86 percent for John Kerry in 2004.
Zelenka described his successful campaign platform as sustainability and environmental protection, protecting neighborhood livability and safety and having government speak for the interests of all people, not just special interests.
He’s proud that the council has already moved forward with the adoption of sustainability principles and the creation of a sustainability commission. As part of the mayor’s Sustainable Business Initiative, the city is looking to hire a sustainability manager and lead by example, becoming carbon neutral and zero waste by 2020. Already, Zelenka said, “the city staff has really done an amazing amount of stuff.”
The city will also try to recruit new sustainable businesses and help existing businesses become more green. The approach is more about incentives than regulation, Zelenka said. “It’s not about regulating them into submission.”
But the initiative will go beyond recycling, conservation and business incentives, Zelenka said. The council has included a component that will require a sustainability analysis for every major new city policy and action. Zelenka said that sort of city mini-environmental impact statement could change the city’s pro-parking garage and freeway policies that have drawn fire from environmentalists.
Zelenka was an active member of the Fairmount Neighborhood Association and helped push to make neighborhood protection one of the council’s goals. The city is considering bolstering neighborhood associations with more funding and passing new infill standards to protect neighborhood attractiveness and livability.
Zelenka says he’s open to real changes including requiring developers who make major development proposals to first make presentations to neighborhood groups or even win their approval. But Zelenka isn’t opposed to all development. He says he likes the city’s and UO’s ideas for redeveloping the Walnut node on Franklin into a higher-density mixed-use area around the EmX stop.
While out campaigning, Zelenka said he heard a lot of neighborhood complaints about property crime. Zelenka supports a council goal to increase police staffing to focus on property crime and community policing.
Eugene has declining or flat crime rates and about the same number of cops per capita as Salem and more than Springfield. But Zelenka supports the city police department’s argument that they need a big increase in staffing.
He does admit that finding all the money needed and making sure there are enough prosecutors and jail beds for the additional arrests will be difficult. “If it’s just a revolving door, it isn’t a very effective strategy.”
Zelenka said he’d also like to see the police come clean on the Magaña/Lara officer sex scandal. The EPD has so far refused to investigate and report on whether any other officers in the department did anything wrong in hiring and supervising the officers. During the six years of sex crimes by the two policemen, more than a dozen women were victimized by the officers while numerous complaints were ignored. “They do owe the community an explanation,” Zelenka said about the cop sex scandal. “It’s been too long.”
Zelenka said he also hopes that EPD will move to reduce its higher rate of stops and searches of minorities. “I don’t think the EPD should be race profiling.”
A top city priority is fixing the city’s $110 million road maintenance backlog, Zelenka said. “We have to add more money.”
Zelenka opposes taking the money out of general fund surpluses. He also criticizes an unpopular proposed road tax (TSMF) that would have charged homeowners a flat fee regardless of how much they drove or could afford.
He said he supports the business side of that tax, which varied by traffic generation. “Businesses absolutely have to pay their fare share.”
Zelenka also said he’d like to explore a commuter tax. He cites statistics that half of the people who work in Eugene don’t live in Eugene and wouldn’t have paid the road tax, he said. “Half! That blew me away,” he said. To stick their share of the road tax on residents “is not fair and it’s not right.”
When it comes to downtown redevelopment, Zelenka is supportive and critical of the city’s approach. Downtown needs a “mix of national and local” retailers, he said. “It shouldn’t all be in one hand. But there needs to be coordination.”
It would be “worth exploring” directing incentives directly to local tenants downtown rather than developers, as some existing renters downtown have proposed, Zelenka said. “You’ve got to get the people down there.”
Zelenka opposed the Whole Foods parking garage. He said it would have been better as an underground garage topped by a park. He also adds that right now it’s already “pretty easy to park downtown” without the garage.
At EWEB, Zelenka said whether the utility wants to move “should be driven by EWEB.” He said he’d like to see a mix of development and riparian set-back at the site, but he declined to provide a percentage. “I don’t necessarily think it should be a giant park.”
On tax breaks, Zelenka said the city should renegotiate its enterprise zone rules with the county now that the County Commission may have a more progressive majority. “That’s a good idea,” he said. “I’d support that.”
The county had earlier forced the city to drop a per-job cap on tax breaks in the zone and stronger pro-labor and environmental requirements. The weaker rules gave potential millions of dollars more in tax breaks to Hynix, which has already received more than $50 million.
But Zelenka supports giving 10-year residential tax waivers to developers of high-quality apartments and condos downtown and near the UO.
Zelenka said Triad needs to build a hospital to provide “choice of providers and choice” of reproductive services versus the Catholic Sacred Heart. He declined to comment on the Delta Highway site, but Zelenka said the hospital should be in Eugene for the tax revenue it will provide, although the hospital will also cost a lot in city services.
The council plans to discuss its relationship with the manager’s city attorney in April at a session entitled, “Who’s the Client?”
“I think it’s a critical issue to talk about,” Zelenka said. He said he’s interested in the city hiring an in-house attorney to give the city more control over work done by the outside city attorney firm.
Zelenka said the council takes itself too seriously. Personally, he said, he’d like to “change the tone and bring a little more humor to it.”
Mike Clark, 43, lives in a cul-de-sac off Coburg Road, just past Costco with his wife and two kids, 4 and 7. He’s proud of putting himself through the UO to earn a political science degree in 1988. He worked five college summers in a fishing cannery in the Alaska Panhandle. “I can take you a salmon into a couple good-size filets in a couple moments,” he laughs.
Sitting in an armchair in the library of his modest home, he winces and rubs his thumb, remembering how he would put salt in cuts on his hands to disinfect the wounds from the salmon slime. “It would kill me to do that work now.”
At the UO, Clark started his own fraternity with some other friends after they found the existing frats too “obnoxious.” He ran for fraternity system vice-president at the UO and lost to someone who later ran Republican Gordon Smith’s Senate campaign.
One of Clark’s school-year jobs was selling ads for the Daily Emerald, and after college he went on to sell ads for KUGN conservative talk radio and for FOX television. In 1992, he broke off to start his own advertising and public relations company, Marketing Consultants Incorporated.
He served as president of the Eugene Active 20-30 Club, a social group that raises money for special needs children. At a 20-30 national convention, he met his wife.
Clark worked as the communications director for a couple dozen conservative Republican campaigns including those for County Commissioner Faye Stewart, state Rep. Bruce Hanna of Roseburg, Rep. Jim Welsh of Elmira, Rep. Cedric Hayden of Elmira and state Sen. Jeff Kruse, Roseburg. He also worked for the recent Springfield campaign for a new jail and police levy.
Clark said the political work doesn’t pay enough, so he also works on commercial advertising campaigns and marketing of products for a variety of local retailers. Looking for more stable work, he took a job last year with the Cawood PR firm. But he said that after six months, both he and his employer concluded the job wasn’t a good fit.
Clark said his marketing and PR work doesn’t involve conflicts of interest with his council work, and he knows he has to declare them if they do.
Last year Clark ran unopposed for the council in Ward 5, which hasn’t had an opposed election in more than a decade. In 2004, 53 percent voted for Democrat John Kerry in the northwest Eugene ward.
Although his election campaign received little coverage, Clark did make headlines when he came forward to The Register-Guard to report that he had been pulled over for drunk driving. The offense was “awkward,” Clark said, forcing him to call the district attorney and other people who had endorsed him to apologize. But he said it was better to come forward and “take my medicine.” He pled guilty and just finished his diversion program.
As a councilor, Clark said he’s focused on core services. “We need to make sure the potholes get filled and the guys in the red trucks show up when you dial 911.”
“I’m an admirer of Ronald Reagan,” said Clark, beneath several books about the Republican president. Clark said he grew up in a conservative, blue-collar household and believes in fiscal restraint and limited government.
He said he’s disappointed that fellow Republican George Bush’s Iraq war “was run badly” and “people died because of that.” But Clark said he is not sure it was a mistake to invade. “I understand why we talked about going in.”
He said he has friends that are deployed to Iraq. “I want them home quickly and safely, but I want the mission accomplished too.”
Asked about global warming, Clark said he’s a “huge supporter” of Mayor Kitty Piercy’s Sustainable Business Initiative. “I’d like to see the rest of the business community jump in as well.”
He said he’s all for green power and said that Tom McCall, the Republican governor who founded many of Oregon’s anti-sprawl protections and environmental innovations, “was a great man.”
Brought back to global warming, Clark said he believes it’s “unquestionably happening,” but he said he still questions how much is caused by humans, and the costs and benefits of trying to reduce pollution to reduce warming. “I have lots of questions about what’s the consensus, how do we know?”
A recent scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded it is 90 percent certain that human pollution is causing global warming with potentially disastrous consequences.
Like Zelenka, Clark said he’d like to see a big increase in spending on police. Despite a flat or falling crime rate and per-capita staffing higher than Springfield and equal to Salem, Clark said Eugene police officers are “pretty strained” with their work load.
More officers would increase low police morale and allow for more community policing interaction with citizens, he said. Clark said looking for fiscal efficiencies in the police department as the city has done in other departments would be “micromanaging.”
Clark didn’t vote for a new police auditor but said he will follow the will of voters and implement it. He’s skeptical of the need for an investigation into whether other officers did something wrong in hiring and supervising and handling complaints during officers Magaña and Lara’s long sex crime spree. He said he has “every confidence” in the police chief to do what’s right.
Clark faults the City Council for voting to kill the West Eugene Parkway. He said the council “ignored” the vote of the people on the issue. Parkway critics said the earlier close vote was for a parkway costing almost half as much.
Clark recently spearheaded a failed effort on the council to expand the urban growth boundary, creating a windfall for developers and land speculators. He said that if Eugene doesn’t grow out, outlying cities will grow in. “The reality is the edges are growing in to meet it.”
He acknowledges that instead of subsidizing sprawl with higher taxes, Eugene could pursue an approach of creating compact, affordable housing. “We can do it more densely,” he said, but notes that neighborhoods feel threatened by infill development.
“We don’t want to become California,” he said of urban sprawl. But he added, “we have to talk about balance.”
Clark said building a new City Hall is less important than filling potholes. First, he said, “We need to deal with the backlog of deferred road maintenance.” If not, the City Hall “just won’t pass.”
Clark is a big fan of tax breaks and garages for corporations and developers. He argues that tax breaks incentivise development that wouldn’t happen without them, so “nobody’s losing anything” by giving away the millions of dollars in revenue.
Tax break critics, including leading economists, have long argued that big tax breaks, such as the more than $50 million for Hynix, simply give money away for development and location decisions that would have happened anyway.
Clark’s conservative Republican politics may clash with other councilors in a town that voted 68 percent for Kerry in 2004. But Clark said he’ll work to get along to get things done. “It’s not about partisan politics,” he said. “On the City Council, there’s no Republican way to fill potholes.”