Eugene Weekly : News : 10.18.07

Election Endorsements

Eugene Measure 20-134: NO. This measure amends the downtown urban renewal plan to increase spending (public subsidies) by at least $40 million. We are eager for the center of our city to thrive, transformed into a place of pride for all of us. EW is a downtown business. Many of our employees live on the edges of downtown. EW has supported one downtown initiative after another, opening the streets, even eliminating the children’s play area, and favoring the recent Connor-Woolley proposals as far as they went.

But we do not support 20-134. This is a pig-in-a-poke measure and, to use another old cliché, if you believe that $40 million is essentially “free” money with no tax consequences for your city to give to developers, you should be bidding on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Right now the city of Eugene has about $5 million available in downtown urban renewal funds, plus about $20 million in other development incentives to fund downtown projects. That’s enough to immediately develop both the Aster and Sears pits, subsidize housing, reclaim historic buildings, and much more. Let’s do these projects now, at the same time preserving the opportunity for local businesses to compete downtown.

Let’s not OK an additional $40 million in urban renewal funds for a project that will be developer-dictated, no matter how many committees, planning departments or city councils say otherwise. That’s the way it works. Once developers have the subsidy, they gain a powerful threat to pull out and go away. So much city staff and political capital has been spent on the big KWG proposal that every effort will be made to keep KWG happy — and 13 percent profitable.

The most famous big urban renewal project in downtown Eugene closed streets, put up an ugly fortress-fountain, destroyed historic buildings and helped kill the center city. Let’s learn from our mistakes, invest in smaller projects, and do all we can to support and grow local downtown businesses, housing, parks and entertainment. It’s already happening. A rising housing complex is coloring a new skyline next to the WOW Hall. Davis’ restaurant is buzzing. New law offices are going up where the Bookmark was. Art, music and food abound. Join us in voting no on Measure 20-134. 

Eugene Measure 20-132: YES. This measure adds a 3 cents a gallon fuel tax to the current 5 cent tax, to be used to repair streets and roads within the city limits. With regular gas in Eugene ranging from $2.77 to $3.21 a gallon (, we doubt many Eugeneans will burn gas to drive to Springfield to save a few pennies. Meanwhile, Eugene is falling behind on street maintenance, and it’s cheaper in the long run to fix streets than to replace them. Cracks and potholes are also damaging to vehicles and dangerous to bicyclists. What’s needed is for the state to impose a bigger statewide fuel tax and weight-mile tax that will hit the truckers who do the most damage to our pavement, not only on the highways but also on our city streets and county roads. Higher gas taxes also encourage people to drive less, something local livability and the planet desperately need. 

Springfield Measure 20-131: NO. This measure would slightly increase taxes and divert at least $43 million from school, city and county tax revenues for “urban renewal” projects in downtown Springfield. We doubt most Springfield voters really know what they’re voting on here. The city first needs an honest, informed debate on the large size of the district, tax diversion, tax increases and other uses for the money. For example, instead of taxing citizens for a new jail facility downtown, the city could have used urban renewal. 

State Measure 49: YES. This measure referred by the Legislature repairs some of the damage and confusion created by the flawed Measure 37 that Oregon voters approved in 2004. We would much rather see Measure 37 completely abolished, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon and the clock is ticking on thousands of land-use atrocities in the works. Measure 49 fixes some of the most egregious consequences of Measure 37, such as permitting sprawling housing developments, strip malls, gravel pits and billboards on valuable farm and forestlands. One of the big problems with Measure 37 is the inequities it created: Some landowners gained development rights while their neighbors did not; and developments on resource lands can actually drive down the value of surrounding land. It’s a legal and ethical mess. Measure 49 is a step toward restoring commonsense land use planning in Oregon.

State Measure 50: YES. This measure adds 84.5 cents per pack to the tobacco taxes currently in effect, with the proceeds going to bolster Oregon’s Healthy Kids program. The measure earns matching federal funds and provides health insurance to about 100,000 Oregon children and about 10,000 low-income adults through the Oregon Health Plan. The tobacco corporations’ multi-million-dollar TV ad campaign against Measure 50 avoids any mention of smoking or health care for children. Instead, the ads talk about politicians, higher taxes and inept bureaucrats. It’s all smoke and mirrors. The new tax is regressive in that it affects low-income smokers more than other smokers, but raising the cost of tobacco discourages young people from starting the expensive habit, and encourages smokers to quit. We don’t love higher taxes, but here’s one that literally saves lives in multiple ways.