Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The Eugene Register-Guard, Aug. 14, on Buehler elevating homeless issue:
Republican Knute Buehler is making homelessness a centerpiece of his campaign for governor, and the focus is welcome. He has released a seven-point plan for ending unsheltered homelessness in Oregon by 2023 - and while details of his program are open to dispute, Buehler has done a service by elevating this issue to the state level. Buehler and incumbent Democratic Gov. Kate Brown should debate homelessness with the same urgency they devote to education and health care.
Homelessness has tended to be regarded as a local problem, or an urban problem - but it’s an Oregon problem, affecting every county in the state. And at a time when Oregon’s unemployment rate is uncharacteristically below the national average, the number of homeless people in the state is growing. In a meeting this week with The Register-Guard’s editorial board, Buehler cited a 2017 federal report that found a 6 percent increase in the number of homeless people in Oregon over the past two years, and that Oregon has the nation’s highest rate of youth homelessness.
Buehler said he’s talking about homelessness because he’s hearing about it from voters all over the state - they see its effect on law enforcement, health care, education and the quality of life. The scale of the problem demands state leadership, Buehler said, and he’s right. He also showed a firm grasp of the fact that the many costs of homelessness, ranging from increased emergency room visits to a loss of human dignity, can exceed the cost of programs to address it.
Buehler proposes improving Medicaid-funded mental health services, opening 4,000 temporary shelter beds, creating 4,000 spaces in supported housing programs, providing rental assistance for low-income families, expanding affordable housing programs, giving local governments more authority to regulate behavior such as lying on sidewalks, enhancing job training and other measures to address or prevent homelessness. The overarching goal would be to provide people with the means to move toward self-sufficiency.
Brown should offer a critique of Buehler’s plan, and suggest one of her own. Ending unsheltered homelessness in five years is ambitious - but ambition at the state level is surely more useful than indifference. It’s an issue that belongs high on any governor’s agenda.
The Bend Bulletin, Aug. 14, on smoke rules needing flexibility:
Smoke does not play by the rules. When a prescribed burn is lit in Central Oregon, the state’s rules say Bend and Redmond are not to get any smoke intrusions at all.
That has proven to be nearly impossible. And with that standard, it can be difficult to plan a burn.
The state is in the process of revising the smoke management rules, intending to add needed flexibility. But Deschutes County commissioners are scheduled to discuss on Wednesday how one new aspect of the rules will not give the county the latitude it needs.
Striking the right balance on prescribed burns is almost doomed to fail. For starters, some forest scientists dispute the value of prescribed burns. They say there’s evidence that limited prescribed burns don’t do much for the forest or won’t appreciably reduce the severity of the most intense fires.
The debates don’t end there. Even a small whiff of smoke can cause serious problems for people with asthma and many other medical conditions. Does that mean all burns should be banned? It’s also difficult for science to say precisely how much smoke is safe.
One proposed change in the state rules is a change in the definition of a smoke intrusion. As we said, in areas such as Bend and Redmond, there are supposed to be no intrusions from burns. The state is considering revising that level from zero to “a one-hour threshold at or above 70 micrograms per cubic meter and a 24-hour average at or above 26 micrograms per cubic meter measured midnight to midnight on the first day of smoke entrance into a community.”
It adds flexibility. But it worries county officials. A draft letter from the county says the 1-hour threshold is a step backward. Deschutes County Forester Ed Keith said most of the prescribed burns in the last five years within 5 miles of Bend would have violated that threshold.
Towns in Central Oregon are extremely vulnerable to wildfire. That’s part of where we live. But the rules for smoke from prescribed burns shouldn’t be so restrictive to prevent the community from better protecting itself.
Albany Democrat-Herald, Aug. 14, on OSU’s Peavy Hall facing additional scrutiny as timber showcase:
Few, if any, construction projects on an Oregon campus have undergone the kind of scrutiny that Oregon State University’s Peavy Hall has faced.
But then again, few projects are carrying the load that Peavy Hall has shouldered: Not only is the new building intended to be the home of OSU’s College of Forestry, it also is intended to showcase a technology that could help revitalize the state’s wood-products industry. Peavy was meant (and still is meant) to be a poster project for the use of cross-laminated timber panels, glu-lam columns and other engineered wood products rather than steel and concrete for structural support.
It hasn’t worked out that way thus far for Peavy, the centerpiece of a planned three-building Oregon Forest Science Complex.
The project has been dogged by controversy from the start: Some students and faculty in the College of Forestry say that the original Peavy Hall, which was torn down in 2016, could have been renovated for far less than the cost of a new building. The budget for the entire Forest Science Complex has ballooned from $60 million to $79.5 million.
The building was meant to be ready in the fall of 2017, but that timeline has been repeatedly modified amid rising construction costs and other issues. Just last week, this newspaper reported about yet another delay. OSU officials now hope to open the building in the fall of 2019.
Worse, a construction accident has fueled worries about the very cross-laminated timber products that Peavy was meant to showcase, even though those products have been in use in Europe for more than two decades.
On March 14, part of a 4-foot-by-20-foot section of CLT subflooring on the third floor of Peavy buckled and tumbled onto the floor below. No one was injured when the 1,000-pound sheet of wood fell.
OSU and builders immediately hit the pause button on the project to determine what went wrong. The issue was traced to a glitch in the manufacturing process at the DR Johnson mill in Riddle, where preheating of 2-by-6 boards resulted in improper curing of adhesives holding the cross-laminated layers of wood together.
The situation was quickly corrected by the manufacturer, but CLT panels that had already been installed had to be evaluated for potential problems. To date, OSU officials said, 40 faulty panels have been replaced and another 45 have been identified for replacement. Others are still being evaluated for safety.
OSU remains committed to the use of CLT panels in the complex. OSU Vice President Steve Clark, in a story about Peavy that recently ran in The Oregonian, said he preferred to think about the setbacks “as a learning moment that we hope will never happen again.”
But the Peavy affair has opened a window for CLT skeptics: “The OSU building is a godsend,” The Oregonian quoted an official with the Portland Fire Fighters’ Union as saying. “They found a defect. Now, they need to take a break and listen to all the stakeholders.”
In fact, firefighters - worried that CLT structures might be more susceptible to flames than traditional concrete-and-steel structures - have signaled opposition to plans to build skyscrapers with the panels. And plans to build a 12-story skyscraper in Portland and a similar structure in Manhattan have been scrapped.
So you can bet Peavy will be the center of attention as construction resumes on the complex. “You’ve got a new product coming on line and the last thing you need is a failure,” said a consultant quoted by The Oregonian. “You just can’t afford any black eyes early in the development.”
Now, the question of whether CLT and similar techniques can truly help to revitalize Oregon’s wood-products industry may hinge on whether Peavy can shake off that shiner. That healing requires OSU to be as open as possible about Peavy’s progress - and any additional issues - for the rest of the construction period and after it opens its doors.
Corvallis Gazette-Times, Aug. 13, on examining the ebb tide in initiatives:
Oregon voters will face just five statewide ballot issues in the November election, the lowest number in nearly four decades and a surprising development in a state that in recent years hasn’t been shy about pushing initiatives onto the ballot.
In a recent editorial, we speculated about the reasons behind the decline; at the time we wrote that, four measures had qualified for the ballot. Shortly after that, Measure 106, a constitutional amendment that would ban public funds from being spent on abortions in Oregon, became the fifth measure to earn a slot on the ballot.
All five measures take on hot-button issues in Oregon, and at least four of them likely will draw plenty of attention in the fall campaign. (The exception likely will be Measure 102, which would allow local governments to issue bonds to pay for affordable housing projects that involve nonprofits or other nongovernmental entities. Our guess is that measure is unlikely to be particularly controversial.)
That won’t be the case for the other ballot measures. In addition to the abortion issue, consider these:
. Measure 103 is a constitutional amendment that would bar new taxes on groceries, including food and soda, as well as freeze the state’s corporate minimum tax for supermarkets.
. Measure 104 is a constitutional amendment that would require a three-fifths supermajority for legislation that raises revenue through changes in tax exemptions, credits and deductions.
. Measure 105 would overturn the 1987 sanctuary law that prohibits state and local police from enforcing immigration law if a person’s only violation is being in the country illegally.
These all are questions that voters will need to consider carefully. But, still, it’s easier to do that for five state measures than it is for, say, 26 measures, the load that voters faced in the 2000 election.
Since our initial editorial appeared, other political observers have weighed in on the reasons why this Oregon ballot is so light on initiatives. Some have mentioned, as we did, the various changes in signature-gathering procedures that have tended to make it more difficult to get initiatives on the ballot. We don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing: It should be hard to get an initiative on the ballot, just like it should be hard to get a bill passed by the Legislature. (We often forget that a vital role for the Legislature is to stop bad ideas from becoming law; you can assess for yourself how successful Oregon’s Legislature has been at that task.)
Other longtime political observers, such as former Secretary of State Phil Keisling, argue that voters are simply burned out on initiatives. “The biggest thing, I think, is fatigue,” Keisling told The Oregonian, and we suspect there’s a measure of truth to that.
The Oregonian story pointed to another factor we hadn’t considered: Money that used to be spent on ballot measures is flowing instead to legislative candidates. In 2016, the newspaper noted, more than $11 million was spent on legislative races. (It works out to about $150,000 per race, a lot of cash for a state that prides itself on its citizen Legislature.)
The Oregonian also noted that some of the conservative activists who helped spearhead initiative campaigns have been on the political sidelines in recent years.
The relatively small number of initiatives on the ballot isn’t a bad thing: For one thing, it gives voters a fighting chance to consider each of the measures with greater care.
And, truth be told, many of the more complicated matters that used to be presented as ballot measures should be the province of legislators, who have the time and resources to more carefully examine complex issues during their sessions in Salem. But there’s a flip side to that: If the Legislature fails to act on the vital questions facing Oregon, this current ebb tide in statewide ballot measures likely will be short-lived.
The Daily Astorian, Aug. 9, on Bottle Bill rate increase paying dividends:
While there are plenty of things that divide Oregonians, there are three pillars that unite us.
We speak, of course, of no sales tax, no self-pumping at gas stations and the Bottle Bill.
They’re so ingrained in our unique Oregonian culture that it seems fundamentally wrong when we’re visiting another state and see that extra line at the bottom of a receipt adding to our purchase total, or pull into a gas station and wait a beat before realizing we’re going to have to climb out and work the machine ourselves. Perhaps the most egregious is when we see friends who don’t know any better toss a soda can into the garbage, or drive down the highways of other states and see aluminum, plastic and glass littered alongside the road.
A sales tax would undoubtedly stabilize this state’s unpredictable economic cycles and give us a good case for lowering the income tax rate. Self-serve gas has proven to be non-apocalyptic in much of rural Oregon. But our famous Bottle Bill, which set up the country’s first beverage recycling deposit system in 1971, should be enshrined as one of our state’s greatest achievements.
Nine other states have followed in our footsteps since 1971, creating an incentive to recycle one-use containers rather than pitching them in a trash can, gutter or wildlife habitat.
The Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative redeemed 1.3 billion containers in 2017 alone, according to Peter Spendlow of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. An increase from 5 cent deposits to 10 cents in April 2017 has helped increase redemption numbers. The redemption rate was 59 percent in January through March of 2017, then 82 percent in April through December.
The return rate for non-Bottle Bill states is about 28 percent, according to the online Bottle Bill Resource Guide.
Distributors, who receive the initial deposit and pay it back at the end of the cycle, came out ahead at $25 million in unreturned containers. But the big win is that the incentive of a dime did what it was supposed to and got us back into the habit of returning our cans and bottles.
Overall, Americans are sloppy recyclers. We’re not alone in that trait, but we’re bad at sorting before we drop off and, because of the mess we leave, much of the world’s refuse is no longer accepted at processing centers in China. That’s bad for the world, as material that can be reused is instead piling up in landfills.
Bottles and cans are unique in that they are easily sorted, and a targeted campaign provides a greater return on investment than other materials.
As a bonus, the deposits have also become an effective fundraising mechanism for nonprofits.
So whether you return your cans and bottles yourself, donate them to a charity or give them to a neighbor kid looking to make a few bucks, the daily effect of the bottle bill is what you don’t see - litter and waste in our state.
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