The day after being elected mayor of Bend by fellow councilors, Casey Roats sat down with the Source Weekly to talk about the future of the city and his new role. "I'm looking forward to serving as mayor. It's a real honor. It's not something I campaigned for and I wasn't seeking it out." But when he offered to serve in the role, fellow councilors agreed. "I'm hoping people will find this council to be productive and organized. We'll get things done," he told us.
Ultimately, Roats says he favors a citywide election for the position of mayor rather than the present selection process. This time around, fellow councilor Sally Russell was thought to be councilors' choice, but during the selection process she declined the nomination.
Casey Roats is a fourth-generation Bend resident whose family started Roats Water System in southeast Bend in the early 1960s. His grandfather came to Bend after losing a card game while working at Hoover Dam during the Great Depression. "My grandpa built the business very slowly – one house at a time," Roats told us. "It was a labor of love for a long time and now it's just large enough for my family and me to be a part of it."
He graduated from Mountain View High School in 1999, then attended Central Oregon Community College (COCC) and OSU-Cascades. While studying at Blue Mountain Community College he was a roper on the college rodeo team. In 2005, Roats returned home to work in the family business, growing with the housing boom.
As a Bend native, Roats has seen much change and expects more. "In my lifetime here in Bend, I don't know anything but change and I'm really comfortable with change," he says. Noting that Bend's growth has fueled greater opportunities, Roats says it also presents challenges.
Throughout his time on council, Roats has supported Bend's urban boundary expansion in the hopes that more housing will help reduce costs. "We are rent-burdening far too many people. We have far too many people on the ragged edge of insolvency. The people who provide the services we all rely on need enough places to live that they can invest in being here."
To create more housing density, Roats says: "We're going to have to raise height restrictions. There will be some angst. We'll work to preserve the character of Bend and our views, but we have to find ways for people who are working here to be able to afford to live here."
While the city studies downtown parking needs, including the potential of a second parking garage, it's also required by state mandate to reduce parking by 10 percent. Roats says he's not a fan of that requirement. As a result, he feels transit will play a bigger role.
"I am a proponent of investing in transit so people can be mobile," he said. "As our transit system becomes more robust and we place it where multi-family housing units are built, I'm hoping we'll see the day when people can conveniently work downtown, go to college or work at the hospital without necessarily having to be dependent on two cars."
Roats says he supports developing some of the city's most valuable real estate bordering Drake Park and the Deschutes River where two parking lots are currently located. "If we could put those parking lots to a higher and greater use and not encroach on public access to the park and the river then I'm all for that," he says. "If that land can be developed and provide tax revenues for our local governments for the improvements and services we need to provide, then I'm all for that." However, he said, "I don't support the city of Bend being the developer." Roats feels public/private partnerships should plan for a diversity of uses, including potential housing.
Working in his family's utility business, Roats is keenly aware of the costs associated with required transitions from failing septic systems in Southeast Bend to the city's sewer system. As documented by the Source Weekly, it can cost up to $80,000 for the transitions. A city task force is being organized to address the problem and Roats feels the eventual formation of Local Improvement Districts (LIDs) will reduce the individual cost.
Roats acknowledges the city is facing major financial concerns, including the current challenge of snowplowing streets. Next year there will be more potholes to fill and the city's budget is already stretched. For that reason, he says he voted against the recent climate change resolution because it forces the city to meet costly standards without a thorough cost analysis.