Letters to the Editor 12/10/20 | Letters to the Editor | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
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Letters to the Editor 12/10/20 

Guest Opinion: Bend Parks Fees and Low-Income Housing

Editor's note:

In a year that's been filled with ups and downs and everything seeming topsy turvy, we elected to focus our two-part Gift Guide on two things that most people could use a good dose of this year: First, Comfort. Second, Joy. The "Joy" portion comes in this week's edition, where we've rounded up a (far-from-comprehensive) list of joyful gift options you can get locally, and even buy online.

The event will look different this year (what doesn't in 2020?!) but the annual menorah lighting at the Old Mill is still happening this year, and slated for Thursday Dec. 10 at 4:30pm. The ceremony takes place in the westside parking lot across the Deschutes River from the shops, near the Hampton Inn, where people can watch the menorah lighting from their cars. After the lighting, the menorah will be placed in the Old Mill's Center Plaza, where it's been placed in other years—like the one seen here. - COURTESY OLD MILL DISTRICT
  • Courtesy Old Mill District
  • The event will look different this year (what doesn't in 2020?!) but the annual menorah lighting at the Old Mill is still happening this year, and slated for Thursday Dec. 10 at 4:30pm. The ceremony takes place in the westside parking lot across the Deschutes River from the shops, near the Hampton Inn, where people can watch the menorah lighting from their cars. After the lighting, the menorah will be placed in the Old Mill's Center Plaza, where it's been placed in other years—like the one seen here.

With the outdoors being among the few (relatively) unrestricted places we can go these days, you'll find lots of options to foster a love of places wild and unpopulated. For my own part, getting out for my first Nordic-ski session of the season brought lots of joy—and also, inevitably... the need for comfort in the way of warm fires and hot drinks. Enjoy the week, Central Oregon!

Guest Opinion: Bend Parks Fees and Low-Income Housing

Bend is growing rapidly, and one of the problems is a shortage of affordable housing for low-income residents.

One of the strategies floated to reduce housing costs is to waive Bend Park & Recreation District's system development charge program for low-income housing projects. The BPRD has already done this for nearly 400 units. 

These fees are a one-time fee placed on all new housing. SDCs can only be used to expand park infrastructure necessary to accommodate new growth. SDCs cannot be used to pay for operations, maintenance or repair or the development of administrative facilities. 

Since SDCs were implemented they have fully funded the acquisition or development of 27 neighborhood parks, 15 community parks, Riley Ranch Nature Reserve, Shevlin Park, Larkspur Community Center and several significant trails, including the South Canyon Trail Bridge, portions of the Deschutes River Trail, Central Oregon Historic Canal Trail, Larkspur Trail, Coyner Trail and other trail segments. 

I believe Bend's abundance of local and regional parks is one of the factors that make the city an attractive place to live. 

While I am sympathetic to the difficulty for low-income residents to find reasonable housing, I do not believe short-changing Bend's park acquisition and trails is the way to solve this problem. 

Indeed, the policy of infill is rapidly eliminating back lots, undeveloped lands and natural spaces. Housing now covers two empty blocks of sagebrush, grass and juniper/pine that once existed just down the street from my house when I bought it. Now the only partially natural and open space is my local neighborhood park. 

Throughout the city, these empty spaces and little patches of nature are being eliminated. While I support the infill policy, we must recognize that these open spaces are being eliminated year by year and will never be replaced—unless we strategically purchase land for parks and nature reserves. 

Of all of Bend's residents, low-income people need open space, parks and trails more than anyone. Most low-income housing is characterized by limited yard and green space. Lots are small to non-existent. Children need open space close to home to play in and learn about nature. 

The fees that the district charges builders do not significantly raise the cost of housing. For instance, the one-time charge for a single-family home is approximately $8,600 and $5,800 per multi-family unit. 

A builder that might charge $300,000 for a home would at most be adding another $8,600 to the total price tag. Amortized over a 30-year mortgage, it only adds about $40 per month to the cost of homeownership. It is hard to imagine that $40 a month would prevent someone from purchasing a house.

Of course, the larger point is that developers and realtors price houses for sale based upon what the market will bear, not based on their costs to build (including SDCs and other fees, permits, etc.). They sell their product for the highest price at which it will sell. 

Undoubtedly Bend is going to be more congested, with more infill and fewer patches of natural space. All residents benefit from parks, but low-income residents need them as much or more than others. 

—George Wuerthner is an ecologist and author of 38 books dealing with environmental and natural history topics. His most recent book is "Protecting the Wild: Parks and Wilderness the Foundation for Conservation." He resides in Bend. 

An Open Letter to Gov. Kate Brown and ODE Director Colt Gill, regarding School Testing and Opening

Dear Governor Brown and Director Gill,

Thank you for your tireless advocacy on behalf of Central Oregonians. We are confident that your efforts since March have saved countless lives and mitigated the spread of COVID-19. Without your leadership, we would surely be in an even direr situation.

We are writing to formally request that you further prioritize in-person K-12 education in Oregon, by overhauling current criteria for school reopening to recognize improved scientific understanding of COVID spread among children and opportunities to contain infection through screening and testing. Please consider (1) allowing elementary school students to return to in-person instruction on January 4, 2021, and (2) mobilizing available resources over the next 30 days toward a systematic testing approach focused on testing/screening students, teachers, and staff who choose to participate in in-person learning to prevent major outbreaks in schools and communities.

Our community, like most of Oregon, is encountering the darkest hour of the pandemic to date. But there is no more important institution in our community than education. We see this as an opportunity to refocus on centralized proactive testing as a way forward out of the current phase of the pandemic. Families and teachers have supported these measures across the country. This is a dynamic public health crisis. The science is young and challenging for us as policymakers to digest and act on quickly. But data now show that elementary schools do not significantly contribute to spread of COVID-19.

To that end, we ask that you:

• Centralize and emphasize community testing of students, teachers, and staff at elementary schools, striving to match or exceed New York City Department of Education goals of testing 20% of students, teachers, and staff who choose to participate in in-person school on a monthly basis.

• Open K-5 elementary schools on January 4, 2021, independent from county test positivity or county case rate, in consultation with public health authorities.

• Allocate and advocate for funding to ensure schools are as safe as possible for children and safe workplaces for teachers and staff, including ensuring that schools have the funding necessary to reduce class sizes in order to meet spacing and other health and safety requirements and funding for solutions and measures for teachers and staff unable to work in the classroom.

• Continue and strengthen, as needed, science-based restrictions and contact tracing on gatherings, businesses, and other sources of the spread of COVID-19 that have resulted in significant outbreaks.

• Implement measures to ensure older children can return to school safely as soon as possible after January 4, 2021.

• Prioritize opportunities for vaccination for teachers and staff as vaccines become available.

Kids from all backgrounds are suffering disproportionately from the lack of in-person education. But school closures are exacerbating the privilege gap, which is particularly concerning in communities like ours, where we struggle to serve our most vulnerable kids and families. Workers and small businesses and families who depend on them will also continue to struggle if we fail to open schools, both now (as parents stay home to teach their children) and in the future (as we fail to adequately educate a generation of Oregonians). Solving the current and growing economic crisis hinges on whether we can meet the current public health crisis.

You have been presented with an exceedingly difficult situation and led us admirably. We owe it to Central Oregon children and teachers to act on the data now available to us—to pivot from "treating schools like they are uniquely dangerous, when in fact they are uniquely essential." We are confident that working together, if this effort proves misguided, we can nimbly adapt as Oregonians have done throughout this pandemic. Thank you for your leadership.

Sincerely,

—Sally Russell, Mayor of Bend, Anthony Broadman, Bend City Councilor-elect, Melanie Kebler, Bend City Councilor-elect, Megan Perkins, Bend City Councilor-elect, Rita Schenkelberg, Bend City Councilor-elect, Gena Goodman-Campbell, Bend City Councilor, Justin Livingston, Bend City Councilor, Bruce Abernethy, Bend City Councilor, Chris Piper, Bend City Councilor, Bill Moseley, Bend City Councilor, Barb Campbell, Bend City Councilor, Phil Chang, Deschutes County Commissioner-elect, Rep. Cheri Helt, HD 54, Carrie Douglass, Chair, Bend-La Pine School Board, Amy Tatom, FNP, Bend-La Pine School Board, Caroline Skidmore, Bend-La Pine School Board, Julie Craig, Bend-La Pine School Board, Shimiko Montgomery, Bend-La Pine School Board, Katy Brooks, CEO, Bend Chamber

Letter of the Week:

Community leaders: As journalists, trained to be witnesses and mirrors of our community, we have spent the better part of this year seeing and telling the stories of often-conflicting concerns and challenges wrought by this pandemic. We support our Governor's leadership. We respect the scientific process of inquiry and discovery—and inquiring and discovering yet again when new information becomes available. And, as we synthesize it all, we also have come to the same conclusion as those signing this letter. As an editorial board, our position is in line with this letter, and we award Letter of the Week to this group.

For those who disagree, your input is always welcome on this page, which is dedicated to the ongoing, diverse and spirited dialogue that moves communities forward.

—Nicole Vulcan

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