It's an ancient tradition among columnists (and their Internet Age descendants, the bloggers) to present joke "gifts" to public figures at Christmas. For instance, a heart for Dick Cheney, a brain for Sarah Palin and a pair of cojones for Barack Obama.
This year, in a twist on that tradition, I'd like to confer a special gift on the long-suffering citizens of Bend: the ability to express righteous indignation.
To get angry, in plain English. Outraged, even. And to dare to stand up on their hind legs and holler about it.
The front page of Wednesday's Bulletin carried a story headlined: "City of Bend may have to find another $1 million for growth plan."
The gist of it was that the state Department of Land Conservation and Development has found "fatal flaws" in the city's Urban Growth Boundary expansion plan and is almost certain to make the city take it back to the drawing board. The unnecessarily long, drawn-out process of developing the plan already has cost $4 million; now the city most likely will have to come up with another $500,000 to $1 million to revise it - or as much as $1 million more if it decides to fight the changes the state wants.
The expansion plan is ridiculously bloated, bringing an additional 9,000 acres within the UGB. It started out much smaller, but city officials caved to pressure from development interests and added more land - especially on the Westside, where Brooks Resources and the Miller family own large parcels. The rationalization was that the city needed all that land to accommodate future growth. But projections of future growth were based on expectations that Bend would continue to grow at the breakneck pace of the bubble years. And those expectations, as everybody now knows - and as more than a few knew at the time - were worth about as much as an investment with Bernie Madoff.
At least a couple of city councilors seem prepared to face reality. One of them, Tom Greene, told The Bulletin: "Times have changed and maybe now we don't need that much [land] for a 20-year supply."
And Greene is a realtor, of all things. Hallelujah!
But Brian Shetterly, the city's long-range planning director, seems to be beating the drums for a legal battle that could cost as much as $1 million - this at a time when the city is contemplating asking voters for a tax increase to avoid cutting police and fire services.
Shetterly admitted that defending the plan would be costly but warned that accepting the state's changes could have other costs, such as higher property prices. Right now it looks like Bend won't have to worry about high property prices for the next 10 years - if ever.
Shetterly also laid the blame for the expensive UGB process on the state rather than the city: "It should not be easy to do a major expansion, but it should also not have to be, in Bend's case, the sort of thing that goes on for years and results in many millions of dollars in costs."
But that dog won't hunt. As the Bulletin story noted, the City of Redmond worked with the state in planning its UGB expansion and was able to get the job done and approved in four months.
Any taxpayer who isn't furious at this point should undergo an EEG immediately to make sure he still has brain activity. But my experience of Bend citizens is that they're a meek, hyper-polite bunch who'd rather fume in silence than make a public stink about anything.
That needs to change.
It wasn't bad enough that our city leaders encouraged ugly, sprawling growth by giving the developer/builder/realtor lobby everything it asked for.
It wasn't bad enough that they failed to see - or ignored - the fact that the city's finances were built on a bubble and the bubble was sure to pop, leaving us in one hell of a mess.
It wasn't bad enough that they rammed through a preposterous UGB expansion at the behest of developers and landowners despite warnings that it wouldn't fly with the state. Now they have the solid brass balls to talk about making the taxpayers shell out a million dollars to defend that indefensible plan.
It's time for the people of Bend to say in a loud, clear - and yes, angry - voice: "Hell NO!"
No, you WON'T get us to pay to defend that ridiculous expansion plan. You will make the changes the state calls for and produce a plan that makes sense and conforms to state land use laws. If the developers and landowners don't like it, let THEM pay to fight the DLCD.
To help you send the message, here are the e-mail addresses for the Bend city councilors:
Mayor Kathie Eckman: [email protected]
Mark Capell: [email protected]
Jodi Barram: [email protected]
Oran Teater: [email protected]
Jeff Eager: [email protected]
Jim Clinton: [email protected]
Tom Greene: [email protected]
Postscript: You could see this coming a mile away: The Bulletin devoted its whole editorial column on Sunday morning to a defense of the UGB expansion.
In the sneering, jeering style we have come to know so well, the editorial rips into Gov. Ted Kulongoski ("shovel-ready Ted," it calls him) and the state "land use bureaucrats" who found "fatal flaws in the city's assumptions, analyses, findings and conclusions."
"For those who missed the subtlety, this is the state's way of telling Bend's planners that they are complete idiots," the editorial says.
Well, uh, yes.
The Bulletin's screed goes on to rant about "the DLCD's knee-jerk opposition to growth, any growth" and the governor's "anti-growth zealots," warning that complying with the state's demands would essentially mean the end of Bend as we know it and force us all "to live huddled together like freezing penguins."
Ironically, just a couple of weeks ago Bulletin Editor-in-Chief John Costa, attempting to prove that his paper really isn't right-wing, wrote that it "generally supports the state's land laws."
In principle it might, but in practice it only supports them as long as they don't conflict with what local development interests want.
For those old enough to remember the Nixon presidency, Sunday's performance was reminiscent of Spiro Agnew's tirades against "pointy-headed bureaucrats who can't park a bicycle straight."
Fortunately for the state -- and for Bend -- the pointy-headed bureaucrats in Salem don't give a rat's ass what names The Bulletin editorial page calls them.