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Bend council to attempt broader streets effort – fast


Bend city councilors Wednesday night took to heart the advice of a group urging a comprehensive transportation solution, not a rush to a November citywide vote on a controversial gas tax proposal.

And they appeared to agree with much of what they heard. They will try to move quickly to broaden the scope of a possible set of solutions. They still kept the door open for a possible fall gas tax vote for a few weeks, until the election filing deadline.

Bend 2030 urged the big-picture effort, but also noted that the fall election had a better chance of success than a vote next spring, when a crowded GOP presidential field is likely to bring out more conservative voters who can be harder to sell on the benefits of a gas tax to help deal with a backlog of street maintenance estimated at $80 million and climbing.

Mayor Jim Clinton and councilors Casey Roats and Sally Russell agreed to join the fast-moving effort to see if stakeholders – including the gas dealers who vow to fight a gas tax measure – can come together on a broader set of proposals to deal with the street maintenance issue (as well as efforts to expand transit, add sidewalks and provide more options for getting around the fast-growing city).

The survey found a mean figure of about $21 a month that the nearly 1,700 online survey participants would be willing to pay – presumably more than they do now “to have a strong transportation system in Bend,” from maintained roads to sidewalk links, safer bike lanes and improved buses.

But with an Aug. 8 deadline looming for a November gas tax vote, and Councilor Victor Chudowsky gone for that week’s meetings, there was some sense that councilors might decide waiting and working for more consensus is the best course.

“This feels really rushed,” Roads said. “There’ll be plenty of potholes next spring. Nothing about trying to hit the right election sounds good to me at all. This feels really rushed, and we’re headed right to a cliff.”

Chudowsky agreed: “We only have one chance” to win voter support (Bend 2030 noted the only Bend money-measure failure since 2007 was in 2008, when voters rejected the city’s request for a mix of street and transit funding).

“If we go out to a vote, we lose, we don’t get another chance for many years after that,” he said. “I’d really rather do a good job at addressing concerns.” He said he’s already seen the signs that will go up at gas stations when folks fill up, urging people to call city councilors: “I’ve already seen it’ It has my telephone number on it.”

“The case has to be very, very strong, and if takes until next year, we have to be ready,” Chudowsky said,

Interestingly, the first of many speakers on a marathon meeting night (that lasted until after midnight) was Bob Brell of the Century West Neighborhood Association – who urged, even pleaded with councilors to send the street-repair gas tax to a vote now.

“We’ve been kicking the can down the road for a couple of years,” he said. “If we look at all the aspects of a comprehensive transportation package, it’s going to be another two years out. What are we going to do in the meantime?”

“It’s a tough decision,” he said, but the gas tax is a “fair way” to pay for roads, including visitors who use them, unlike other revenue options.

As they grappled with needs of the present and future, councilors also welcomed an interesting presentation by Dr. Arthur Nelson, a professor of planning and development at the University of Arizona, who painted a picture of the next few decades of growth and trends, as he will Thursday to a sold-out City Club of Central Oregon audience.

Bend is expected to grow by more than 50 percent between 2010 and 2030, – twice the rate of the state and nation. But the demographics also are changing quickly – in the 1960s, half of households were raising kids, now it’s closer to 20 percent. And U.S. homeownership is on a downward trend he doesn’t see changing soon.

“We’re seeing, in real terms, the median household income is continuing to fall,” Nelson said, pointing to a need for far more multi-family buildings and fewer single-family homes than in the past.

City councilors also were urged by a group called “Save the Butte” to step in and do what hundreds of petitioners sought and take a stand against a city-approved 200-unit apartment complex planned at the eastern foot of the northeast Bend landmark. There didn’t appear to be a council response, at least during the meeting.

But the most emotional testimony of the night came from several residents and homeowners along Northeast Eighth Street, awakened one night in early June by hundreds of thousand gallons of water from a ruptured city water main flooding their basements, homes and yards. Later, they learned the city’s insurer, CIS, took a stance of only paying for water removal and not the other damage and repairs homeowners face.

City Manager Eric King apologized to the homeowners, as he and City Attorney Mary Winters noted they had raised concerns with CIS, but that they are the only option for cities and counties, other than self-insurance, and have taken that stand in similar calamities around the state.

“We expressed our concern about this issue,” Winters said.

But when city councilors expressed a desire to revisit the issue, King said they really need to talk about it in executive session, due to the threat of litigation over the city’s stance. Councilors agreed to do it at the end of the night – but that was before the night turned into post-midnight, and it was decided the clear minds would be better for that closed-door discussion at a future meeting.

Councilors then tackled the main item on the actual agenda – the Galveston Avenue “streetscape” project, in the works for years – and that also went off the rails a bit, as some speakers supported the proposal and other said “less is more” and that the city should just complete the street’s sidewalks and the like.

City Councilor Sally Russell, who owns developable property along the corridor, declared a conflict and stepped out of the room during the discussion and votes – which resulted in a 3-3 tie on motion to approve the three-lane concept and proceed with the first 30 percent of design work.

A planned roundabout at Harmon and Galveston also was a focus of criticism, so a revision was made to a second motion, to just approve consideration of “intersection improvements” as part of the Central Westside Plan effort. That got it to pass, 4-2. And the council voted 6-0 to approve consideration of diagonal parking as one option in an upcoming traffic study of the corridor.

With Russell back in the room, councilors voted unanimously to add an exemption to development fees for affordable housing projects, having directed up to $1 million over the 2-year budget for that effort to make a dent in the city’s housing squeeze.

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