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Updated: 34 min 5 sec ago

Big news: XRAY's progressive talk is about to get a lot easier to hear on your radio

August 30, 2014 - 7:00am

Just in time for the fall election season, progressive talk and local music station XRAY.FM is going to get heard in a lot more places in the Portland metro area.

Right now, the 91.1 FM signal is fairly weak -- with a range that primarily covers an audience of 170,000 in northeast Portland, mostly centered on the Gateway District.

After picking up the 107.1 FM signal from MetroEast Community Media, XRAY will add all of Portland west of I-205, Beaverton, Tigard, Lake Oswego, and Milwaukie -- a total coverage of an audience of some 750,000.

That means a lot more access to Carl Wolfson, Jefferson Smith, Adam Klugman, Thom Hartmann and the rest of the progressive talk crew at XRAY.

In the deal, MetroEast CEO Rob Brading will join the board of XRAY. Brading, you will recall, was my personal "Man of the Year" back in 2006 -- when he ran for the Oregon House against then-Speaker Karen Minnis. He lost in a close race, but the million dollars she spent beating him meant that we picked up four seats -- to win a one-seat majority, and put Jeff Merkley in the Speaker's chair. And the rest is history.

Big props to Brading, Jefferson Smith, Jenny Logan, and the rest of the crews at MetroEast and XRAY for putting this together.

Check out the new coverage map:

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Thanks to Measure 85, corporate kicker to kick $43m to Oregon schools!

August 29, 2014 - 9:00am

Oregon's tax kicker is dumb. The idea that we should send tax money back just because the state economist gets the estimate wrong is nothing short of dumb.

But at least, Measure 85 -- approved by voters by a 60-40 margin in 2012 -- makes the corporate kicker a little bit less dumb.

That's because Measure 85 makes it so that when the corporate kicker kicks, the money goes to Oregon's K-12 schools, instead of to the out-of-state corporations that were always befuddled by the random tax refund they used to get.

And it appears that in 2015-2017, Oregon's schools will get around $43 million from the corporate kicker.

As Scott Moore writes over at the Sockeye, "Supporters of the Corporate Kicker for K-12 campaign should take a moment to celebrate. Our victory is a clear example of the power of grassroots campaigns to make Oregon a better place to live."

Good work, folks.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Equality: Celebrate It, Promote It, Use It or Lose It

August 28, 2014 - 12:12pm

This past Tuesday, August 26 was Women's Equality Day. Congress (and more particularly, Bella Abzug) enacted Equality Day in 1971 to commemorate the anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The 19th Amendment passed in 1920. Oregonian women had already obtained the right to vote in 1912 (still 136 years after the Declaration of Independence). Now, 43 years after the first Equality Day, Oregonians have the opportunity to pass Ballot Measure 89 at the coming November election. Measure 89, the Equal Rights Amendment, will amend the Oregon Constitution to provide that the State and its political subdivisions “shall not deny or abridge equality of rights on account of sex.” Celebrate equality by registering to vote, encouraging others to register and exercising your vote in support of equality. It is the least we can do for our ancestors and our descendants. There is no shortage of new fights, so we should get the older inventory of justice issues off our plates!

People have been fighting and dying in this country for a long time for the right to vote, even while generations of women and people of color had no such right, or the exercise of the right was so severely burdened as to be meaningless. Yet as a nation we have a humiliating rate of voter turnout and a recent Princeton study asserts that the United States is functionally no longer a democracy but an oligarchy. The power of voting may be eroding in this country, but we cannot fight that trend by voting less, only by voting more.

Whenever I think about women's right to vote, I think of my grandmother. She was born in rural Virginia in 1914 and died there in 1992. Had she been born in Oregon, she would have been born with the fundamental right of a citizen to vote for her representatives. Where she was born, she was functionally not a citizen at her birth. She had the right by the time she was old enough to vote and exercised it throughout her life. It took 144 years from the Declaration of Independence for half the population to be included in the democracy. Today, there are certainly living Oregonian women who are older than their right to vote in national elections (94 years) and probably a few who are older than their right to vote even in Oregon (102 years). When my grandmother died, she did not have the inherent right to be free of discrimination because of her sex and today, women of the United States do not.

Equality Day, enacted during the push to enact a National ERA, is almost exactly the same age as I am, within a matter of days. The original campaign to enact a Federal ERA, began in 1923, in the wake of the passing of the 19th Amendment but nearly 50 years passed before the ERA passed the Senate and the House in 1972. An insufficient number of states have ratified it for it to be enacted. (Oregon ratified it in 1973). Therefore, while I was born with the right to vote, I was not born with the right to be protected from discrimination on the basis of my sex, nor is anyone else, of any gender. Moreover the fight has been going on all my life. Even the constitutional right to be protected from discrimination isn't always enough.

In the wake of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, activists began promoting voter registration in that community. Michael Brown, as a black man, was barely old enough to vote, but he had that right and he was constitutionally protected from discrimination as a black man. But he lived in a majority black community, governed by a majority white local government, in which voter turnout was 12%, leading to comments that a 12% voter turnout is “an insult to your children”.

I've actually met people who say with pride, “I don't vote. Those parties are all the same and it doesn't make a difference”. That is an insult to our collective children. It's also an insult to our troops, our veterans, and every civil rights advocate and suffragette who marched, was beaten, hosed down, attacked by dogs, jailed or died for the right to vote. And it does have consequences.

Every Supreme Court decision in the last nine years has been decided by a court that included two judges appointed by George W. Bush. (e.g., Citizens United, which allowed for unlimited corporate money in elections, Hobby Lobby, which allowed employers' alleged religious convictions to define the scope of women's healthcare). The voter turnout in the 2000 election was 55% and in Florida in particular it was 57%. Without even getting into the effect of Reagan and George H.W. Bush's effect on the Bush v. Gore decision, voting matters. It has immediate effects, it has ripple effects. But it is not the only bottom line. Inequality is more complicated than that, which is why the Voting Rights Act was still necessary after the 14th and the 15th Amendment, and why the 14th Amendment contains an Equal Protection Clause.

So let's hear it for cause and effect! Vote for candidates who support equality. Vote for Measure 89. Vote as though your life depended on it. Because it does.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

The Myth of GMO Labels Increasing Food Prices

August 26, 2014 - 8:18pm

In the weeks ahead, you’ll be inundated with ads sounding the alarm that if Oregon Measure 92 passes, GMO labeling will significantly raise your grocery bills.

The ads will be paid for by biotech giants like Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow Chemical, plus the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and their corporate members like Coke and Pepsi. They’ll cite some study, invariably funded by industry, claiming GMO labeling will cause family food prices to skyrocket, as much as $400-$500 a year.

Let’s do a reality check.

Consumer food prices are based on multiple factors, including costs for raw materials, production, transportation, advertising, brand competition and retailers’ competition. They’re complex, making exact predictions impossible. But we can say with certainty that past experience shows no evidence that GMO labeling would increase prices.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Take Scott Faber’s. For five years, he was vice president for federal affairs for the very same GMA and is currently director of Just Label It, which supports GMO labeling. He asserts that “What I learned is that adding a few words to a label has no impact on the price of making or selling food.” (See: New! Improved!)

He adds that you don’t have to take his word for it either. In 1990, GMA president C. Manly Molpus (I swear I’m not making this name up) supported the now familiar nutrition labels then being introduced. The New York Times article covering the issue reported “Industry officials said that labels are changed frequently and if the rule is phased in as planned, little cost would be added.”

There’s also no evidence that GMO labeling increased food prices in the 64 countries that have adopted it. Indeed, David Byrne, then European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, declared that “It did not result in increased costs, despite the horrifying (double-digit) prediction of some interests.” American food companies are already labeling their GMO products for export without increasing consumer costs.

Several industry-funded reports argue that more costs will be incurred because there will be a sudden massive switch in consumer buying habits to conventional non-GMO and organic, which is non-GMO by definition. Although anti-GMO activists would cheer the prospect of such a transformation , don’t bet the organic farm on it. Why?

Consumers can mostly be divided into three groups, the largest those that usually don’t read labels - 52%, according to a recent survey. The other two are those who will see the GMO labels but won’t care, and those who see them and decide to buy non-GMO products. The market segment concerned with GMO’s is certainly growing, but the math just doesn’t add up to an immediate across-the-board change. Whether the shift to non-GMO is large or small, farmers will change crops to meet the demand, just as they always have.

If there was a major conversion over time, it’s accurate that there would need to be expansion of growing and processing of non-GMO crops that can add costs. But separate tracks for conventional non-GMO and organic already exist, as a glance at the variety of breakfast cereals in any grocery store will show. Both Cheerios and Grape-Nuts have gone non-GMO in the past year without raising prices and Ben & Jerry’s, which is in the process of going non-GMO, will do the same.

Finally, consider that the cost of the crops is only a very small part of the finished product. One example: According to food writer Tom Philpott, using USDA figures, the cost of the corn going into Kellogg’s Corn Flakes selling for $3.79 a box at Fred Meyer’s is only five cents.

As a trade association, the purpose of GMA is to protect the profits of its member corporations. In contrast, the purpose of Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, is to inform and protect US, the citizens. Consumers Union determined that I-522, Washington state’s 2013 initiative to label GMO foods, would not significantly raise consumer costs. It says the same about Oregon and also endorses Measure 92.

Last year, the Washington state attorney general sued GMA for soliciting millions of dollars from its corporate members to fight I-522 and keeping their donations secret from voters, violating the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws. GMA is also suing Vermont to block implementation of its recently-passed GMO labeling bill. It also petitioned the FDA this year to allow GMO foods to be labeled “natural.”

Somehow it seems perfectly appropriate that GMA is only one letter away from GMO.

Transparency is the heart of Measure 92 – your right to know what’s in your food. The bottom line is simple: Your vote is a choice between disclosing information or concealing it.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Merkley & Wyden take the Ice Bucket Challenge

August 23, 2014 - 6:00am

The Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS research has really taken off -- including among Oregon's elected officials.

Here's Senator Jeff Merkley on Thursday night accepting the challenge from Beaverton's Mayor Denny Doyle -- and passing it along to Senator Ron Wyden and Treasurer Ted Wheeler:

And here's Senator Wyden on Friday night accepting that challenge with three of his kids, and passing it along to the Oregon Duck mascot -- and, well, U of O alums everywhere.

(Update: The Duck has accepted Senator Wyden's Challenge. Check it out.)

Of course, Treasurer Wheeler got into the act as well, challenging Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Congressman Kurt Schrader, and Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish.

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici's video is on Facebook too, in which she challenges Oregonian reporter Jeff Mapes, Laura Terrill Patten of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith.

Congressman Kurt Schrader dumped a bucket on his head and challenged Congressman Peter DeFazio and Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer took the challenge -- and passed it on to rocker Storm Large and documentarian Ken Burns.

But wait... there's more:

Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick and right-wing radio talker Lars Larson did it together.

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish took the challenge and made a point about our pristine Bull Run water supply.

Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey got cold and wet, too.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury got soaked by her daughter. Awesome!

See one I've missed? Post a link in the comments!

Update: I think Congressman Peter DeFazio might win the prize for most creative way to (almost) dodge getting doused in ice water.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Who Pays for Families?

August 22, 2014 - 12:30pm

“Why should the employer pay? Why should the company bear the cost of sick leave or parental accommodation?” A friend and former colleague of mine asked me that recently as we were getting ready to present to a group of human resources professionals about parenting issues in the workplace.

The short answer is, because someone has to, and our society has chosen to allocate the burden of essentially being human – having a family (or getting sick) - to individuals or families first and to employers or corporations second. Unless or until we decide to expand the conversation to real redistribution of social costs more widely, that is choice we are given. Anyone who is really worried about why employers are being asked to pay can work to change the system so that there are other options on the table. Other options that is, than simply forcing people to get sick, lose their jobs, and stay poor. That is not only inhumane, it is naïve.

Paid family leave, paid sick days, flexible scheduling and reduced time schedules all have economic and logistical costs for employers. This creates unnecessary and arguably artificial economic tension between families and employers. Some corporations with high profits and enormous market share have disproportionate economic power and can afford to make (or refuse to make) policy as they please, subject to fairly minimal regulation. But most employers have a constant struggle to balance a competitive domestic consumer environment, high cost of capital, decline in economic activity generally, global production competition, plus regulatory requirements. Cost of labor, both wages and benefits, is just one factor for an employer to balance. Employers may rationally resist increase in labor costs in the form of paid leave and less than full-time productivity from individual workers. At the same time real wage value in this country has drastically fallen, the middle class is in rapid decline, and increasing numbers of children face food insecurity homelessness and multi-generational poverty. Both employers and employees are being told “it's you or them.” But is that a necessary conflict? No, it is a choice we have imposed on ourselves.

The arguments for why it is worth investing in employees through pro-family policies generally derive from the business case that a well rewarded, adequately supported work force is a more valuable and productive workforce. Employees who can take a day home with a sick child without losing a full day's pay or without losing their job entirely will save the employer time and money in constantly training a high turnover work force. Paid parental leave, meaningful pregnancy and nursing accommodation policies and a work place culture that reinforces those policies result in higher retention of a more diverse work force and thus increased value. Flexible scheduling, job shares, daycare and respite care subsidies all contribute to increased productivity from the existing workforce.

These arguments all assume an employer-funded, market-incentivized system in which individual employers compete for better, more productive employees as a way of improving the bottom line. However, the actual result is differential cost assessments by employers, some of whose business models and profit goals do not require a healthy, invested, low-turnover workforce. It leaves the choice in the hands of employers who may rationally ask “why me”, when they have a choice about whether to pay for parental leave, or a certain types of health coverage. When an employer has a choice about a benefit, someone can and always will chose not to offer it, when calculating it among the many other costs of doing business.

Employers also operate in an inconsistent regulatory environment. For example, a large employer in Oregon has one sick leave ordinance that applies to employees in Eugene and one that applies in Portland. State and federal sick and parental leave policies differ. An employer that has California and Washington operations has additional, different regulatory requirements. An employer with employees traveling through multiple jurisdictions (e.g., freight, airline or sales) has yet another set of challenges. And advocates and legislators who want to create a genuinely pro-family working environment in this country have fight one small, local jurisdiction at a time because of difficulties generating momentum and consensus on a national basis.

Elective and patchwork benefits reinforce stratification between low- and high-paid workers. Between the extremes of tech start ups with luxurious lounges and cafeterias serving organic food and front-line food or retail service jobs making minimum wage and no benefits are hundreds of thousands of people who make enough money to live on, EXCEPT when one factors in daycare for two kids. Or who can pay rent and car payment EXCEPT when someone gets sick. Or who can make it all work, barely, until summer rolls around and suddenly they have vastly increased childcare costs and no food because their kids got free breakfast and lunch at school.

We operate in a political and regulatory environment where, as a society we say, “this is all the employer's problem” and if incentivized, employers will simply do the right thing. And if they don't, it is simply the natural and even laudable operation of market forces. That is not the only way of looking at the dilemma, or even an accurate one. I'm going to leave aside for now the question of the real economic cost/benefit of family-supportive work place policies for employers. “Why should the employer pay” assumes the answer to that one. What I want to know is, why should any one employer have to pay? A nationalized (single-payor, tax-funded, socialized, however you wish to call it) benefit scheme would not only even the playing field for employees, but employers as well. If everyone who walks into an employer's door has access to sliding scale, high quality child care (as is the case in many other industrialized countries) then one major cause of absenteeism, productivity loss, stress and turnover is reduced, from the garage attendants to the C-suite. Small businesses aren't automatically set against their employees on benefit costs if health care costs are allocated across the largest possible pool. National implemention of family benefit policies reduces incentives to jurisdiction shop and move jobs to the lowest-bidding locale.

None of this eliminates that problem of paying for benefits. But the “Why me” becomes “why we”. “We” all have to pay anyway, whether it is through a tax scheme, a premium scheme or any other aggregating mechanism. And we all have to ask ourselves about the “business case” in the aggregate. Do we all benefit from being humane to one another, when as a society we do ultimately have to share the costs of being sick, raising children, and caring for our elders. Or are we honestly happy with those costs being destructive for all but the privileged few who have managed to accumulate enough capital to insulate themselves from what it costs to be human.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Ice Bucket Challenge: Rep. Tobias Read challenges Gov. Kitzhaber and the entire Legislature (update: Kitzhaber gets soaked!)

August 21, 2014 - 2:58pm

As you have no doubt heard by now, a whole lot of folks have been dumping buckets of ice water on their heads as part of a social media campaign to support research into a cure for ALS (or "Lou Gehrig's Disease").

How's it work? Well, once you do it, you pass the challenge to one or more people. The idea is that either they do it within 24 hours -- or they donate to the ALS Assocation. (Many folks, of course, are doing the ice water thing and the donation thing.)

Last night, Rep. Tobias Read became the latest to take the challenge -- in honor of his late father, who died of ALS. And he didn't hold back on his challenge. He challenged Governor Kitzhaber and "ALL 89 of my fellow Oregon Legislators including Betsy Johnson." (It seems that Senator Johnson has been a long-time supporter of ALS research.)

Check it out. (And make a donation.)

Update: And now, Governor Kitzhaber has accepted Rep. Read's challenge -- and challenged OHSU President Joe Robertson, Port of Portland director Bill Wyatt, and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

The Intel SIP deal is a terrible deal for taxpayers

August 21, 2014 - 7:00am

By Jody Wiser of Portland, Oregon. Jody is an advocate for progressive tax policy at Tax Fairness Oregon.

What kind of a water cooler is Blue Oregon, that no one has brought up Intel’s SIP deal?

Intel has asked for, and may well get their second dose of 30 year “tax certainty.” Following Nike’s lead, last December Intel got their Oregon income taxes sealed at pretty much nothing for 30 years. Next they decided to out-bargain the Washington County Commissioners and the Hillsboro City Council on getting the same low property taxes they’ve had for the last 20 years….with no cost of living adjustments since 1993. And while prior Intel deals have been good for 15 years, this time they want 30 years, with certainty about taxes on up to $100 billion in investments.

Tuesday in the Washington County Commission’s and the Hillsboro City Council’s open comment periods a few of us raised concerns about the Intel SIP “deal.”

Next Tuesday evening, after but 15 days, and immediately after the mandated one public hearing, the two groups of electeds will vote. They are set to make a 30-year commitment to Intel. They’ve provided no answers to why 30 years or why $100 billion of investments? $100 billion is 4 times what they’ve invested to date.

Mind you, Intel isn’t promising to invest $100 billion and to keep at least 17,500 Oregon employees for the next 30 years, in fact they aren’t promising anything with the agreement. But were Intel making those two promises, it still wouldn’t be a fair deal.

Why? Because none of the base numbers for taxes and fees have been increased for inflation -- since 1993. Intel says they need a $100 billion deal because their equipment costs are rising.

Well, costs have and will continue to rise for public services as well.

We recommend three changes to get to a fair agreement:

  1. Adjust all figures in the agreement for inflation and include annual CPI increases once signed. The amount Intel will pay will go up at least 75% from the current proposal.
  2. The $100 m property tax base, when CPI adjusted from 1993 becomes $175 m today.
  3. The $2 m Community Service Fee increases to $3.3 m, and rising annually
  4. The $2 m cap on the Community Service fee would be increased to $3.3 m rising annually.
  5. The $2.87 m Guaranteed Annual Payment adjusted from 1999 to 2014 and becomes $4.11 m.
  6. Reduce the dollar value of the agreement to no more than $25 billion of investments. That effectively gives Intel $43.5 billion of additional “investment certainty,” since $18.5b of the current $25b agreement remains unused.
  7. Reduce the number of years the agreement can be utilized to the next 10 years.

These are the kinds of changes we believe the Commission and City Council should be thinking about…and for more than 15 summer days.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Ernst & Young finds Oregon has nation's lowest total effective business tax rate

August 20, 2014 - 5:00am

Oregon has the lowest “total effective business tax rate" in the country, according to a study (PDF), conducted by the accounting firm Ernst & Young on behalf of the Council On State Taxation (COST). The accounting firm found that the total state and local taxes paid by Oregon businesses amounted to 3.3 percent of Oregon's private sector economy in fiscal year 2013, the smallest such contribution among all states.

The study purports to include all taxes businesses pay: corporate income and excise taxes; property, sales and use, and license taxes paid by businesses; personal income taxes on business income passed through to the personal income tax (such as those taxes paid by owners of S-corporations, partnerships, sole proprietorships and limited liability companies); unemployment insurance taxes; and other business taxes.

Click image to enlarge.

It is important to remember that this is a study conducted to advance the interests of an association of multistate and multinational corporations that lobbies for lower business taxes in states across the country. COST represents about 600 corporations, including major Oregon employers such as Nike, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, US Bank and Xerox (PDF).

The study's authors are not transparent about their methodology. The numbers come from the authors' black box, so there is no way to evaluate the reliability of the numbers, particularly with regard to property taxes and the myriad of tax subsidies that businesses receive, such as property tax abatements.

Moreover, the COST study ignores the incidence of the business taxes it is measuring. For example, many economists would conclude that some, if not all, of the sales taxes paid on business inputs are passed on to consumers and and that at least some of the incidence of unemployment compensation taxes is on workers in the form of lower wages.

To its credit, the COST study concedes that comparing total taxes to a broad measure of the economy such as private sector gross state product is "not a clear indicator of the competitiveness of a state's business tax system in terms of attracting new investment."

Previously, using a different metric for comparing states, COST pegged Oregon as having the second lowest taxes on new investments by business.

Oregon's lowest-taxes-in-the-nation rank takes into account the modest personal and corporate income tax increases put into effect by Measures 66 and 67 approved by voters in 2010. Add the fact that Oregon's economy has performed exceedingly well, and you realize that Oregon need not give corporations or their owners and executives more tax subsidies.

Isn't it time to ask profitable corporations to contribute meaningfully to support the public structures that make Oregon a great place to live, raise a family, work and build businesses?

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Yakama Nation to Coal: And Stay Out.

August 18, 2014 - 5:51pm

Governor Kitzhaber's Department of State Lands has issued a landmark denial of Oregon's only proposed coal export terminal, keeping millions of tons of coal right where it belongs - buried in the ground.

Back in May the Yakama Nation protested that the coal terminal proposed for their traditional treaty recognized fishing grounds up on the Columbia Rover, near modern day Boardman, was an attack on the water, the salmon, their way of life, and a contradiction to the idea of living in balance with our surroundings.

The Australian coal mining company in question, Ambre Energy, denied the tribal claims in comments to the media and in filings to state regulators.

Evidently the claims by the coal company about where tribal fishing rights do or don't apply were not pursuasive.

In their findings released on August 18th the Department of State Lands had the final word on the matter:

"The agency record demonstrates that the project would unreasonably interfere with a small but important and and long-standing fishery in the State's waters at the project site."

In response to this news Yakama Chairman JoDe Goudy made the following statement:

"This is only the beginning of what I expect will be a long fight. Yakama Nation will not rest until the entire regional threat posed by the coal industry to our ancestral lands and waters is eradicated. We will continue to speak out and fight on behalf of our people, and for those things, which cannot speak for themselves, that have been entrusted to us for cultivation and preservation since time immemorial. Today, however, we thank and stand in solidarity with the State of Oregon, and celebrate its decision to protect the Columbia River from further damage and degradation."

So what's next?

The Columbia River could still be impacted by two remaining coal export terminals.

Up in Bellingham, Washington the proposed coal terminal will rumble 9 loaded coal trains down the Columbia River Gorge every day. Up there the fight against has also been taken on by local tribal leaders.

Lummi Nation Chairman, Timothy Ballew II, had this to say about today's good news from Oregon:

"The State’s action makes a strong policy statement by recognizing Tribal Sovereignty and the Treaty Rights of the Columbia River tribes. Such decisions are few and far between. This is important not just for the Yakama and Umatilla but all Indian fishing tribes. Together we can, and will, protect our way of life."

And we've still got a coal proposal on the Columbia River, just over in Longview, Washington, that will barrel 8 loaded and uncovered coal trains a day through Portland. That one may be the most likely threat left on the radar. Just this week the Longview coal terminal supporters just threw a summer picnic for 300 of their closest supporters - for a terminal that hasn't even seen a draft EIS yet.

According to the spokesperson for the coal company, Millenium Terminals, “We wanted to find way to say thank you to folks in the community.”

I guess it must be all about who you include in your definition of community.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

State of Oregon Denies Ambre Coal Export Permit

August 18, 2014 - 2:14pm

Huge news, buried in a calendar of decisions. The line from Oregon's Department of State Lands said simply this:

"Permit denied Aug. 18, 2014"

The requested permit was for a removal/fill permit to allow the construction of a huge coal export terminal, owned by Australian-owned Ambre Energy. From Power Past Coal:

Each year, Ambre Energy would bring more than eight million tons of coal by rail from the Powder River Basin to the Port of Morrow where Columbia River barge traffic would double to accommodate carrying the product through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

From The Oregonian:

Oregon's Department of State Lands on Monday dealt a serious blow to Ambre Energy's proposed coal export project, denying a key permit needed for construction in the Columbia River....

The terminal would create a key link for Western coal producers anxious to find new outlets for coal that is no longer wanted in the United States. Coal terminal opponents had pinned their hopes on the department's decision and celebrated it.

"Oregonians today should be proud that our state stood up to protect salmon, fishing, and clean water over dirty coal," said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper...

More background is available from Climate Solutions and Power Past Coal, including this powerful quotation:

“Northwest communities and leaders agree: coal exports are not in the best interest of the region. Throughout Oregon and the Northwest, thousands of business owners, elected officials, doctors, faith leaders and others have demanded that Governor Kitzhaber and the State of Oregon protect Oregon families and frontline communities from the dangers of coal exports. Today, those calls were answered,” said Arlene Burns, city council president of Mosier, Ore.

Over 20,000 comments poured into the Division of State Lands, asking for the permit's rejection. Governor Kitzhaber urged its denial, and the permit's denial was expected for months. Years of work organizing, investigating, and unveiling the problems with the proposal finally resulted in today's decision.

It's a wonderful day in Oregon for a clean energy future. One where dirty, global-warming causing coal is not given a helping hand.

While appeals and other steps could happen, the Northwest battles against dirty coal mainly turn north, to proposed export terminals in Washington State at Longview and Bellingham. Meanwhile, Oregonians continue to build a clean energy future -- one future generations will be proud of.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are mine alone; not of my employer.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Will Affordable Housing Exist in Portland in Ten Years?

August 16, 2014 - 9:01am

By Cameron Whitten of Portland, Oregon. Cameron is the Board President at Know Your City, an economics student at Portland State University, and a community advocate.

Last week, Willamette Week wrote about the Murrays -- a family who survived 30 years of mass displacement to become the last African Americans living on a block of Northeast Portland. Soon there may be none, as the family wrestles with foreclosure due to a predatory mortgage scheme. Unfortunately, this story of loss and injustice happens too often and is consistently invisible.

Who else does it effect? Well, most of us, actually. Fun Fact: the average apartment rent in Portland rose over six percent in one year. Just. One. Year.

Portland was named in 2011 as one of the top 10 American cities with the fastest rising rents by the research firm, Reis Inc. We as a community are witnessing housing choice disappear at an alarming pace, as both new and old housing becomes less and less affordable. The shift is visible in North and inner-East Portland, which was once home to low income families and people of color and has changed at a dramatic cost to racial and economic cohesion.

For decades, local leaders and community members have raised awareness about past injustices that disrupted the livelihood of working class Portlanders: red lining, eminent domain for the Rose Quarter, the Models Cities Program, Legacy Emmanuel Hospital expansion, etc.

What we don't talk about enough, is what's happening now. Our goals for affordable and safe housing continue to be threatened by activities that stem from a local, regional, and statewide level. Here are a few examples.

Last week, Portland City Council voted 3-2 to waive building fees (System Development Charges, or SDCs) from developers in Old Town Chinatown in exchange for a promise to provide some affordable housing, most of which will sunset after ten years (according to the Portland Housing Bureau's FAQ on their SDC exemption program: “a project must maintain affordability for a period of 60 years for the number of exempted units”). Think about that- after ten years, there is no guarantee this housing developed with government discounts will be accessible for lower income workers, while developers still benefit from the agreement.

Here's another example. Last year, the regional government Metro invested $300,000 into a transit-oriented subsidy for a development called the Radiator, a large-scale mix of office and retail space just north of the recently opened New Seasons in the gentrifying Boise neighborhood. Only recently, thanks to the work of new Councilors, has Metro dedicated funds to even begin examining how regional policies impact access to affordable housing.

Even in the State Legislature, a coalition of affordable housing advocates and non-profits have rallied to repeal the 15-year-old law that prevents local governments from using Inclusionary Zoning as a tool to promote affordable housing. Although the Legislature's party lines have changed since the 90's, efforts to repeal the ban have fallen short against a powerful real estate lobby in Salem.

We are losing our community legacy to gentrification at a time when we needed action the most. Where is our vision to move forward?

Think about the pain the Murray's endure as they grapple with potentially losing their home of 33 years. Then, remember the thousands who've already lost the battle to gentrification. We need to do better- locally, regionally, and as an entire state.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

The Oregon Airspace Initiative & Visiting F-18s - Are We Overarmed?

August 15, 2014 - 4:54pm
Is it Necessary to Have Fighter Jets Flying over Portland in August, or Ever?

In the discussions that we're having about whether or not the police are overarmed it seems prudent to question the necessity of the Oregon Space Initiative of our local Air National Guard. The other day this came in the mail from the Cully Neighborhood Association:

Cully Association of Neighbors

Dear Neighbor,

Visiting Military Jets - Training Flights August 3-23, 2014 Portland International Airport

Portland/Vancouver metro area residents may notice a temporary change in aircraft operations due to additional military jet operations in and out of PDX from August 3-23, 2014. Visiting military jets (F18/Hornet) will be included in the daily training exercises routinely performed by the 142nd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard. The addition of this aircraft type may influence the typical noise exposure in the communities surrounding PDX.

Thank you for your understanding during these temporary conditions.
Related Link: Noise Management at PDX

Cully Association of Neighbors

A Few Problems

Here are a couple problems with having jets visit the Portland area during August - or, really, anytime.

  1. It's the month we're more likely to be outdoors - due to hot weather. The problem here is that the noise from the jets is unpleasant - and it happens multiple times a day. If you're out in your garden picking tomatoes, this is not a sound you want to hear - I'm not sure what the effect of extra spent jet fuel in the air does to the toxicity of the air/soil - but I imagine it's not great. Cully, which is one of the neighborhoods closest to the base also seems to be a place where a lot of organic gardening is going on. What is the extra noise from these jets doing to increase the discomfort of people who live near the base? What does the added spent jet fuel do to the safety of the produce?

  2. We're heating the planet - those 3 weeks we just had with extremely hot weather? I think most would agree, humans have something to do with that. Adding in more jets to the mix, probably isn't doing much to cool things down. Here's an interesting article on the military assault on the global climate.

  3. Are we safe? Are these jets making us any safer? Would they keep us just as safe if they were based 100 miles away in a less populous place? I probably wouldn't even have thought to write if the jets weren't taking off and leaving at all hours of the day and night.

Note: you can reach the public affairs office of the 142nd Fighter Wing, here: 503-335-4104 and via email, here 142FW.PA@ang.af.mil - and they, and the PDX Noise Hotline pdxnoise@portofportland.com do take note of our communications and take them into account.

  1. Jobs. If this is about the hundreds of jobs that this base brings to the region - are we just doing this to employ people?

  2. Overdoing it. We usually have 6 F-15s at this base and now we have 18 (F-15s and F-18s). Is this necessary? Does it make sense to have this many fighter jets taking off and landing so close to an urban area? Is this typically done? And, if so, perhaps it's something that should be discussed on a national level.

I would like to hear what you think about this situation and whether it falls into the category of having more arms around than are needed. And, if this issue concerns you, please let the Air National Guard and PDX Noise Hotline know your concerns.

A friend wrote me and asked me to mention that he was hiking in the Mt. Hood wilderness areas today and heard jets flying overhead twice. The impact is harsh. Three things - 1. What's the impact this has on tourism? 2. What's the point of having a wilderness area if we're going to have low-flying fighter jets screaming overhead? 3. How does this impact other species?

8.19.14 - Correction: The jets at PDX are F-15s. The Visiting jets are F-18s.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

How much wilderness is enough? In Oregon, we need to do more

August 13, 2014 - 6:00am

By Brent Fenty of Bend, Oregon. Brent is the Executive Director at Oregon Natural Desert Association.

This coming September marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. It was a landmark bill when passed, representing a growing awareness that the Industrial Age was quickly changing the world around us. Therefore, for ourselves, future generations and other species that depend on wild places, we would set aside land and rivers in their natural state.

The follow-up question to this effort was and continues to be: How much is enough? The answer is clearly different for each of us. As someone who was raised in a church-going home, I've always admired the idea of tithing, and in my mind setting aside at least 10 percent of our world as wilderness is a form of tithing. Others can argue for less or -- I would hope -- more, but what I am confident of is that Oregon has not protected enough wilderness yet.

Oregon lags far behind our neighbor states in the amount of wilderness it has protected. Only 4 percent of the state is currently protected as wilderness; this is less than half of what Washington and Idaho have protected and nearly four times less than what California has protected. We clearly have a wilderness deficit.

What is also clear is that most of Oregon's wilderness is in our forests. A mere 1/3 of a percent of Oregon's high desert is currently protected as wilderness, and that is because nearly 3 million acres of public lands known as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) have sat in limbo for more than three decades in the throes of congressional inaction.

I have heard some suggest that the remoteness of Oregon's high desert will ensure that areas like the Owyhee Canyonlands will remain wild. This sprawling area on Oregon's eastern edge is larger than many eastern states; the Owyhee's rolling hills, roaring rivers and red-rock canyons represent the largest stretch of wildlands in the lower 48 without permanent protection. It's also a stronghold for the imperiled Greater sage-grouse and home to the largest herd of California bighorn sheep in the nation. Yet remoteness will not keep it safe. It is obvious that there is no place on land, and perhaps now even in our oceans, where development cannot reach. Already in the Owyhee Canyonlands, threats like mining, unmanaged ATV use and the prospect of oil and gas development loom on the horizon.

I recently had the opportunity to raft down the Grand Canyon. As I floated through Marble Canyon, I was startled to see bore holes, drilled into the canyon walls in preparation for a dam planned decades before. There was also paint marking where the walls of concrete were to be poured. It reinforced for me that our natural treasures only still exist because some have had the foresight to fight for their protection. As Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed upon creating what was then Grand Canyon National Monument, "I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it."

In this 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, I encourage you to celebrate the desert wilderness we do have and the wonderful people who had the foresight to come together to protect these areas -- Steens Mountain (14 years old), the Oregon Badlands (5 years old) and Spring Basin (5 years old). But we also need to do more for the areas that still need to be protected.

You're also welcome to join ONDA to discuss the past and envision the future of wilderness at the 27th biannual Desert Conference, Sept. 19-20 in Bend. We invite you to hear from some of the best minds in conservation, science, art and history in inspiring, thoughtful panels and discussions. Participants will also journey into the field on guided hikes. We'll confer on how we can follow the example of those early wilderness leaders and protect desert places before pressures from development overwhelm them. The ideas and energy from this gathering are important to developing effective, workable solutions for desert conservation.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Ruling: Ted Wheeler can't run for Treasurer again (but what about the Bill Bradbury precedent?)

August 12, 2014 - 5:00am

It's long been assumed that our state treasurer, Ted Wheeler, would run for re-election in 2016. But as it turns out, he's ineligible. At least, that's according to a legal opinion (pdf) issued by Oregon's attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, in response to a request from Secretary of State Kate Brown.

First, let's recap our recent history:

In March 2010, Treasurer Ben Westlund passed away while in office. Governor Ted Kulongoski appointed Ted Wheeler, then Multnomah County Chair, to the job. Wheeler was then on the primary ballot in May 2010 and the general election ballot in November 2010 -- winning an election to the second half of Westlund's term. In 2012, Wheeler was elected to a full term as Treasurer.

The first part of Rosenblum's opinion isn't particularly complicated. It basically points to the plain language of the Oregon Constitution, Article VI:

There shall be elected by the qualified electors of the State, at the times and places of choosing Members of the Legislative Assembly, a Secretary, and Treasurer of State, who shall severally hold their offices for the term of four years; but no person shall be eligible to either of said offices more than Eight in any period of Twelve years.

By the end of 2016, Wheeler will have served six years and just over eight months. It seems obvious that he wouldn't be eligible to run for another term of four years.

So, why is this news? Why did we need a formal ruling on it from the AG?

Well, it's not quite so simple as the above.

Neither of the recent Oregonian articles (here and here) explained this, but those of us wondering about the question kept looking to the precedent set in 2004 when Bill Bradbury ran for re-election as Secretary of State. By the time he was done, he had served a total of nine years and two months -- which is, after all, more than eight years.

Let's remember that history:

In November 1999, Secretary of State Phil Keisling resigned. He had been re-elected in 1996, so his resignation came with some 14 months to go. Governor John Kitzhaber appointed Bradbury. Then, in November 2000, Bradbury won his first full term. Then, in November 2004, he ran for re-election.

So, why wouldn't the Bradbury precedent apply in the Wheeler case? After all, if Bradbury could serve more than eight years -- despite the plain language of the Constitution -- why couldn't Wheeler? Or was a mistake made in allowing Bradbury to run for re-election?

As it turns out, there's a small but critical difference between the Bradbury scenario and the Wheeler scenario. The AG's opinion doesn't directly reference Bradbury, but draws a bright line between the two situations.

According to the opinion, the time period between an appointment to a vacancy and when a successor is elected (including to a partial term) does not count against the eight-year limit. But once a formal election happens, the clock starts to run.

It actually comes from an entirely different part of the Oregon Constitution; Article II, Section 12:

In all cases, in which it is provided that an office shall not be filled by the same person, more than a certain number of years continuously, an appointment pro tempore shall not be reckoned a part of that term.

So, in the Bradbury case, that first 14 months didn't count; he was just an appointee. But for Wheeler, while the first 9 months didn't count, once he won that 2010 election, he was no longer an appointee and the clock started to run. And at the end of his current term, he'll be at six years -- and ineligible to run again.

Mystery solved. And the answer is fairly elegant. Even if not entirely satisfying to fans of the State Treasurer.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs