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A Time Limit on Democracy

A local group called Infrastructure First is pushing an intriguing idea: Instead of letting growth happen helter-skelter and worrying later about paying for the sewers,

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A local group called Infrastructure First is pushing an intriguing idea: Instead of letting growth happen helter-skelter and worrying later about paying for the sewers, water mains, streets and other stuff that growth requires, do the infrastructure first - or at least within two years of when the new development happens.

Infrastructure First has been trying for a couple of years to get enough signatures to put its idea on the local ballot in the form of an initiative. It's been an uphill slog: The group has no big-bucks supporters to buy TV ads or pay signature gatherers. It's a true grassroots campaign.

Infrastructure First turned in 5,100 signatures to try to put its measure on the November ballot. That was about 1,000 names short. Now it's hoping to collect enough to qualify the initiative for the ballot next spring.

That irks Bend City Councilor Mark Capell, who wants the city to impose some sort of limit on the amount of time petitioners have to gather signatures. Last week, a majority of Capell's fellow councilors went along with him and asked city staff to draw up an ordinance.
What's the compelling need for a time limit? After all, it doesn't cost the city anything for Infrastructure First to keep collecting signatures. If its hardy band of supporters want to pursue a quixotic quest, why should the city stop them?


The answer, we think, is pretty obvious. Although Infrastructure First is small, poorly funded and fairly powerless, it's been a burr on the butt of the local real estate / developer / builder axis for years. As long as Infrastructure First exists, it continues to call attention to the dismal failure of Bend to intelligently plan for and manage growth. The growth-at-any-cost faction and its cheerleaders in city government and the local media would like nothing better than to see Infrastructure First just go away - quietly if possible, kicking and screaming if necessary.

Speaking of media cheerleaders, Bend's Only Daily Newspaper has predictably endorsed Capell's proposal. It conceded that it can take grassroots organizations time to get their act together, so "the city shouldn't set so short a limit that it would effectively squelch all initiatives." But without a time limit, the editorial argued, "almost any nutty idea could eventually get enough signatures to appear on the ballot."

Maybe so. But so what? Isn't it the right of the voters - not three or four people on a newspaper editorial board - to decide that an initiative is "nutty" and reject it?

And if Infrastructure First's idea is so nutty, what are the growth lobby and its apologists afraid of? Why do they want to shut down debate instead of arguing the issue on its merits?

Coming close on the heels of the council's decision to give builders a handout by deferring Systems Development Charges, the move to stifle Infrastructure First is disappointing, but not really surprising. Here's THE BOOT to Capell's idea, and to the council for not kicking it out the door immediately.

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