The last time Bend voted for its directly elected mayor, the candidate list was large, with two sitting city councilors among a slate of candidates vying for the job. This time, there are just two—one of whom is a current city councilor elected in 2020; the other, a former city councilor who was appointed to the post and subsequently lost his bid for City Council in 2020. Both candidates are quality people who undoubtedly care about Bend and would serve admirably, but we believe the one who's been on the council during a tumultuous—and also productive—time is who Bend should elect as mayor.
- Courtesy Melanie Kebler
Melanie Kebler has the background, experience, community support and mettle to tackle the challenges that persist for Bend, and she's proven during her two years on council that she understands the city's biggest needs and is willing to stand up to the powerful and vocal forces on all sides of the political spectrum who can't quite see the forest for the trees.
Some will have you believe that the current council, in place for less than two years, is to blame for the tent encampments and the rise in homelessness we see on the streets of Bend today. We see the opposite—that past councils, including the one Chris Piper was appointed to, also faced these issues and did very little. Kebler has served on a council that, while not pleasing everyone, has ushered in the formation of a dedicated low-barrier shelter with a navigation center attached. This council also made the difficult and sometimes-unpopular decision to convert motels into more shelter space. Without adequate shelter beds in place, it would be legally impossible to do what the council is poised to do next: to put rules in place about where people can—and cannot—camp in the city, and on what grounds the city can move people from encampments, thus avoiding the cumbersome approval process that sees camps languish at present.
Kebler, a lawyer who grew up in Bend and returned to raise her family, is proud of these accomplishments, and Bendites should be, too, because they point to a gutsy public servant who's willing to do the hard work and solve problems.
Kebler and challenger Piper both talk about the need for workforce housing, but it was while Kebler has been on the council that the city officially launched its Stevens Road project—a project that the current council ensured would include deed-restricted affordable housing and public employee housing. That project got off the ground thanks to Central Oregon's bipartisan delegation in the Oregon House and Senate and was championed by this council. Piper talked up another housing development, Petrosa, as an example of something he helped usher in during his time on council. Palisch Homes, which owns Petrosa, has been among Piper's biggest donors this election cycle, along with a host of other real-estate-related donors. Kebler, supported largely by small donations, seems just as attuned to housing needs, without the special-interest buy-in. Kebler appears to want to address these issues through focusing on things like middle-income tax exemptions to make affordable housing a reality for more folks. Piper leans more toward making development easier through changes in land use policies.
On another housing-related issue—permitting times at the City of Bend Development Department—Piper talked about the need to streamline the permitting process, an issue for developers for quite some time. Kebler, by contrast, pointed to actions she has actually taken, including bringing developers' concerns about permitting times to the city manager, who then directed staff to do an internal review of its permitting processes. That led to the creation of a dashboard that brought more accountability around permitting times.
Kebler has an edge given her focus and track record on some of the toughest challenges the city faces. Her aim to get middle-income tax exemptions for homebuyers seems a better use of resources for folks who work in Bend and want/need to live here than Piper's aim to bring more and more land into the Urban Growth Boundary for what he calls "managed growth." While it's true that Bend's UGB will need another look again soon, the example points to a difference in philosophy.
Whoever Bend elects this time around, either candidate will be ready to serve, but our bet's on the person who's already won one election and is ready to build on the reputation and responsibilities she's already shouldered. Vote Melanie Kebler for Bend mayor.
Where you'll find them on a Friday night:
Chris Piper: Food carts for date night
Melanie Kebler: East side food carts or at the movies
What Piper said about Kebler: He gives credit to anyone who runs for office and has to find the balance between family and politics.
What Kebler said about Piper: He's friendly and cordial with a great laugh.
Editor's note: A tech issue prevented us from publishing a video version of our interview with Kebler and Piper. We regret not having one for voters to watch. Our apologies.