Priority Planning or Pet Project?Investment in community planning effort could be a liability | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

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Priority Planning or Pet Project?Investment in community planning effort could be a liability

Can Bend 2030 Save Mirror PondPutting plastic baggies in public parks to deal with doggie land mines is arguably not an idea many people find


Can Bend 2030 Save Mirror PondPutting plastic baggies in public parks to deal with doggie land mines is arguably not an idea many people find important right now, but the Bend 2030 project, funded by $340,000 of city money over the last three years, lists it as one of its achievements on its website.

Created by the Bend City Council in 2006 as an effort to craft a long-range vision and planning framework for the community, Bend 2030, according to the organization, included input from 10,000 citizens who defined a vision for Bend's future long-term livability and quality of life. It's already resulted in the reduction of open burning with the expansion of the area's curbside yard waste program and includes action items like increasing the availability of quality childcare in the area, finding a long term solution to Mirror Pond sedimentation, improving access to health care, promoting key business sectors and working to expand public transportation throughout the city. (A detailed list of projects is available at

But it's also has been called a pet project by opponents who want civic leaders to focus on preserving core services like building inspections and street maintenance at a time when the city budget is falling faster than the Dow Jones. And as voters begin to cast their ballots, Bend 2030 is one of the "issues" that could determine the outcome of the next election, in which a block of so-called progressive councilors faces a slate of challengers funded by the local business community that wants the city to spend less time on city-driven projects like Juniper Ridge and Bend 2030 and more time on promoting economic growth with a limited government, free-market approach. If challengers like Jeff Eager, Kathie Eckman and Tom Greene, all of whom have the support of the powerful Bend Chamber and building and real estate industry lobby (Greene is president of the local board of realtors), it could mean a significant shift in city hall's support of long range planning and economic development projects like Juniper Ridge and Bend 2030 and more time spent removing perceived hurdles to development, like higher development fees.

In the meantime Bend 2030 and Juniper Ridge have emerged as election issues, which some candidates allude to as "Pet Projects."

If Bend 2030 has had a hard time shaking its image as a warm and fuzzy waste of time, there might be a reason. Consider the recent town hall meeting at the Bend Senior Center where community members were invited to see the project's work to date and interact with board members. For a supposedly serious long-term planning project, the meeting played out like a Cub Scout jamboree. Attendees were handed "passports" when they arrived and instructed to get them stamped at six different booths that represent areas of focus for the Bend 2030 project. The reward: a working knowledge of Bend 2030's plan, but also a chance to win a door prize. Not surprisingly, at least one resident thought the meeting was kind of a joke.

"I like how the passport thing gets people to move around, talk to others and learn what this project is accomplishing, but it seems like it would have been better served as a community forum, where people could ask questions and get answers from officials in front of a group rather than privately discussing initiatives (with Bend 2030 leaders)," Bend resident John Billings said.

No one was heard openly objecting to any Bend 2030 projects at the town hall meeting. But it has become an election issue for council candidates, lumped in with other "pet projects" like Juniper Ridge that have been assailed as a costly waste of time and resources. When it comes to Bend 2030 no one is more vulnerable than Linda Johnson, who was the primary advocate for the project and its biggest booster on the council. Johnson's opponent, Kathie Eckman has criticized the council's financial investment in Bend 2030 and is running a well-funded campaign to unseat Johnson. While Eckman has said that she wouldn't dismantle 2030, which is now operating without city funding, she and other candidates are pushing the idea that they are fiscally responsible candidates who will avoid spending taxpayer money on "pet projects."

"It's run by all unpaid volunteers, so I see nothing wrong with the program," Eckman said. "But I'd really have to take a long look at its budget before making any kind of definitive statement."

About $340,000 was used to train a 25-person vision task force, which learned how to plan and develop long-range civic plans. City Manager Eric King, who used to head up efforts for Bend 2030, said a $15,000 municipal grant awarded to Bend 2030 before the economic downturn was the last city funding received by the committee. It was used earlier this year to hire a consultant in place of city staffers so Bend 2030 could become self-reliant.

"We still need to have a community vision," King said. "Just because there is less financial support you don't abandon the vision because resources have diminished. I still buy into the fact that the vision is important for the community and that that message should get out there."

Bend 2030 Chair Robin Gyorgyfalvy said people who don't share a need for a long-range vision, or who want to see immediate gratification with city funds and see short-term problems fixed right away will have a problem with Bend 2030.

"The Old Guard or the good-old-boys network may not approve of this, but Bend 2030 is something we and other cities are doing to plan for the future," she said. "You have to plan ahead. We're not always going to be in a recession. The Bend economy will bounce back, it's just a matter of when. With a good plan in place for future growth and development we can help that happen. "

Gyorgyfalvy said future plans are for Bend 2030 to be funded by some of the 42 businesses whose support was enlisted by the group's board of directors, and by private donations and grants, to help see its vision through over the next 22 years.

"There is a list of 276 action plan items, and we honed it down through meetings and discussions to a list of five to seven items from one of six focus areas - well-planned city, vibrant economy, quality environment, safe and healthy people, a strong community, and a creative, learning culture," Gyorgyfalvy said. "Transportation, land use, water use, and economic development have been deemed the most critical needs."

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