This month the people of Bend voted in four City Council races, electing Bruce Abernethy, Justin Livingston, Bill Moseley and Sally Russell to sit on the council for the next four years, alongside Nathan Boddie, Barbara Campbell and Casey Roats.
To get a sense of the issues the City Council will tackle in the upcoming session, the Source Weekly reached out to all members of the City council. The four recently-elected councilors and standing councilor, Nathan Boddie, responded by press time. Here's what they had to say about the current issues facing Bend.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The web version of this story is an extended version from the print edition, including all responses from the councilors who responded.
Uber in Bend
Source Weekly: We live in a city with a high tourism population and a need for more public transit options. Do you support allowing Uber to operate in the city of Bend?
Sally Russell: Technology is pushing significant change in transportation in cities throughout the U.S. Uber, Lyft, Zip Cars, etc, all have the ability to change how the City looks at parking and transportation infrastructure. I need to understand better what challenges other cities have found when accepting these services, but overall their benefit and nimble structure is too great to ignore. I still believe that traditional taxi services will continue to have their place in our communities, but there will be a shift in the overall market.
Justin Livingston: I do support Uber operating in Bend. As long as they adhere to similar requirements as taxi companies. I'm a supporter of free markets & believe competition is good for consumers.
Bill Moseley: Yes, I support allowing Uber to operate in the city of Bend
Nathan Boddie: Any reputable business that wants to locate in Bend and create jobs is welcome. We already have regulations for taxi companies that protect public safety and prevent criminal behavior. So long as any rideshare or taxi company agrees to obey the rules for background checks, vehicle markings, and insurance, they’re welcome in Bend as far as I’m concerned. However, we won’t support any business that wants to rewrite the books at the expense of public safety. Hopefully, rideshare companies are more responsible than that.
Bruce Abernethy: Yes, at this point I am supportive of allowing Uber to operate in the City of Bend. I will need to do more research to see the experience in other cities, but for right now, I am not aware of any restrictions I would seek to impose.
SW: You may be aware of the story that ran in the Source Nov. 9, titled "Septic Shock." What's your perspective on how to handle the issue of expensive sewer hookup fees, currently passed onto individual homeowners? Do you support a Local Improvement District model?
Sally Russell: Council has been skirting this issue for several years, as I have loudly asked for a solution to prevent the Council and City from being in exactly this place. And here we are. I have every hope that my colleagues will focus attention on developing a short-term solution in the next three months, as we identify and put longer term solutions in place for the entire community.
I will work for a short term "bridging" fix to provide long term financing options through Craft 5 and similar public financing entities. At the same time, look at exploring the development of a short term year program to place a lien against properties that are in escrow, until LIDs can be developed in neighborhoods to share the cost. At the same time, I believe that state and federal funding specifically for these kind of mandated infrastructure projects should be aggressively pursued at the state and national levels.
Bruce Abernethy: This is a very difficult and costly situation that does not have any easy answers. There is no question the LID costs homeowners money, but it also improves the value of their property, and cannot be borne entirely by the City. For these reasons, I am supportive of using an LID model in this circumstance, and ensuring the ability for homeowners to finance the infrastructure expense over time (that is an expense I can see the City helping with).
Bill Moseley: I support providing assistance to residents required to connect to the city's sewer system. I need to hear from residents and city staff about possible solutions, such as an LID, before choosing the best solutions. Neighborhood associations can help collect and provide input into the process.
Justin Livingston: Yes, I’m aware of this story & the situation. I facilitated a meeting between the owners, buyer, Real Estate Brokers, & City of Bend engineering to make sure all parties were on the same page. This is an issue that unfortunately has been kicked down the road for nearly 20 years & deserves a solution. At this point I’m a proponent of Local Improvement Districts to help address the problem & to make sure we don’t have a piecemeal sewer system in the affected areas.
Nathan Boddie: Funding to get some Bend homes off septic systems and onto sewer is potentially one of the most expensive problems to face certain Bend homeowners since I’ve been on council. It’s also one of the most ignored. I have tried to find funding at the state level for this significant problem and hopefully will be successful this session in Salem. Until then, local improvement districts are a reasonable option, and I will work hard to make sure the state continues to allow them for neighborhoods where they make sense.
SW: What is your perspective on the Heritage Square Vision concept for downtown Bend?
Bruce Abernethy: I would characterize myself as neutral to slightly opposed to Heritage Square. I want to be clear that I like the concept and love the idea of providing a centralized community gathering space. The sticking points, as they have been for years, are the cost, how do you replace/move parking and security of another public piece of property (see issues with the Mirror Pond Plaza and even Drake Park). Proponents have yet to convince me the overall cost is worth the overall benefit.
Bill Moseley: I support the Heritage Square concept. We need to bring together those with vision, authority and resources. Local leaders, the school district, Parks and Rec and the City need to build a consensus on our vision and then decide how to support it. In 2017, I want to explore how and whether we can move this idea forward.
Justin Livingston: At this point I'm neutral on Heritage Square. It could be a cool centerpiece of our city, but at this point I haven't seen a way forward to fund the completion of the concept within the confines of the existing budget. For me there are higher priority projects to allocate existing funding to.
Nathan Boddie: Heritage square and Troy Field as part of the design have been on the books for decades with limited progress. I’ve been involved in negotiations between the city, school board, and parks and hope those will continue. All three entities will need to coordinate to realize the Heritage Square vision, but it’s really the only responsible use for the area in question. Our community wants it, so I hope we can make all the pieces come together to fund and develop the concept.
Sally Russell: This vision for the Heart of Bend’s Downtown still has strength. A broader community round table, including the School and Parks Districts and the City of Bend and more, is a vital next step. I sincerely think it’s high time for Bend’s “face" to turn to the Deschutes River and Mirror Pond, relocating today's parking lots. As any strong plan, it will take engagement at many levels and some truly creative thinking and financing to become a reality. Our future City would benefit from this work.
SW: What workforce housing strategies, if any, do you support, and why?
Justin Livingston: I don't think anyone can argue that Bend doesn't have an affordability problem with the biggest driver of that problem being the cost of housing. We need to pursue any and all options that lead to more housing units being built, including starting on the next expansion of the UGB. The day the latest expansion was approved we were already eight years behind on the 20-year supply of developable land that the State of Oregon requires.
Sally Russell: Accelerating the UGB code work is critical in attacking Bend's workforce housing needs. The sooner this work is complete, the more workforce housing has a chance of getting built. Meanwhile, making it faster to move through Bend's planning and building departments = cost reductions. As you are probably aware, planning department fees are based directly on the cost of providing the service, so any way to expedite a service through efficiency means reduced fees to the developer of any project.
I also think it's time to ask the community whether the current level investment in new parks, given the huge community need—and very high cost—of city transportation, water and sewer infrastructure is consistent with their overall priorities. I suspect after this most recent election this may be shifting.
Certainly reduced Parks SDCs would affect the overall cost of producing housing.
Finally, the 90-day rental notices and suggested rent control being discussed, formally and informally, by both the State Legislature and Bend City Council have the very real potential ability to slow down the current rapid building pace of housing taking place today, which can reduce Bend's problem significantly in the very near future. Already Bend has 2,000 units coming on line, under construction or in the planning stages. We need them all and more. I am certainly not a fan of any good citizen getting thrown out on the street with no place to go. That IS a very real problem Bend has right now, today.
I would hope that the incoming Council makes this issue one of our very first top priorities, works from solid data, and makes meaningful policy decisions that keep the building going forward on this badly needed housing inventory, as we keep hard-working people in homes.
Nathan Boddie: Workforce and affordable housing is the single biggest challenge currently facing Bend. We are not able to bring in business or create jobs because of housing and rental shortages here. The medical community is facing staffing shortages, we can't hire firefighters or police officers, and local businesses are being forced to move away from Bend due to workforce shortages. If we don't fix the problem, Bend will cease to be the town we know today. That's why I continue to work to create housing options across the income spectrum.
So far I've helped City Council reduce the fees builders pay for affordable housing construction, built in zoning for more affordable homes as part of our UGB expansion process, created incentives for cottage homes, and increased accessory dwelling unit availability. Although not strictly an affordability issue, I also favor reasonable regulations for vacation rental properties so they don't overtake our rental market.
In the future, I look forward to council extending the time renters have to find homes by increasing eviction notices to 90 days, acknowledging that our rental market is too tight for someone to find a new place in Bend more quickly.
Bruce Abernethy: Affordable housing is an extremely important issue that needs to be a priority for the next City Council (and probably City Councils for years to come). The main issue is that although the City is actually doing a lot in this arena, we are still swamped by market forces and the sheer number of people who want to move to Bend. I am encouraged by the formation of a Collaborative Housing Workgroup (Bend 2030 project) that I think is going to come up with some viable policies and I will look at them closely. I am willing to look at a variety of policy choices related to density and perhaps deferring expenses if there is a guarantee that the savings are passed on to the buyer/renter.
Bill Moseley: Bend’s #1 challenge is the continued gentrification of our community – driven primarily by the rapid price increases in middle-class housing. The disappearance of housing that working people can afford will change the character of our community and harm our local economy. When a city lot costs $175,000 just for the dirt, it’s very difficult to build a house that the average family can afford. We need to make our voice heard in Salem that the state’s land use system needs to provide for a supply of land that allows working people to live here.
We need to build out the infrastructure required to support the recently approved UGB expansion. I remain deeply concerned that the approved UGB will radically transform the everyday lives of residents – often in ways never expected or desired. At the same time, we need to make lemonade from lemons. Given a choice between the UGB expansion and the disappearance of middle-class housing, I’ll choose to support the housing options provided in the UGB expansion.
We need to begin planning for the next UGB expansion immediately. The state’s land use process typically takes nearly a decade of meetings and paperwork before getting Salem’s blessing. We should plan on this difficulty and start planning now for the land we need decades away – before scarcity causes housing price spikes.
The city should examine the development code for impediments to building middle-class housing, such as height restrictions. The city needs to improve processes that add costs and uncertainty. We need for homes to be built. Home builders need clear answers, and efficient permitting and inspections so they can get the job done.
We need to shift the Council’s and staff focus to provide middle-class housing. I applaud the strides we made in housing for lower incomes. Our real problem though is gentrification. Providing housing for the poor and rich at the expense of the middle is no solution at all.
State Budget Shortfall
SW: Even before the failure of Measure 97, the state of Oregon was facing a serious budget shortfall. What effect, in your perspective, will the state budget have on the city budget? How do you foresee handling a potential shortfall coming from state coffers?
Nathan Boddie: State budgets will have an enormous hole in the next few years. While I won't be able to fix that at the level of City Council, Bend will feel its effects through decreased funding for roads, sewer upgrades, and school funding. I hope our state delegation will work hard in Salem to address the shortfall rather than throwing rocks at their colleagues across the aisle or getting stuck in one political ideology or another. In the meantime, I will continue to advocate on council for responsible financial policy and prudent use of public funds as I always have.
Sally Russell: Continuing to focus on maintaining efficiencies developed during the recession, and leveraging both public and private partnerships—as the City did with transit expansion—will be critical in the next four years. After all, the City will need to focus on all the work needed to implement the recent Urban Growth Boundary expansion.
I believe that the community needs to look seriously at an effective, structured working partnership between the City of Bend, Bend Metro Parks and Recreation, and the Bend-La Pine School District. There are partnerships and efficiencies that can benefit our taxpayers, while saving each entity dollars.
Most importantly, people need to recognize that government can't take on everything. The message is to live within our financial constraints. Part of that means individuals need to find ways to collaboratively find better ways to solve their local problems. The City can support it, for instance, by making a mediator available instead of creating a new ordinance that the City doesn't have the financial capacity to consistently enforce.
Bend's infrastructure construction and maintenance, especially, will be directly affected by a constrained State Budget shortfall. In addition, a growing PERS burden will take away for the City's ability to fund other areas. This is what I said in my statement on Measure 97. I'll focus on this over my next four years on Council.
Please join me in urging our State legislators and Governor to work together on a long term, visionary funding structure for Oregon—one that is comprehensive and fair, and fixes the many inequities of the existing system.
Justin Livingston: At this point any resolutions for how the Oregon Legislature will handle any budget shortfalls is speculation. Where we could see the greatest impact would be in partnership projects the City of Bend does with ODOT unless the Legislature passes a transportation bill.
Bill Moseley: Measure 97 was an attempt to fund public employee retirement accounts through the largest tax increase in our state’s history. My desire is for our elected state officials to show leadership and solve the PERS problem. Outside of government, taxpayers can only dream about the benefit packages received by state employees. I will add my voice as a counselor and small business owner to the growing chorus of people demanding an end to this injustice.
To the extent that the state attempts to pass PERS costs to local governments, we need to adapt to ensure costs are borne where the decision are made – in Salem. Currently, the city pays about 30% of every dollar paid in wages to PERS. Shifting labor costs through contracting could be a means to prevent the state from passing the PERS tab to local property taxpayer.
Bruce Abernethy: The City of Bend budget is not nearly as dependent upon state funding as education (K-12 and higher ed) so it is way too early to tell the magnitude and direction of the impact (i.e. where we might feel cuts). There will clearly be some effect, but it will probably be a result of the state legislature trying to backfill other cuts in education and social services.
SW: In light of a highly charged national political climate, what can local citizens do to stay focused on the issues that matter most to them and their day-to-day lives?
Bill Moseley: The health of our democracy rests upon some level of citizen participation, understanding and compromise. While I visited with residents during my campaign, I was often surprised by residents' level of awareness of basic issues that impact them every day. I encourage people to read the paper, write a councilor, join a committee, go to a neighborhood association meeting, volunteer at a nonprofit – GET INVOLVED. We need broad participation by the entire community, not just activists. Right now the fringes of our political spectrum have an outsized voice. We have so many talented, enterprising and decent people in Bend. Everyone needs to step up to keep the Bend we know and love.
Bruce Abernethy: My advice is to encourage people to take a deep breath and a step back from the most recent election. Here are a couple of observations that I hope people will agree with: 1) there are things/events/movements that can bring us together as Americans (e.g. 9/11, disasters, etc.) and the more we can focus on those the better; and 2) the election was very close (Hillary actually won the popular vote) and that means that there is no mandate per se. My hope, and one of the things I will be advocating for on Council, is the importance of both parties/both sides examining how they might better understand or interpret where the other side is coming from. I do believe there is more common ground than people think there is right now.
Nathan Boddie: All politics is local, as they say. I hope residents focus on what their local government is doing for housing and affordability and hold elected officials accountable. The current City Council has presided over unprecedented job growth and economic development. Bend is one of the top cities in the nation for small business, real estate, and we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the northwest. On Council we have worked to create jobs, remove barriers to prosperity and promote businesses. I will continue that work. Hopefully, the incoming councilors will take heed of what we've done and keep the economic engine running.
Justin Livingston: Get involved! The easiest way people can do this by attending their neighborhood association meetings to learn about the issues & to voice their concerns & constructive solutions. Local governments do have the largest impacts good or bad on people’s daily lives.
Sally Russell: In every conversation work to find common areas you share with the person you are talking with.
Each of us recognize the differing needs of our community, on a one-on-one basis. Be willing to work with each other, talk to each other and listen. Stop blaming and pointing fingers at each other, be willing to step forward and create broad minded meaningful solutions that serve everyone.
I truly believe that’s a major directive that has come out of this most recent election. Being a strident advocate has its joys, but I believe its effective days are behind us.
Bend's Other Big Issues
SW: Other issues that seem to come up time and again include dredging Mirror Pond, the current lawsuit issued by the company handling the sewer treatment expansion project, climate change initiatives, noise ordinances and short-term rental regulations and impact. State your position or perspective on handling any any of these issues.
Bill Moseley: I hope we can show the community the city can solve problems. Let’s start with Mirror Pond. There is a near universal consensus that Mirror Pond should be preserved as an icon of our city. Let’s stop talking and start doing.
Nathan Boddie: What some call climate change regulation, I simply call good economic policy. At the local level, what’s proposed is making our city government more efficient so it costs tax payers less money for the same services. If we save some carbon emissions along the way, that just sounds like financially responsible good government to me.
Bruce Abernethy: Noise ordinance: On the campaign trail, I had someone tell me that the City has been spending the past several years working on “hard infrastructure” (water, sewer, streets) and we had fallen behind on the “soft infrastructure” (noise, livability issues that arise through increased density). I concur. I want to revisit the current noise ordinance with a goal to make it more in line with many of our peer cities (i.e. lower), and easier to understand/enforce.
Justin Livingston: Sewer treatment plant lawsuit – Being that there is an active lawsuit I’m not privy to all of the details, but a resolution needs to be found that can get the waste water treatment plant upgrades completed with the highest quality, in the most timely fashion, & with the least amount of financial impact to rate payers.
Sewer Treatment expansion lawsuit - This is the direct result of following the low bid system. As a result, Council and staff have specifically changed policies and contracting procedures as a result of the very real difficulties working with the contract who won the bid on this project. Mark this one as “done” for now.
Climate change initiatives - As a believer in the need for the City to allow greater focus on sustainable initiatives, both inside the City and in the community at large, I firmly believe this process could have been more streamlined—and avoided much of the drama—had councilors been more willing to work with each other at the beginning of the process. Instead, an ordinance was presented and its supporters tried to force its passage without greater community and councilor understanding or buy-in. I am not a huge fan of this style of public work. It breeds distrust, and often bad policy making as well.
Short term rentals - This is an emotionally tough one. The neighborhoods most affected by the rapid increase of short term rentals would like a faster move back to their old way of life. Living next to an illegal operating STR, I personally understand how frustrating that can be. However, the unneighborly behavior associated with Short Term Rentals, as well as onsite parking issues has diminished and largely disappeared. Some on-the-ground whispering says there is a shift away from STR’s use, although owners are keeping their permits in place legally. Given the significant City investment in creating a system to change both the immediate and longer term impact on these neighborhoods, as well as others, and given all the other work cuing up on the City’s plate, I don’t see enough data pointing to additional changes to Short Term Rental polities at this time.
Noise Ordinances - In truth, the really big problem is bass. I would like to see residents who are interested in this to invest their energies and focus in developing a program to measure bass consistently. Beyond that, I’m cautiously moving in the direction of never allowing exceeding noise limits except for a handful of exceptions. I am curious to look into why noise variances need to be exceeded, except in the case of the Les Schwab Amphitheater. The City has done some work on this as have residents. There is still some divergence in understanding exactly who Bend’s code matches up with other communities’ noise ordinances.
A New Mayor for Bend in 2017
SW: Sally Russell, our current mayor Jim Clinton chose not to run for re-election, and you're listed as Mayor Pro Tem. If your fellow council members choose you as mayor of the city of Bend, what leadership roles or issues would you take on?
Sally Russell: Working with the new Council, as Mayor, I would be fair and disciplined, and work with everyone to move through public meetings efficiently and get our work done. Keeping in mind, respectful and concise discourse serves everyone well. I have always been an advocate for reaching in and engaging citizens in all neighborhoods, all corners, of our City. This includes bringing City Councilors out of City Hall, and closer to voters throughout Bend on a regular schedule. During the Council’s goal setting, I will push for this, and know that other Councilors are interested in this as well.
And, as a political body, the Bend City Council will need to leave room for community conversations on issues that arise on a spontaneous basis, while keeping our eye on the greater, long term needs of our community.