Dozens of Bend residents crowded into a room in east Bend on Monday, where the seven Bend City Council candidates sparred on questions about Bend’s hottest issues — affordable housing, infrastructure and growth.
At the debate, hosted by the Central Oregon Association of Realtors, candidates were asked to respond to questions and defend themselves against their opponents.
Throughout the evening, the crowd cheered, booed and interrupted the candidates — especially when they spoke about controversial issues such government spending and land use laws.
The council has four positions up for election on the Nov. 8 ballot; they are currently held by Jim Clinton, Sally Russell, Doug Knight and Victor Chudowsky. Clinton and Chudowsky are not seeking re-election. Bruce Abernethy is uncontested and running for Clinton’s seat.
To start off the debate, the candidates for position 1 were asked how to tackle road repairs in Bend.
Ronald “Rondo” Boozell, a 25-year Bend resident, said he supports a fuel tax to pay for streets. However, Boozell said he opposed a March special election for a 5-cent gas tax, which voters rejected nearly 2-to-1.
“The vote that we had a half-year ago did not resolve anything,” said Boozell. “For some of us, it made us trust our City Council a little bit less.”
His opponent, Justin Livingston, also opposed councilors’ decision to hold the special election. Livingston, who works as a real estate broker, thinks the city should push state lawmakers to allow Bend to use tourism dollars for roads. Right now, state law limits the way the city can use a tax on hotel rooms and lodging.
“I want to go to Salem, and I want to fight for Bend,” said Livingston.
On the topic of housing and growth, Livingston said he wants to change the state’s land use laws to accommodate population growth. For instance, easing state restrictions that protect farmland could allow unused land to be used for housing, he said. Meanwhile, Boozell said he supports increasing oversight of Visit Bend — the city’s tourism agency — to slow growth and stop “corporate takeover.”
“The cost of some (of) our prosperity is the fact that we have more homelessness in this town,” said Boozell.
The debate between Knight, a building designer and engineer, and Bill Moseley, founder and CEO of GL Solutions, was a heated one, with candidates interrupting each other and audience members yelling in support of either candidate.
Moseley said he wants to change land use laws so Bend can have less infill and density. He wants to preserve the city as residents remember it in previous decades, for example, by protecting people’s ability to buy half-acre lots and not forcing residents into communities where they have to walk or bike.
Meanwhile, Knight said boosting density lowers burdens on sewers, water systems and roads, which will help Bend save money in the long run.
Both candidates agreed on wanting to grow Bend’s economy. When asked about how the candidates envisioned Bend in 20 years, the two agreed on wanting a city where people who work in town can afford to live there.
“The city of Bend, 20 years from now, is a place that accommodates all people,” said Knight. “It’s a place where we can afford to live because we have well-paying jobs.”
Moseley said he wanted a community that isn’t restricted by current land use law requirements. “I want it to be the community people want to live in, not the community people think we ought to live in,” said Moseley.
The two sparred about who was better qualified to serve as councilor. Knight said he has a proven track record with figuring out how to pay for new sewers and road repairs. Knight said his opponent is “unproven,” but Moseley said starting and running a technology company prepares him for managing and tightening city budgets.
Both long-time Bend residents, the candidates for position 3 said making Bend affordable for all Bend residents — including low-income residents and the middle class — is a top priority.
Wade Fagen of Fagen Tree Service & Wood Chips is running against Russell for position 3. Fagen identified himself as a native-born Bendite and small-business owner who supports protecting Bend for the middle class.
Fagen advocated for focusing on helping those already in Bend instead of advertising to outsiders.
“I’m going to help try to run Bend the same way I would try to run my business,” said Fagen.
Meanwhile, Russell, a Bend resident for more than 30 years, spoke on her ability to listen to community members and work with Bend residents to decide how the city will look and operate in the future.
“I want to make a difference in this city,” said Russell. “And I want to work with all of the residents in this city.”
Fagen cautioned about solely relying on growth from tourism and wants to focus on making the city better for residents, particularly those on the east side.
“Do we want growth, or do we want livability?” said Fagen.
Fagen said he supports development where residents can live and work in the same neighborhood.
Russell touched on her experience dealing with the city budget, which she said is more limited than some residents assume. Most of the city’s general fund goes to police and fire, which leaves little wiggle room when paying for thing like streets and housing, she said.
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