While OSU-Cascades and opponents of the school’s west-side campus work their way through the Oregon Court of Appeals, critics of the school say there’s much else to be done, while the university’s boosters insist it’s time to move on.
The court is deciding whether an under-construction 10-acre campus on Bend’s west side adheres to the city of Bend’s development code. So far city staff, an independent hearings officer, the city council and a state board have all ruled in favor of the campus. Truth in Site, the organization challenging OSU-Cascades, argues the development will congest traffic and is upset about the lack of a solid, long-term plan for expansion beyond the 10-acre footprint.
Marie Matthews, a co-founder of Truth in Site, and Tracy Pfiffner, another member, concede the lawsuit isn’t likely to block the campus, though they argue there are other ways to stop the project, which is set to open in fall 2016. The pair say a petition and survey the group is publicizing could show lawmakers the community isn’t behind the project, which, they argue, could result in the school losing funding.
Now for Bend, an organization that formed to support the campus, says the community is behind the project, something it says it has already proven. Now for Bend had commissioned a statistically valid survey earlier this year that found 59 percent of residents support a west-side campus, while 35 percent oppose it.
These results are similar to those from a survey conducted by the campaign of state Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, which in 2014 found support to be at 61 percent.
Now for Bend’s survey was a random sample of 300 adult Bend residents that matches the city’s overall demographic profile. Based on the laws of probability, this procedure is expected to elicit representative results within 5.65 percentage points 19 out of 20 times it is conducted.
“I think the majority of Bend is in favor of moving forward, and I think the survey results underscore that,” said Amy Tykeson, a co-founder of Now for Bend and former CEO and president of BendBroadband.
Matthews and Pfiffner are less convinced, saying the survey didn’t specify where on the west side the campus would be located. Pfiffner added that she had heard from people who took the survey and characterized it as “confusing and misleading.”
Now for Bend declined to share the full list of questions used in the survey but stood by its methodology.
“We feel good about the process, it was statistically valid, the demographics were valid, and we stand beside those results,” Tykeson said.
Janie Teater, another co-founder of Now for Bend, said she heard from a supporter of the campus who thought the survey may have been sponsored by the opponents, adding it wouldn’t be in Now for Bend’s interest to attempt to skew results.
Truth in Site is now busy publicizing its own survey, including in areas of Central Oregon outside of Bend, which it argues should be considered when deciding where to locate the campus. Truth in Site’s survey is not statistically valid, as it’s hosted on a website that anyone can access. While only a single entry is allowed from every IP address, the population taking the survey is not a random sample of residents, and therefore not likely to be representative, but, instead, whoever decides to take the survey.
Matthews and Pfiffner acknowledged a large number of Truth in Site supporters are likely to take the survey, especially as the group has used its email list and Facebook page to publicize the survey, but said nothing is stopping campus supporters from taking it as well.
“It’s true it is self-selected,” Pfiffner said of the survey. “However, this opens up the conversation, which is needed.”
Matthews said she is putting more weight in a petition that asks the university’s leadership to abandon the west-side location and work with the public to select another site. As of Friday, 718 people had signed, though Now for Bend’s Teater noted a number of the signatories didn’t use their full names.
“If we get enough signatures I think the Legislature could end up looking at this differently,” Matthews said. “I don’t know what that number is, but I feel we can get there.”
Now for Bend has its own petition, which as of Friday had 744 signatories. The group also has a list of institutional supporters, including Central Oregon Community College, Deschutes Brewery, the Bend Chamber of Commerce and Bend Memorial Clinic.
Teater says she understands not everyone is on board with the campus, but said a college will boost the region’s economy and is only a drop in the bucket compared to all the growth the city is projected to experience.
“A lot of the concerns expressed by the opposition are issues related to growth, and there are really important questions,” she said. “But OSU-Cascades has done its homework.”
Teater asked whether the opposition would rather see a NorthWest Crossing-style development where the campus is being constructed, something she says would generate more congestion without stabilizing the economy.
Pfiffner said Now for Bend is attempting to paint Truth in Site as against a university, and therefore the economy, when instead she says the focus for her organization is all about the location.
According to Pfiffner, Truth in Site isn’t set on a particular alternative location, but suggested Juniper Ridge, an area on the city’s northern edge. OSU-Cascades has said infrastructure costs and the time needed to develop that site removed it from consideration.
Matthews, however, did have an idea for what else could go on the west-side campus location. Adjacent to the 10-acre site is a pumice mine, which the university is considering acquiring.
Instead of a campus, Matthews suggested the site could be used as an outdoor amphitheater.
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