Five candidates vying to become Bend’s first elected mayor in 90 years drew sharp distinctions on their approaches to growth, housing and connecting hundreds of homes to city sewer lines during a debate Thursday.
Disability rights advocate Brian Douglass, attorney and hemp farmer Michael Hughes, freelance photographer Joshua Langlais and city councilors Bill Moseley and Sally Russell met during a debate hosted by the Central Oregon Association of Realtors. A sixth candidate, security guard Charles Baer, did not attend.
Growth and housing
Bend is in the process of implementing a recently approved expansion of its urban growth boundary, the invisible line around the city that limits where it can expand. The Bend City Council is expected to approve an agreement this fall detailing what four developers in northwest Bend will do to provide infrastructure; the city’s working on planning for Bend’s southeastern “elbow,” and councilors are considering investing in dense development in the center of town.
The city needs to focus first on filling in current land and developing neighborhood hubs in undeveloped areas, Russell said. At the same time, Bend should start preparing for future expansions by working with Deschutes County to identify land where the city will grow, she said.
“We need these neighborhood centers,” she said. “We need these neighborhood hubs, and we need to build the infrastructure around them.”
Moseley agreed that Bend needs to build its infrastructure, including extensions of Murphy Road and Empire Avenue, that will support new homes that need to be built to meet Bend’s growth. But he said Bend also needs to slow its growth and development needs to respect existing neighborhoods.
Bend residents concerned about six-story buildings next door aren’t NIMBYs — an acronym for “not in my backyard” that’s used to describe people opposed to development — and the city needs to stop using that word to denigrate people concerned about their neighborhoods, he said.
“It’s the American dream to actually own a home, a dream that is still alive but fading in Bend,” Moseley said.
That dream isn’t shared by a lot of Bend residents, Langlais said. Langlais, 36, said he and other young people aren’t looking for large single-family homes with yards: they just want a home where they can afford to live.
“We need to suck it up, realize that growth is going to happen and find the best way forward,” he said. “Some people might have to sacrifice a parking spot.”
Both he and Hughes said they want to see more high-density development. Along with building up, Hughes said he wants to work with the county on identifying land where Bend can expand to the east.
“We need to look at our urban growth boundary differently than Portland does,” he said.
Growth will slow down if Bend doesn’t preserve livability, Douglass said. He said Bend needs to invest in infrastructure, including hundreds of miles of missing sidewalks.
Douglass said he wants to make sure people can live in La Pine and use public transportation to work in Bend and raise the minimum wage in Bend to $15 an hour.
Septic to sewer
Hundreds of homes in Bend use septic systems, and about 600 are close enough to a new sewer line that they soon won’t be allowed to repair their failing septic systems. A city committee spent the past year figuring out how best to connect those homes, and the City Council is now reviewing how to distribute the cost of those connections.
Both Douglass and Moseley said the work done now is coming too late. The city was aware when it annexed the land in the ’90s that it would have to provide sewer, Douglass said, but Bend took in tax revenue from the area and spent it in other parts of town.
“When the city decided they wanted to annex the southeast area, they knew that area was on septic,” he said. “They had to know that was going to be an issue that would be a burden on this community. The City Council made that mistake, and now we’re all going to pay for it.”
Moseley agreed that the cost should be spread across the entire city of Bend, instead of following a plan proposed by the city’s committee that would cap costs for homeowners at $25,000.
Homeowners and the city should split the cost, Russell said. Bend also needs to work with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to buy time so homeowners can continue to repair their septic systems until the city has financing options and a safety net in place, she said.
Hughes said the problem was complex but could be solved. The city should consider waiving fees associated with connecting to the sewer, he said, and it can use a special taxing district that will spread the cost for homeowners over 30 years.
He also suggested using local marijuana tax revenue to help pay for sewer connections. Bend voters approved a 3 percent pot sales tax in 2016, and revenue from the tax can be used for any city expenses.
“I can guarantee you that the people in the cannabis industry won’t be upset about this money being used to help the people in southeast Bend,” he said.
Langlais said he wanted to see whether local people can donate time and resources to bring the cost of connections down.
“In my socialist mind, it doesn’t make much sense,” he said.
Mayoral candidates will debate again Oct. 8, during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters. Ballots will be mailed beginning Oct. 17, and Election Day is Nov. 6.
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