Four Bend City Council candidates sparred over growth, transportation and housing at a debate Monday.
The Central Oregon Association of Realtors hosted a joint debate with Position 5 candidates Gena Goodman-Campbell and Andrew Davis and Position 6 candidates Barb Campbell and Sarah McCormick.
Victor Johnson, who’s running for Position 5, and Ron “Rondo” Boozell, who’s running for Position 6, did not attend the debate. Boozell is in jail through December for failing to pay child support; Johnson did not respond to an invitation, said Tyler Neese, the association’s government affairs director.
The association’s political action committee has given $30,000 to Davis and $10,000 to McCormick, according to campaign finance records filed with the Oregon Secretary of State.
Davis and McCormick both said the city should focus on quickly annexing land in its urban growth boundary, the line around Bend that limits where it can grow. A land shortage means Bend can’t build homes or attract high-paying jobs quickly enough, said Davis, Central Oregon Community College’s director of student life.
The city also needs to start planning for its next UGB expansion immediately, he said.
“If we can build homes quickly enough, we can help costs from scaling out of control,” he said.
Goodman-Campbell, public lands coordinator for the Oregon Natural Desert Association, said she agreed Bend should be building more homes quickly to address the city’s housing crisis, but she said Bend should be careful about sprawling. The city’s last urban growth boundary expansions took two tries and several years to be approved because it tried to expand too far, she said.
“I really don’t think we can afford more sprawl, especially when we have trouble maintaining the roads and infrastructure we have now,” she said.
Smart growth includes focusing development in the center of the city, where roads and other infrastructure already exist, Goodman-Campbell said.
Davis and Goodman-Campbell said they wanted to see developers in Bend building more varieties of housing, including duplexes and townhomes. The focus should be on homes for people making the median income of $64,000 or below, Goodman-Campbell said, because Bend has a shortage of thousands of homes for people making that amount but a surplus of homes for people with higher incomes.
McCormick, a stay-at-home mother whose family owns the Pine Tavern, said the city should focus on annexing land in the UGB rather than trying city policies like rent control or inclusionary zoning, which requires affordable housing in developments. Developers work with fine margins and requiring them to construct affordable housing will mean they move to other cities, she said
“There is a price to be paid for putting in low-income housing,” McCormick said.
Bend and other cities have learned from past failures and now build subsidized housing so it fits in with neighborhoods, said Campbell, a current city councilor and owner of the Wabi Sabi gift shop in downtown Bend. She said she wished she could get all Bend residents who are concerned about affordable housing projects on a bus tour to look at the projects the city’s already completed.
“I think most of our citizens would be surprised to find out they are already living near affordable housing,” she said. “We’ve done a remarkable job of making those types of housing fit into neighborhoods.”
State law requires Bend to reduce how many miles vehicles travel, and there are several ways to do that, Goodman-Campbell said. One way is by making sure Bend residents have access to amenities like grocery stores in their neighborhoods, so they’re able to safely walk, bike or drive a short distance instead of driving across town, she said.
“If their car breaks down, a lot of people don’t have ways to get around town,” she said.
Campbell and Goodman-Campbell both talked about how advances in street-light technology can help traffic. Smart traffic signals and route-finding apps that advise drivers to take less congested routes help create capacity without widening streets, Campbell said.
McCormick and Davis, meanwhile, said they supported a pilot program near Oregon State University-Cascades that will test subsidizing ride-hailing services in place of a bus route that was canceled this summer because of low ridership. Subsidizing ride-hailing rides is better for the city’s budget and the environment than operating buses, McCormick said, but she said Campbell would disagree because “she’s part of the protest with the bus union people.” Campbell, along with Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, joined city bus drivers when they rallied for higher wages last month.
“I’m really excited about having Uber subsidized in place of our bus system,” McCormick said.
Campbell, who voted against the pilot program, said she doesn’t want the city to work with companies like Uber and Lyft because their rating system allows for discrimination.
“Subsidizing Uber with tax money? No, thank you,” she said.
Campbell and Goodman-Campbell agreed that the city as a whole and the hundreds of homeowners who will have to connect to Bend’s sewer lines should split the costs of connection. A current suggestion from a city committee made up mostly of people who live in a southeast Bend neighborhood near a new city sewer line would cap the connection costs for homeowners at $25,000, instead of the $100,000 or more some homeowners would have to pay without city intervention.
The committee’s suggestion also would create financing options that would spread the cost over years and create a safety net for people who can’t afford to connect.
A fee of $25,000 is still too much, Davis said.
“To someone who is retired and drawing on Social Security, that number might as well be $1 million,” he said.
He said the city should keep looking at financing options and make sure everyone contributes to the cost.
McCormick, meanwhile, said its the city’s responsibility to take care of its residents and homeowners shouldn’t have to pay $25,000.
“The city needs to get back to the drawing board,” she said.
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