Bend’s neighborhood associations are still a relatively new commodity, less than 20 years old. They were created largely to increase “citizen participation in local decision-making,” according to the city’s website, and they may have done that to some extent.
Now they’d like to boost their role in city government, and one way they propose to do so is through the new Neighborhood Leadership Alliance, a city-created committee of association leaders charged with advising the City Council on issues from a community perspective.
It’s difficult to believe that 13 men and women from various artificially created “neighborhoods” around the city somehow reflect the collective opinions of people in those neighborhoods. Suggesting that all or even a majority of any neighborhood’s residents agree is likely a mistake.
City councilors should move slowly in changing the way the city deals with the associations. For instance, a citywide approach is the best way to ensure that citizens, no matter where they live or drive, have safe streets on which to get around. The assumption should not be made that whatever the NLA declares should be a traffic safety priority is the unfiltered voice of the people.
Nor should NLA or individual associations be given early notification of proposed development projects and the like. Instead, everyone entitled to that sort of notification should receive it at the same time. That’s a matter of fairness.
Bend residents have not hesitated to make their feelings known about city issues that are important to them — from placement of crosswalks to sewering unsewered sections of town, with or without neighborhood associations.
Neighborhood associations and their leaders can help spread the word and gather feedback. But listening to the views of the leaders of the neighborhood associations should not be viewed as shorthand for what Bend thinks.