Voters elect Bend city councilors to look after their interests and the city’s. Councilors aren’t elected to rubber stamp what the Bend Chamber of Commerce wants.
On Wednesday, something happened that could have made people wonder.
Preston Callicott, who serves on the board of the Bend Chamber, spoke before councilors and urged them not to buy the Rainbow Motel on Franklin Avenue in downtown for a homeless shelter. Katy Brooks, president and CEO of the Bend Chamber, wrote a letter to councilors making a similar argument. Then, later in Wednesday’s council meeting, councilors terminated the city’s purchase and sale agreement for the Rainbow.
Just like that the Rainbow deal was dead. Councilors are continuing to look at Bend Value Inn, which is also downtown.
Did councilors do what the chamber wanted? Yes.
Did councilors do it because the chamber said so? No.
Is the chamber against housing homeless downtown? No on that one, too.
Will one hotel fill the need? No.
Should the business community do more to ensure Bend gets a homeless shelter and services downtown? We’ll let you answer that one.
The city has been in a race to find a location for a hotel to transform into a homeless shelter. The options available now for housing the homeless in Bend are inadequate. Only a few months ago David Savory died on the street in Bend. He couldn’t get shelter. The state has made available competitive grant money that Bend could use to help buy a hotel for the homeless. Unfortunately, the city may be out of the running. It could still use funding from the federal American Rescue Plan.
The city has looked at several locations. Exactly what happens in those deals and why they may fall apart is not made public. Real estate negotiations are one of the things that under Oregon law governments can conduct behind closed doors. It protects public money.
If councilors had to plan their negotiations in the open, the seller could know how much to jack up the price.
The secrecy does create a problem. The public doesn’t get much explanation of what is going on. Councilors are also not supposed to talk about what happens in executive session. In fact, when we asked councilors to explain their positions on Rainbow, city staff sent out an email to councilors reminding them they weren’t supposed to talk about what happens in executive session.
Well, councilors didn’t recount for us what happened in executive session. Councilors Barb Campbell, Anthony Broadman, Melanie Kebler and Mayor Sally Russell did get back to us. The Rainbow is in what Bend calls its central district. That area is ripe for redevelopment. The city is promoting it. Bend is growing. More intense development downtown is better than more intense development in neighborhoods, right? Several projects are being worked on in that very area. They could kick off the redevelopment. That would be good for the city.
If you know Campbell at all, you know she is not one to sit meekly by and do the bidding of developers. Campbell wrote us in an email that the developers she spoke with convinced her that transitional housing at the Rainbow location would jeopardize those redevelopment plans.
Broadman, Kebler and Russell pointed out the money issue. With limited money to buy a hotel, councilors faced a choice: the Rainbow, the Bend Value Inn, which is also downtown or both. Councilors chose for now to continue to pursue the Bend Value Inn. Broadman wrote the “Bend Value Inn is less expensive than the Rainbow Motel....The Chamber’s argument was reasonable, but my decision wasn’t based on their points or all of the input we had about the potential impact of this project in the Bend Central District.” Although we don’t have other councilors on record, we have every reason to believe their reasoning is similar.
As for the Bend Chamber, it does believe that more must be done to serve the homeless in Bend. Brooks, the chamber’s CEO and president, told us the chamber is very supportive of siting a shelter in Bend’s downtown. Good.
When we were talking to people about this council decision, something struck us. It was from Travis Davis, a Bend businessman who serves on the Bend Economic Development Advisory Board or BEDAB. That’s a city committee to give input to the city from the business community. He said in Bend both the chamber and BEDAB do try to serve as intermediaries. They do try to balance broader community needs and the narrower interests of businesses. We believe that. So then how else will the business community step up to ensure a homeless shelter in Bend’s downtown becomes a reality?
There’s a big affordable housing project near Bend’s parking garage, as Mayor Russell reminded us. Do you know where it is? If Bend can do that so well, can it also provide shelter and services for the community’s neediest where rents are sure to soar? That would have a special poetry.