By Chris Piper

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My introduction to Bend politics was my appointment to the City Council amid a controversy about the process that led to my appointment. I wasn’t part of that process, except to apply and to participate in the public interviews. But the reaction to the process convinced me of two things: that council vacancies should in the future be filled by election rather than appointment to ensure that the process is transparent; and, I had a lot of work to do to establish the trust of the people of Bend, who knew nothing about me except my race, gender and the process that led to my appointment.

My only agenda when I applied to the council was to collaborate with my fellow Bendites to do everything I can to improve the city I love. So when I got on council, I promised to do two things: listen and learn. I believe that to do a good job serving people in public office, you need to know what they care about. Moreover, because I became a councilor via appointment, I believed it was appropriate to go above and beyond to learn the issues and talk with anyone and everyone about what our city needs.

To that end, since my appointment in January, I have had at least 72 meetings with individuals and groups in Bend, from the Latino Community Association, to Band of Brothers, to Habitat for Humanity, to the Sierra Club. While the listening and learning never stops, I’ve now talked with enough people that I’m able to draw some themes that have emerged.

People are worried that Bend is becoming unaffordable for many. I’ve met with countless folks, even professionals with good jobs, who are struggling to make it here due primarily to the cost of housing. There are a lot of people in our city who are just barely hanging on financially. My family and I lived in Bend through the Great Recession. I am worried that another economic downturn, even if less severe than the last, will push many out of Bend. We are still dealing with the hangover of all the contractors who left during the Great Recession — I’m worried that we will lose additional essential talent and experience if the economy falters.

A related issue that I’ve heard a lot about is how long it takes, and how much it costs, to build housing in Bend. I’ve heard time and time again that our permitting process is slower than that of other cities, and it’s putting a drag on the market’s ability to provide the new housing consumers demand.

The city of Bend can’t control all aspects of housing affordability, but it can and must ensure that its permitting process is not an undue impediment or expense for businesses trying to provide housing.

Folks are also frustrated about traffic. My meetings reflect the findings of a recent survey that shows traffic congestion is a top concern for Bendites, and they want to see streets widened and intersections approved to reduce congestion. The City Council is discussing a possible bond measure to do just that.

The most important thing I’ve learned so far on City Council is that we are fortunate to live in a place with so many talented and engaged people involved in shaping our city’s future. Each of my meetings has been with people who are working in good faith to improve our community. They don’t always agree with each other, but the earnest discussion about public policy in our city is one of its great strengths.

I look forward to doing my part to engage in that discussion and working together to do what’s best for our community.

— Chris Piper is a member of the Bend City Council.