Alan's Blog

Alan Pittman is the News Editor for Eugene Weekly.

The Oregon Media Central blog got the scoop on the Register-Guard layoffs of 16 staffers this week.

OMC posts comments from a reporter with an inside view of the layoffs (apparently eight newsroom plus eight other):

"I watched my first supervisor in the RG newsroom hand over his badge. This is a young guy with very old-school news values. He taught me a lot - he was always trying to get me to make one more call. Today I watched him check his mail one last time and walk by me with a quick wave I could tell was final. Then I watched one of my best friends at the paper go in the office from which the manager had just come. I watched her head nod from behind. I watched her walk out with it held high. Then I approached her and grabbed her cold hand when she cried. With two other bewildered journalists, we walked her outside. She looked really nice today. She had seen this coming. We lost some impeccable instincts today."

Having missed the story of its own layoffs, the RG reported the next day on the job loss in a story buried in its business section.

The paper reported layoffs of 16 positions, a 6 percent reduction bringing it's staff down to 305. Last summer, the paper cut 12 percent of its staff.

The current 305 staff figure is down from a reported 425 a decade ago. The paper has lost about 12 percent of its subscribers over that period.

The Register-Guard reported this week that its advertising revenues are down 16 percent below budget for the year and down 25 percent below budget this summer. The R-G's profit margin reached about 30 percent in the previous decade, but the Baker family has refused to say how much money they are making now on their newspaper.

This press release just in from the City of Springfield:

"On Wednesday, August 26 from 3-4:30 pm, teens ages 13-18 are invited to play video games in the Library Meeting Room at Springfield Public Library. Guitar Hero, Dance Dance Revolution and Wii Sports will be available to play. Free refreshments will be provided."

Maybe someone should invent a virtual Wii Book page turner, a Literature Hero or a Read, Read Revolution?

While billions of taxpayer dollars go into unlivable freeways that throttle livability and the planet, there's a few million being spent on greener transportation. Here's a look at some upcoming bike projects based on documents from the Metropolitan Policy Commission. The MPC is the less-known, less-democratic interjurisdictional committee that supposedly oversees all the billions in local transportation spending. Here's the bike projects:

I-5 Underpass. As part of its $180-million I-5 bridge widening project, ODOT has included this $1.5 million project to connect the riverfront bike trail through the freeway mess.

Springfield Middle Fork Path. An MPC amendment last month "slips construction to 2010" of the first phase of this $6 million project. Oddly, Willamalane has planned the first $3 million phase as the easternmost portion (see red line on map below). Funding for the second phase (pink line) connecting the path to Dorris Ranch remains unclear. Also unclear is funding for a possible bike bridge across the river to the Mt. Pisgah park area. Biking from Eugene all the way to Mt. Pisgah on scenic and quiet off-road trails along the river has long been a dream of local cyclists.

Delta Highway Overpass. Half of this $6 million project is funded by the Obama Stimulus and is supposed to start soon. A few right-wingers have complained about the spending on bikes, but the project is more about mitigating the impact of a dangerous freeway that cut off huge neighborhoods full of kids and families from the city's riverfront parks and bike paths. Here's the design:

Eugene Riverfront Bike Path Under Beltline. This $2.2 million project will mitigate the impact of the Beltline freeway cutting off the 17,000 people in Santa Clara from the river by providing an underpass and connection to the riverfront bike and park system. Accomodating unsafe gravel truck driveways delayed the project and added another $1 million in cost. (The map below doesn’t appear to include the redesign involving moving the bike path to the south side of Division Avenue.)

For years Eugene cyclists have been trying to get the city of Eugene to end the dangerous practice of storing leaves in bike paths. The spreading leaf piles create a slipping hazard, hide dangerous debris and force cyclists into rushing traffic. But the advocacy has apparently had little impact. Above is an image from the city's own website apparently urging people to store their leaf piles in bike lanes rather than safely up on the curb.

In the worst blow to downtown since the hospital left, the Eugene City Council voted 6-2 today to move the police department out of the heart of the city.

Critics charge that the $16-million plan to buy an office building on Country Club Road for the police department will cripple downtown, defy three votes, waste money, increase polluting sprawl and congestion, increase earthquake and flooding risk and reduce police accountability while damaging civic pride.

But Mayor Kitty Piercy and Councilors Mike Clark, Jennifer Solomon, Chris Pryor, George Poling, Andrea Ortiz and Alan Zelenka supported the move. Councilors Betty Taylor and George Brown voted against it.

"This is a terrible deal for the city," said Councilor Brown. The only one benefiting will be speculator Ward Beck, Brown said. "He will be able to unload an under-performing property."

Mayor Piercy said she supports moving police out of downtown and cut off Taylor and Brown's comments opposing the move after allowing staff to repeat a twenty minute sales pitch on the proposal that the council had already heard.

"We are rushing through this because someone wants to sell a building," said Councilor Taylor. "We haven't considered any other possibilities." Taylor noted the $16 million exclusive deal with Beck wasn't subject to the normal competitive bidding process governments use to prevent corruption.

Brown said the $16 million could be better used to hire more police officers. "This project does nothing for public safety, all it does is buy a huge building for 30 employees to wander around in," said Brown, noting the police chief's statement that only a few officers will spend much time in the 66,000 square-foot building.

Brown moved that the council refer the big expenditure to voters. Piercy refused to allow debate on the motion and the referral vote failed 6-2.

Voters have rejected spending money on a new police station three times in the past. Taylor pleaded with the council to not waste the taxpayer money. "People say 'our money,'" she said noting comments by staff and council supporters. "It isn't ours, it belongs to the public."

(For details on the police move, please read a story in Thursday's EW to be posted here.

Centron Solar has made front page news with the announcement that it may bring up to 300 much needed jobs to Eugene. But it remains unclear just how much substance Centron actually has and if all those jobs will actually materialize.

"Really, we don't know what's real here and what's not real," Bob Warren, a state business development officer for Lane County told the Oregonian.

“It doesn’t look like there’s a large upfront investment,” Jack Roberts, director of the Lane Metro Partnership told The Register-Guard.

Here’s some other details that also raise questions about the substance of the Centron Solar operation:

• The newspapers stories appear to rely entirely on one person, Ocean Yuan, for all their information about the company.

• Large Chinese manufacturing companies are alluded to as partners but not named and quoted. Yuan declined to name any of the companies involved.

• The company doesn’t appear to have much physical presence beyond its relatively small new website . The site registrant address is listed as a private home in south Eugene.

• The small rented warehouse location doesn’t look like much.

• With manufacturing done in China, it’s unclear what exactly people in Eugene would be doing. Is it a sales call center? An assembly facility? A corporate headquarters?

• Of the six people listed on the website as part of the company “management team,” only two live in Eugene. Two live in Portland, one in Vancouver, Washington and one in Atlanta, Georgia.

• The company posted job ads on Craigs List in numerous large cities throughout the country. The listings include several grammatical mistakes and appear to offer only part-time contract work done at home and paid only by sales commission.

Local state Senator Vicki Walker will leave office for a $100,000 a year political appointment from the Governor, Gov. Ted Kulongoski announced today.

Kulongoski appointed Walker to chair the state Parole Board.

The Lane County Board of Commissioners will take nominees from local Democratic party leaders and appoint a replacement for Walker in the state Senate.

Walker’s District 7 includes west and north Eugene, Santa Clara, River Road and Junction City.

Leading possible candidates for the appointment include the two Democratic state Representatives from the district, Nancy Nathanson and Chris Edwards.

Of the two, Nathanson appears more progressive, based on information from Project Vote Smart. Nathanson, for example, got a 50 percent vote rating from the American Civil Liberties Union last year, whereas Edwards had a 0 percent ACLU rating.

Nathanson scored 95 percent from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters in 2007, Edwards scored 90 percent. The National Rifle Association gave Nathanson’s 2008 voting record an F grade. Edwards got a B from the NRA.

Walker, who also works as a court reporter, served 11 years in the Legislature and played a role in helping to expose former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt’s sex abuse of a 14-year-old girl. Goldschmidt was a close friend of Kulongoski, but Kulongoski denied he new about the crime. Walker was a strong critic of Kulongoski who considered running against him in 2006.

With gas prices through the roof and the economy in the tank, locals are using less gas.

Here's a chart of declining gas use from a recent LCOG memo:

The drop mirrors that for the Northwest and U.S. in a recent Sightline Institute study:

The trend is good for reducing global warming and increasing livability, but will it stick if gas prices drop or the economy improves? Sightline thinks so, especially if governments increase transit and bicycling alternatives and limit urban sprawl.

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