The Bend We Choose
It’s not news to local residents that humans love Bend, OR and they are moving here in droves. Feeble attempts to dissuade new residents come in the form of bumper stickers that say “Bend Sucks, Don’t Move Here.” which probably works against the cause and peaks interest even more. Some residents speak of closing mythical gates to keep newcomers out, often forgetting that had gates actually existed, they wouldn’t be calling this beautiful place home.
I have had the privilege of calling Bend home, off and on, for the past 42 years. I was born in the “new” hospital way out east of town in 1976, the first year it was in operation. Growing up here was idyllic and I cherish my childhood, “Old Bend” and the times before Bend got big. And big it has gotten and it is poised to get much bigger. Much, much bigger. Roads are congested, there isn’t enough housing to support everyone, salaries are stagnant and the cost of living is high. There isn’t enough money in the City coffers to fix all the problems that are stacking up as more people roll in. Identifying problems is easy. Solving them is challenging.
About 6 years ago, I started noticing that Bend was feeling overrun and overwhelmed. A designer by trade and a lover of this place, I began studying urban design in hopes of understanding what makes a city and its residents thrive. With this newfound knowledge, I became frustrated with the state of our City from a livability, safety and design standpoint. This energy spurred me to stop complaining and grumbling and to get involved by applying for one of the City’s Citizen Advisory Committees. That committee worked to reimagine the Bend’s Westside from a land use and transportation lens with the consideration of historic neighborhoods and new university campus, among other considerations. I learned a lot from wise residents and city staff who were patient and attentive to my questions. Today I serve on a second Citizen Advisory Committee to make recommendations about Bend’s Transportation Safety Plan (TSP), a document that will guide our transportation decisions for years to come.
This activation and engagement has allowed me to see the two top mayoral candidates, Sally Russell and Bill Moseley, in action. I’m inspired to write because although they may look similar on paper, they couldn’t be more different in their approach, how they work with Staff, their inclusivity of all citizen voices, their abilities to hear and hold new ideas, and their decision making processes. In my interactions with Staff and Council, I’ve watched a significant shift since Bill has become a city councilor. Bill is a clear, concise and efficient orator. Behind a mic he will knock your socks off. It is his strength and he makes sure his crisp voice is always heard. However, what I often find underlying that precision delivery is an aggressive, disruptive and argumentative tone that derails process and visioning and stops collaborative policymaking in its tracks. During his short time as a City Councilor, I’ve watched him publicly shame City Staff on social media by standing at congested intersections and calling out all the things wrong with Bend. Many see him as standing up for the Eastside and frustrated long-time locals like me. I’m not buying it. I find it extremely divisive and counterproductive. To a citizen without proper context, this may look like “holding Staff accountable” to reference The Bulletin recent endorsement for Bill. In reality, there is way more to it than is portrayed and his tactics have created notable division within the walls of City Hall that reverberates out to our city.
One of Bill’s hot topics is congestion and the “war on cars” that he claims the City is currently waging. Nearly two years ago, a neighbor and I sat across the table from Bill, who kindly invited us to his office after we spoke at City Council about a dangerous intersection near our homes. He finished the meeting by asking us whether we thought that neighborhood streets or major arterial roads should be widened to relieve the City’s growing congestion problem. I was shocked and heartbroken to be sitting in front of a public servant who was out-of-touch with current transportation design thinking. If you google the phrase, induced demand, you’ll understand that when cities widen streets, they only attract more traffic and encourage more driving over time. Wider streets don’t eliminate congestion but actually, encourage more. Counterintuitive as it may be, it is the documented truth. Humans have made this mistake in many places, to the financial ruin and destruction of many communities, and are now literally paying the price to undo the damage. Anyone who has lived in or visited places like Atlanta, Seattle, or LA where road widening was the “solution” to congestion knows that it only worsened the problem. Sorry, Bend, congestion is here to stay, even if Bill believes and campaigns on the idea that we can build our way out of it. I’ve seen the models and listened to the experts. We must learn from other cities and find other solutions.
On his website, Bill states that “Bend needs a common-sense plan to manage our growth and preserve the town we love.” Unfortunately, urban planning isn’t common-sense or intuitive. It is a complex interwoven web of variables and often counterintuitive solutions and policies that require constant refinement. It requires big picture systems thinking. In listening to recent debates and council meetings, Bill’s solutions over the years, like road widening, tend to be short-term band-aids that don’t always reference the larger picture and planning that is happening in the background. Widening roads and prioritizing housing construction on the outer edges of town will only create more congestion on top of imminent population growth. This isn’t to say that these things won’t happen over time, but they sure aren’t solutions. These ideas lack entry level research or consultation from the experts in the room: City Staff. As the Bulletin Op-Ed also notes to which I agree, “City staff has much more knowledge than city council members on almost any issue. It is their full-time job.” Staff doesn’t have to google ‘induced demand’. It’s a steady part of their daily vernacular. They probably wish that we as citizens would google it, understand it and then hold our Councilors accountable for being knowledgeable about these topics.
The coming years will be tough for Bend as we grow into a city. I want to elect a mayor who instills a culture of respect for all voices in the room. I want the smart, savvy, hard-working Staff at the City to utilize City Council Meetings as effective and collaborative environments to find solutions. The elected mayor has much to do about how that space is held and the processes put in place during their time in office. Staff and Councilors may hold different opinions about priorities, but staff doesn’t need to be “held accountable” by the Mayor and Council. They deserve to be trusted and respected for the extensive, arduous work they do and the expertise they hold in their fields. It’s what we all deserve. Publicly blaming and shaming the very people you will sit alongside the next day to solve our communities pressing problems is the opposite of creating healthy culture. It is the definition of the oppressive, dominant, power-over model that dominates government today and divides our communities.
When I fill out my ballot on November 6, I’m choosing visionary, collaborative leaders who are skilled communicators, who bring out the best in those around them, who encourage input from citizenry, who think long-term and can make tough decisions that are equitable and just for our communities. Sally Russell checks all these boxes, in addition to having far more experience and qualifications than Bill. She recently released a version of her website in Spanish in order to reach out to more voices in our community. She was one of the first along with DA John Hummel to stand firmly alongside of a local survivor of sexual assault at the hands of a fellow City Councilor. I’ve known and worked with Sally on various service-oriented and community projects and know her talents as a policy maker, a leader who hears and holds ideas with an open mind and a positive culture builder. For these reasons, she is that candidate that best represents me and the place I’m blessed to call home.
Endorsement: Bend Mayor
Vote Sally Russell
UPDATED: This version has been edited as of Oct. 19.
Six people are in the race for Bend's directly elected mayor.
Charles Baer is a local activist who's added some colorful dialogue in this race. Brian Douglass is a disabilities advocate who believes strongly in a ward system—something we also support in the interest of equity and equal representation. Michael Hughes is an attorney and hemp farmer who has helped move cannabis to the legal market in our state. Joshua Langlais is a local photographer running as an advocate for the working class, and for those whose voices are underrepresented in local government. Bill Moseley is a local business owner with a law degree, and is a sitting city councilor. Sally Russell is also a current city councilor who's held positions in marketing, event management and construction, and has served on a host of local government and community boards.
We see benefits of having both Russell and Moseley as mayor. We'd be happy to see Hughes added to the Council roster as well. Hughes presented a fresh, informed perspective and some new ideas on fire management that would be welcome in Bend, and we hope to see him engaged in another role in the future. We also believe Langlais should enter politics by joining a committee or board, to represent that portion of Bend that so often takes a back seat.
Still, the two sitting councilors represent the most viable candidates. On a council in which the mayor gets an equal vote to the other councilors, we believe consensus building is the most important quality Bend's new mayor should possess, and that Russell will deliver that best among these candidates. We admit this choice was an incredibly difficult one, because in Moseley we see a process-oriented, organized, fearless and outspoken leader who's a strong public speaker and clearly does his homework.
Still, Russell does not incite outright anger from city staff or her fellow councilors, as Moseley does. You could argue that Moseley's approach is inciting that type of anger because he's shaking things up in the interest of getting things done—but then again, the stronger argument is that this is not the way to build strong consensus and move forward as a city.
This will be the first time Bend will directly elect a mayor, and that mayor should be someone who's strongly supported by other leaders in our community, as Russell is. While Moseley could be a strong leader who could push forward his agenda, we question whether his approach is more opportunistic than authentic. In Russell we find more authenticity. We see her approach to governance as more carrot and less stick. During meetings, Russell sometimes seems unsure of which direction to take, but upon closer observation, we see that as a commitment to trying to understand what her constituents want. She has a strong track record of reaching out to her community and being inclusive in decision-making.
We point to some of the most pressing issues in Bend as evidence of that inclusivity. While we disagree with Russell in her assertion that the City of Bend should contribute funds to dredge Mirror Pond, we respect her willingness to take a collaborative approach and to listen to stakeholders—as it is clearly a divisive issue in which constituents' opinions vary widely. While we fundamentally agree with Moseley in his assertion that Bend Park and Recreation District could, in theory, find the funds more readily than the City of Bend, his hardline approach is not likely to elicit the consensus the issue requires.
We also agree with Moseley that the Septic to Sewer conversion is a "catastrophe," and that the costs should be spread out city-wide—though we also appreciate Russell's pragmatic reminder that not all costs can be legally spread city-wide. It's nice to say what voters want to hear, but there's also a responsibility to not lead voters astray by proclaiming things that can't actually be achieved. On that note, we believe that Moseley's position on whether to promote Bend as a tourist destination is not entirely rooted in reality, either. While we agree with him that Bend should foster a more diverse economy and work to bring in higher-wage jobs, it seems like voter-baiting for him to say Bend should not promote itself. It might sound like a grand rallying cry, for those locals tired of sharing the brew halls with tourists, to say, "Stop promoting Bend," but research shows that states that have cut off all tourism promotion have suffered great economic setbacks. And that's not to mention that using Transient Room Tax funds for tourism promotion—in whatever creative interpretation we can come up with—is baked in, as state law. Russell, on the other hand, seems to be more realistic about what we can actually do about tourism promotion within the bounds of state law, and doesn't use an opportunistic argument to discuss the issue.
In the end, we believe Russell's reputation and track record as a consensus builder make her a more viable candidate for Bend's first directly elected mayor. Vote Sally Russell for Bend City Council Position 7 – Mayor.
Editor's note: This opinion has been altered from its original version. We have removed mention of the departure of sitting councilors upon election of the new mayor. According to city staff, should Moseley or Russell not win as mayor, they will fill the remainder of their term(s) as Councilor—not be removed, as our piece originally stated. If one of the two becomes mayor, the Bend City Council will vote to fill the Council vacancy by appointing someone to the council.
This has also been altered to state that Bill Moseley has a law degree. Since he is not listed as a member of the Oregon State Bar in the OSB database, he's not an "attorney," as we previously stated.
We regret the errors.
Russell, 60, was first elected to the City Council in 2012, and she was chosen as the city’s mayor pro tem in 2017. She said she’s proven during her time in the city that she works hard and brings people together in a collaborative process.
“I see the mayor as somebody who creates a direction working together with the rest of the community,” she said. “My strength as mayor is to really understand the value of working together as a community, understanding that if we still keep these core values, we’ll still be a great place to live in five, 10, 15 years from now.”
From 1993 to 2002, Russell served on the city’s planning commission, where she worked on plans for the Old Mill District and Northwest Crossing.
“I have experience in planning and understanding when you make a decision today how it plays out,” Russell said.
The city needs to catch up on its transportation infrastructure after falling behind during a boom cycle during the early 2000s and in the 2008 recession, Russell said. Catching up requires identifying priorities, figuring out how much they’ll cost and then deciding how to pay for those projects, and the process requires involvement from people throughout the community, she said.
When it comes to the high cost of housing, Russell said she wants to implement three new policies: reducing fees developers pay for smaller homes, identifying the cost to live in a home and simplifying the city’s permit process by making sure each person building a home works with one city employee from start to finish. The city’s already addressing housing costs with a number of policies, and rental prices have stabilized, she said.
Neighborhood hubs that put amenities like grocery stores near homes reduces costs for residents by reducing the distance they have to drive and cuts down on traffic, she said.
Connecting homes to the sewer is a hugely important issue to some of Bend’s most vulnerable residents, Russell said. She said she wants to buy a lot of time to allow homeowners to connect, a policy the city council agreed to pursue last week.
“Getting the wrong solution in place too quickly could cost all of us,” she said. “One tool that’s viable for one family may not be viable for the family next door.”
The city can’t legally keep a portion of hotel tax revenue from being used for tourism, Russell said, but it can manage how the city markets to tourists. She pointed out that many of Bend’s amenities exist because of tourism, and tourists support the city’s police and fire departments through the hotel tax.