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.