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Editorials from around Oregon

June 5, 2019

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


Ashland Daily Tidings, June 5, on Oregon bill allowing victims of racist 911 calls to sue:

When State Rep. Janelle Bynum was canvassing her district last summer, a woman called 911 because she was concerned that Bynum, who is black, was “casing” the neighborhood.

The situation was similar to multiple incidents around the country in which African Americans have had the police called on them for engaging in ordinary activities, like napping or barbecuing.

Bynum introduced a bill to allow people targeted by these calls to sue the callers in small-claims court for up to $250 in damages. The measure passed the Senate on Monday.

House Bill 3216 doesn’t make these false reports a crime, and the burden of proof is not easy to meet: A plaintiff would have to prove that the caller had racist intent and summoned police to purposely discriminate or damage a person’s reputation. That’s a high bar.

The measure is more symbolic than punitive. It serves to remind white people that people of color have the right to exist in public just as they do, to go about their business without fear of being approached by police because someone felt threatened.

As Sen. Lew Frederick, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, put it, ”... when a police officer stops me, I wonder if I’m going to live the rest of the day. It’s a very direct, clear fear. Hard to get that across to my colleagues who don’t have that kind of fear.”

Enough of his colleagues got the message that the bill passed Senate 48-1. The governor should sign it.


Corvallis Gazette-Times, June 5, on efforts to prepare for wildfires:

You can summarize all the predictions for how future wildfire seasons will play out in Oregon and throughout the West with just a few words: Bigger. Hotter. Longer.

Despite a strong year for snowpack, there’s no reason to think that this year’s fire season will be an exception. The state has seen 1,000 acres burn already this year.

And there’s no reason to doubt that the fire season next year will be any different; in fact, a warmer and drier than usual winter could add up to big trouble for Oregon and the West. It’s all part of what experts are calling the new normal for wildfires.

That’s why we need to think differently about how we react and respond to wildfire, and we need to think in two different tracks: First, we need to be sure that we have adequate resources on hand to fight the ones we know will erupt this season. We may be a little better prepared on this front this year, but every new batch of fires puts additional pressure on a system that already can be stretched pretty thin.

But, second, we need to prepare over the long haul for that new normal — and that includes efforts to increase the amount of thinning that takes place in forests that are choked with the undergrowth that fuels increasingly intense fires. It also includes work underway to increase the use of prescriptive burns to make those forests more resilient.

And it also includes work to build communities that are increasingly fire-resilient. Across the West, where we still like to build homes in the middle of vulnerable areas, this work likely will be challenging.

So we read with interest the story in today’s edition about efforts by a group of Oregon legislators to be sure that the state is ready to respond to wildfire this summer — but also to start thinking about fire differently over the long run.

Not surprisingly, many of the legislators involved in the current effort hail from southern Oregon, which has been hit hard in recent years by wildfire. These fires have had a dramatic effect on the area’s economy, with tourism taking a huge hit and institutions such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival suffering millions of dollars of losses from canceled shows. (The group of legislators includes Rep. Marty Wilde, the Democrat who represents southeast parts of Linn County.)

One of the legislators, Rep. Pam Marsh, an Ashland Democrat, is working to line up an additional $6.8 million in funding for wildfire mitigation and suppression. That seems like it might be a wise short-term investment, especially considering that the state spent some $514 million last year fighting fires.

And it seems like a better bet than Gov. Kate Brown’s budget recommendation: The governor has called for no additional funding to fight this year’s fires.

To be fair, Brown wants to invest money in longer-term efforts: She has created a wildfire council and will ask it to come up with policy recommendations, which presumably would need to be funded by a future legislative session. The council could turn out to be a vital resource in steeling Oregonians against future wildfire seasons, but we won’t know for sure until we see its work.

In the meantime, you can see why legislators from Southern Oregon are nervous about the governor’s flat firefighting budget.

So the state needs to do both: prepare for what this season brings and, at the same time, work with an eye toward future seasons. After all, when a wildfire is burning on the outskirts of your town, that’s a crisis that needs to be immediately addressed. But let’s also start taking the long-term steps that could prevent other towns from being threatened next year.


The Register-Guard, June 4, on public transportation partnership providing electric van service:

Oregonians love to drive. The only way to get them out of their cars is to provide a better, more convenient alternative.

The Lane Transit District understands that reality. LTD is several months into a pilot program that offers door-to-door service in Cottage Grove, replacing most of the fixed routes there, and residents have responded.

Buses are LTD’s core business, yet transit ridership has declined slightly. The district has responded by undertaking a broad look at area transit offerings. General Manager Aurora “AJ” Jackson, the district staff and the elected board members are being careful stewards of financial and community resources while moving out of the status quo.

In August, LTD hopes to launch on-demand, point-to-point service in downtown Eugene using all-electric vans — at no charge to riders. This partnership — LTD is working on agreements with the city of Eugene, Lane County, Lane Council of Governments and RideZero — could be a big step toward solving downtown parking woes.

All the participating governments and agencies are to be commended. Free is an awfully good price for getting people around downtown in a Low-Speed Electric Vehicle.

Instead of sinking money into a lengthy, time-consuming study, LTD is launching the service and recognizing there will be a learning curve for everyone. The program will serve as its own research project, revealing when and where people want to travel downtown, how long they are willing to wait for a ride, and other factors. This nimble approach to public transit is refreshing.

The future of transit is a truly convenient, multi-modal system. Someday, an app will allow residents to set their destination and see which method would be fastest, most economical and most environmentally friendly.

Lane County residents care deeply about the environment, and the biggest impact the district can have is to get more people out of their single-occupancy cars. LTD is examining where to adjust service, including where 40- and 60-foot buses are the best resource and where alternative transit makes sense.

The district also is rolling out electric buses, adding them to the fleet of hybrid and diesel buses. Officials are working on funding to have more than 20 electric buses within a few years. This is one more way in which Jackson and the district are recognizing fiscal reality — methodically increasing electric buses as funding allows instead of making the popular but potentially unrealistic promise of an all-electric fleet.

Meanwhile, the district also will be adding electronic fare collection, which riders will find more reliable and convenient than paper bus passes. LTD also plans to make bus passes available for all K-12 students in Lane County.

With all these changes, the district must be equally innovative in informing the public. It is especially important to reach out to large employers, civic organizations and other groups, so the word gets to commuters and households throughout the district.

LTD’s value proposition — that its diverse offerings will not replace personal vehicles but in many ways be better than those vehicles — will need a good amount of education to take hold, along with opportunities to try out the evolving transit system.

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