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Eugene’s Foreign Policy

April 11th, 2006 by dk

Eugene needs a more effective foreign policy. For over a century, Lane County’s largest city has seen itself as a modern city-state, a left-leaning, liberal-arts community surrounded by — but separate from — the timber families and sod farmers in every direction.

The recent dustup over free speech and other shenanigans being witnessed on county property reveals a fissure between the city and the county that contains it. Discussions about siting a new City Hall often turn attention on the “butterfly lot” west of the county building, but its deed restrictions require county consent to any changes in its use.

Eugene has maintained its distinctiveness with two sorts of dotted lines: the map variety and the “sign here” variety. Both are becoming less effective, and rapidly so.

Springfield has been feeling its oats since Bill Morrisette was mayor, but now their words are turning to action. Lane County’s second city pulled out of the regional planning process known as the 2050 Plan, frustrated by the slow progress and what they perceive as bias in favor of Eugene. Populating the LRAPA board provoked similar complaints from Springfield and now they are publicly wondering whether they’ll continue their current contribution to the Lane Metro Partnership.

Ironically, Jack Roberts and the Metro Partnership are coming off a banner year in recruiting businesses to move to (or stay in) the area. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines have arrived, and Williams Bakery isn’t leaving. Springfield’s response: “That’s in the past. What’s in the future?”

Other communities in Lane County are now also talking about going it alone in the long-term planning required by the state. Eugene is again being labeled as a community that “doesn’t play well with others.”

Like it or not, the state of Oregon requires that communities collaborate on planning when it comes to certain types of land use, transportation, pollution controls, and other topics. It behooves nearby communities to also cooperate on other topics, such as enterprise zones, smoking ordinances or gas taxes. As they say in the mafia, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

Regional partnership agreements are breaking down. At the same time, Urban Growth Boundaries are under attack. Measure 37 will make it harder for communities to maintain a distinctive landscape, just as Measure 5 removed a community’s ability to define itself by its school system funding.

Eugene’s relations with its neighbors will soon have an impact on road funding allocations for a new hospital or a major downtown shopping destination. Eugene plans to ask the state to cede control of a one-mile stretch of Highway 99, so our planners can exert more control over Franklin Boulevard and 6th and 7th Avenues.

Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy has troubled some of her supporters by endorsing the Whole Foods project and its adjacent public parking garage. Before the next intense urban development deal traipses across the headlines, what can she do to solidify her base?

Piercy promised to be a “mayor for all Eugene,” but maybe that’s not enough. Maybe she needs to get out there to the hinterlands and cut some ribbons in some other cities. Imagine Eugene’s mayor showing up in Veneta and saying, “we’re glad you’re building 400 homes for young families. We welcome those newcomers. We’ll help them find jobs and we’ll help you keep education funding up so their children will also be able to find jobs, right here in Eugene. And we’ll find a way to get those people back and forth between communities.”

How about a spring river run, reveling in what promises to be a season with new high water marks? Or a late-season visit to the ski resorts, encouraging all Eugeneans to flock to a nearby mountain and finish what looks to be a memorable year for winter recreation? Or a visit to the coast to listen to some fishermen contemplating a season without enough salmon to catch?

We want to be the World’s Greatest City for the Arts and Outdoors. We’ve got the arts part, but we need the outdoors part from our neighbors to make the package complete.

Where we go from here is unclear. But there’s no denying we’ll be going there together.

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