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Looking for Eugene Under Every Boulder

June 28th, 2013 by dk

I stood at the corner of Broadway and Pearl, watching people duck in for their midday coffee. Caffeine could help me accomplish my mission. I was looking for an answer to my question.

I trudged across downtown, and into the recently constructed downtown library. I knew the voters had recently resisted budget cuts that would have curtailed some library services. The circular staircase beckoned me upward, bathed in natural light from above.

There I met Eladia Rivera, a reference librarian. She could answer my question!

“How is Eugene, Oregon similar to Boulder, Colorado?” I asked.

Rivera didn’t hesitate. “I suppose they’re both green, in more ways than one. Of course, they’re both college towns.” Then she paused. “But I don’t really know, because I’ve never been to Eugene. I hope to get there someday.”

University of Colorado has 26,500 undergraduate students, plus 6,000 more in its graduate schools. That’s about 30 percent more than the University of Oregon’s student population. Boulder’s total population is 99,000, giving it double Eugene’s density of university students. By that measure, Boulder is twice the “college town” as Eugene.

I walked back to my car, which I parked a few blocks from the library to avoid having to pay for parking. I was still looking for any similarities between the two towns.

Some residents resent Boulder’s tallest building complex, because it obstructs some of the area’s natural beauty. Building such a tall student housing complex must have made sense at the time. They should consider draping its top floor with “Peace on Earth” during the holidays.

I happened by a scale model of the solar system, but its scale was one tenth what we have in Eugene. Pluto is a couple blocks from the sun, instead of several miles.

My next stop was the daily newspaper, located in an industrial park on the edge of town. Erika Stutzman, editorial page editor for the Boulder Daily Camera, invited me into her second-floor office. I posed my question to her. She leaned forward. “I don’t really know. I’ve never given it any thought.”

“We’re both known as liberal towns, I suppose, but that seems to be changing here. Our city council recently passed a city ordinance that requires grocers to charge ten cents for every grocery bag. It was just implemented a few weeks ago and it’s not as popular as you’d think. People here are concerned that the poor can’t afford their groceries.”

Their solar system model is smaller but their bag fee is bigger. I pressed on.

“It used to be,” Stutzman continued, “that any tax increase would pass here, especially for buying more open space. But now we’re starting to hear from people that enough is enough. People are starting to insist that they be able to use the open space for recreation. Mountain bikers want access. People want dog parks. The liberal alliances might be breaking down.”

Space is at a premium in Boulder, thanks to their “blue line,” which forbids home-building above a prescribed elevation. Stutzman: “If IBM wanted to build a campus-style industrial development, it can’t happen in Boulder. There’s no room. They’ll build in Broomfield, where land is cheaper.”

Eugene doesn’t want to build out; Boulder won’t build up. Both constrictions are simple dotted lines. That was almost a similarity.

I asked if Boulder was getting better or worse. Stutzman claimed no opinion on the question, “… but I will say this. I grew up here. Since the 1970s, all the other towns around us have grown. Traffic is worse.”

Stutzman widened her view to the state. “Coloradans love to vote. They want to vote on everything. But the initiative process has made the state a mess.” (I confessed to her that Oregon pioneered the voter initiative in 1902.) “We had an anti-tax activist who made all kinds of trouble. But he’s is in jail now, convicted of tax evasion.”

Oregon’s tax-evading anti-tax activist is out of jail and on probation. The sun was setting behind the mountains and I still hadn’t found any similarities. I drove their congested Baseline Road on the edge of town and left, admitting defeat.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs….

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