News in Salem Oregon - Willamette Live » News http://www.willamettelive.com Wed, 01 Apr 2015 17:03:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 In the shadow of Salem Hospital -Gaiety Hill reacts to Salem Health’s disguised home purchase http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/in-the-shadow-of-salem-hospital-gaiety-hill-reacts-to-salem-healths-disguised-home-purchase/ http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/in-the-shadow-of-salem-hospital-gaiety-hill-reacts-to-salem-healths-disguised-home-purchase/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 06:53:29 +0000 http://www.willamettelive.com/?p=104207 In an atmosphere already charged with mistrust, Salem’s Gaiety Hill neighbors reacted with shock last week to news that Salem Hospital bought a home among them under an assumed name.

They say that after the hospital’s cutting of hundred-year old trees, its seeking exception to city code to pave more parking spots in their midst, its defying a Historic Landmarks Commission’s ruling so it could raze historic Howard Hall and its attorney sending threatening letters to both a member of their neighborhood board and an 84-year old blind Salem resident – the hospital has lost all credibility as a good neighbor.

“It’s a PR nightmare, for the hospital” says neighbor Terry Baxter.

“Trust has been shattered,” says a member of the neighborhood association.

“Trying to disguise what they were doing wasn’t right,” says neighbor John Prohodsky.

Fears are rampant that the hospital will buy up other Gaiety Hill homes for parking or to meet other of its needs, and ultimately destroy the area’s historic designation.

For its part, Salem Hospital maintains that it has consistently worked in partnership with neighbors. “We are proud of our relationship with neighbors and the community, says Sherryll Johnson Hoar, Strategic Communications Administrator for Salem Health.  “After we purchased the former Oregon School for the Blind property, we actively sought out neighbor input, and over and over changed our plans to meet the community’s needs.”

For example, she says, the hospital added trees and shrubs to protect the neighbors from the view, and placed the bulk of parking on the east side of the lot.  It attended meetings and held numerous open houses so neighbors could share their opinions as plans evolved.

Bruce and Oddny Everson

Bruce and Oddny Everson

The Eversons and their home

Oddny and Brad Everson bought 795 Church Street SE in 1972 as a place to raise their three children and eventually enjoy their “seven grandchildren who loved it and ran through it,” Oddny says.

Age and health issues began to take their toll, so, after 42 ½ years of ownership, they put the home up for sale last August.

A cash offer was brought to them fairly quickly and their realtor suggested they take it.  They “googled” the buyer’s name, Terrance Hall, and found he was Hillsboro attorney.  They subsequently learned Hall had graduated from Willamette University and, Oddny says, “we figured he was going to move back down here, or get it for his own kids.”

However, attorney Hall was being paid by Salem Hospital, and his offer was on behalf of Salem Hospital.  And the hospital, whose President was compensated in excess of $1 million per year in 2011 – more than ten times the salary of the Governor of Oregon – negotiated a price $13,500 below the Eversons’ asking price.

The house’s closing date was October 1.  On September 30, the Everson’s realtor was asked to change the buyer’s name to Central Willamette Valley Properties LLC.

For the second time, the Eversons were “not made aware at the time of purchase that the buyer, fronted by the LLC, was in fact Salem Health,” says neighbor Pat Deminna.  “Why didn’t the hospital make their identity known?”

The couple was surprised by the name change, but Oddny didn’t feel it was a “red flag;” she “googled” the LLC and found nothing online – certainly nothing linking it to Salem Hospital.

The Eversons only learned the truth from an online “construction update” flier Salem Hospital sent a few weeks ago.

The Update stated:  “You may have noticed some activity at the vacant house on the corner of Mission and Church.  Salem Health recently purchased this home and is in the process of making some repairs and improvements.  The house will be used as interim housing for administrative fellows, or physicians who are relocating but have not yet purchased a residence.” 

The Eversons, who live in West Salem near their daughter now, were floored.  “It felt like a punch to the stomach,” Oddny says.  “I would not have sold to Salem Health, and I think they probably knew that.”

Neighbors reacted immediately.  “They misrepresented themselves when they bought the property by proxy.” says John Prohodsky.  “The one thing a person has is their integrity, and they blew it.”

Protecting resources for community benefit

Salem Hospital maintains its actions were reasonable.  Leilani Slama, Community Relations Director at Salem Health wrote a neighbor that the process of making the purchase in someone else’s name, “… was a normal method of doing so.  Businesses will often use another entity to purchase property to ensure the price doesn’t get driven up by the seller’s assumptions that a business has a lot of money.”

Gaiety Hill Neighbors object to hospital’s methods

Gaiety Hill Neighbors object to hospital’s methods

Neighbors are unmoved by this argument.  “I can’t speak to the hospital’s possible motivations,” says Deminna, “but hiding their identity smacks of insensitivity to a seller who had lived here for decades.”

Oddny adds that, although she and Brad couldn’t keep the house, and are at peace with the amount they received, “The whole process was underhanded.”

Hoar maintains that the hospital acted solely in the best interest of community health, and meant no disrespect.  “We were sorry to hear how the previous owners felt about the purchase process,” she says. “It is not uncommon for businesses to purchase properties through other individuals or businesses.”

Much more was at stake than neighbors understand.  “In our efforts to be good stewards of the health care dollars our patients pay,” Hoar continues, “it’s important we don’t overpay for our purchases, no matter what they are.  The final purchase agreement provided the previous owners with a fair price for the property.”

Gaiety Hill

The home at 795 Church St. SE is located in Salem’s Gaiety Hill-Bush’s Pasture Park Historical District, a roughly 19-block area just west of the hospital and within the South Central Association of Neighbors (SCAN.) Properties are often architecturally significant – though not always pricey – and were often built between 1878 – 1938.  Four are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rules for construction in such districts are stricter than in other areas of towns.  So already-upset neighbors protested in early March when the hospital’s landscape crew began a wall made of artificial stones, in defiance of city law requiring historical review.  In a memo to City Councilors, Kacey Duncan, City Deputy Manager, revealed that the hospital had in fact contacted the Planning Division to see if Historic Design Review would be required for sprinklers, new grass and plants on the property, but had simply neglected to mention the retaining wall.  The City issued a stop work order and the crew stopped work.

Neighbors react

On March 9, with only a few hours notice, and in conversation initiated within Gaiety Hill itself, 18 neighbors met with Salem Weekly to express their love of neighborhood and why the hospitals’ purchase of 795 Church Street alarms them.  Several, citing jobs “that make it inappropriate to take certain positions publicly,” asked not to be identified.  On March 11, more than 20 Gaiety Hill neighbors appeared at a SCAN meeting to protest the purchase.  When Oddny spoke about her frustration over the hospital’s tactics, one neighbor relates, she “received all but a standing ovation.”

The hospital’s neighbors are upset – and some are fearful – because of what one calls “Salem Hospital’s pattern of deceptive, unfriendly and intimidating practices.”

In general, their concerns are:

The hospital, working with the City of Salem, disrespects the past

Neighbor Pat Deminna says she and her husband were not in favor of the hospital’s plan to demolish Howard Hall, on the old School for the Blind campus, purchased in 2010 by Salem Hospital, “and so were heartened by the Historic Landmark Commission’s decision to preserve the building.  But today Howard Hall no longer stands.  Despite the Commission’s ruling to preserve, not one city councilor voted to uphold that decision.”

Roger Deminna adds, “You get eight Americans together in one room to discuss any issue at all and we’ll bet there’ll be sixteen different opinions!  What’s with the City Council’s unanimous votes?”

Salem Hospital has been less than transparent

One neighbor says, “We’ve lived on Church Street since 1991, and we’ve been told time and time again that the hospital would do one thing, and then they’ve done another.”

“Salem Health has said for years their only interest was in expanding east – always just east – “ says another neighbor, “right up till the moment they purchased Oregon School for the Blind. Now they’re across the street [from Gaiety Hill,] and that’s definitely west.  But even after [this was brought up at the SCAN meeting,] they continued to say they were only expanding east!”

“And, now, here they are invading the historical district,” neighbor Jacque Heavey says, “with the purchase of 795 Church Street.”

In another troubling instance, after Salem Health erected fencing around the Blind School property more than a year ago, neighbors wondered how long the barrier would last.  Many had strolled on the 8.33 acres for years.

Oddny Everson asked a hospital representative in 2014 when the fencing would come down.  She was told “when there is a mowable lawn.”

“Well, there was a ‘mowable lawn’ then,” she says.  But the fence has not come down.  Currently the property is a construction zone, headed towards being covered with at least 189 parking spaces.

Finally, there is the case of the Everson home sale.  Heavey says, “It was interesting how they announced it [in the Update] as if it was already widely known.  That bothers me a lot.”

Salem Hospital tries to intimidate those who disagree

Neighbors continue to express outrage over “intimidating” letters sent months ago by Salem Hospital attorneys.  One went to Beverly Rushing, the elderly blind woman who sought to save Howard Hall from demolition.  The other went to a member of SCAN’s Board, a neighborhood volunteer who approached Oregon’s state Land Use Board of Appeals in an attempt to modify areas of the hospital’s plans relating to bicycle access, safety and number of parking spaces.

The sting of these letters is not forgotten.  A current member of the SCAN board calls them, “bully tactics.”

“It’s just economics for the hospital, I understand that,” says Prohodsky.  “But when the law firm representing the hospital wrote SCAN members threatening legal expenses and financial damage – that’s uncalled for.  That’s intimidation.”

They are worried the hospital will destroy the neighborhood

Many neighbors witnessed what happened on the east side of the Hospital.  In 2009, Bush School was moved from land it had occupied for almost a century.  That land, as well as the properties numerous older homes sat on, was converted to hospital parking; Gaiety Hill is worried about the hospital’s intrusion in its own area.

Roger Deminna looks at the purchase of 795 Church Street and says, “It becomes painfully easy to conclude that Salem Health may have a plan to purchase the entire west side of Church Street, in the same way they purchased the residential properties to the east.”

Neighbor Jack Fisher says he remembers, “one Saturday, the hospital had purchased a really nice Tudor building [to the east] on Mission Street.  They gave it to the fire department to burn down, for practice.”  Fisher is also worried by the rate Salem historic houses “are turned into offices.  It is my concern that someday all of this [Gaiety Hill] will be offices.”

Pat Deminna would regret the loss of the unique community.  “People tend to buy houses here and they stay here,” she says.  “We love each other here.  Our historic neighborhood contributes to our city’s sense of history and continuity [and] cannot be duplicated or replaced.  We don’t want to see encroachment into the Gaiety Hill Historic District by business interests who single-mindedly pursue their own goals.”

“The fear is,” says one, “realtors will now go door to door in Gaiety Hill.  It’s a real threat.  Even though Salem Hospital says they don’t want to buy in Gaiety Hill, we don’t trust them.  What could stop them?”

If Church Street residents are going to come under pressure to sell, says Roger Deminna, “they should know it sooner than later… Has the City Council already given the go-ahead?  If so, please spare us another charade of public hearings.  We have a right to know, and we want to know, … before the next unanimous vote.”

The hospital feels the reaction is not fair.  “We purchased the [Everson] house because it was for sale and we often need places for physicians and others moving to the community to live while they are looking for a residence in Salem,” says Hoar. “Rest assured, we will maintain the house as a residence and to the standards appropriate to the historic district.”

She assures Salem Weekly, “If we were to purchase any other property in the neighborhood, it would be for a specific purpose, like we did with the [Everson] house.”

Hoar indicates many examples of the hospitals openness to partnering, including comments made by then-incoming City Councilor Tom Andersen, in an interview on CCTV’s Valley View, saying, “The hospital has been a good neighbor.” She adds, “in newspaper interviews and public hearings, SCAN representatives note the hospital has been open, responsive and cooperative.”  Additionally, the hospital created a community sounding board specifically to engage neighbors, and it includes the president of SCAN.

Moving forward

There is a sharp divide between the beliefs of Gaiety Hill neighbors and the hospital that is located just next to them.  Although Salem Health feels its plans are “a collaboration, designed with the input of our patients and the community,” as Hoar expresses it – many in Gaiety Hill clearly have difficulties with trust.  One says, “They say just enough to pacify us.  We are not dealing with the nice people who deliver our babies.  We’re dealing with administrators, and they are basically land developers.”

Neighbor Leonard Kelly puts it this way, “We appreciate the healthcare they provide.  It’s the administration and the attitude towards expansion regardless of what it does to neighborhoods, that we object to.  This neighborhood feels under attack.  It’s the influence of power and money that speaks.”

Prohodsky says “the neighborhood has put the hospital on record that they really don’t like the way they’ve dealt with neighbors.”  He admits, “I don’t trust Salem Hospital at this point.”  But he believes there is hope.  “People want to work with people,” he says.

All the neighbors seem to agree with Prohodsky when he says, I want the hospital to be successful and attract good staff.  If they have a bad reputation, it could have an impact on healthcare in our community.  Without that trust, the hospital loses and the community loses.”

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Bigfoot Speaks in Salem http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/bigfoot-speaks-in-salem/ http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/bigfoot-speaks-in-salem/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 06:44:21 +0000 http://www.willamettelive.com/?p=104203 You heard it right!  Sasquatch sightings have increased in Salem!  Who would have thought the shy bipedal hominoid of lore would actually enter a city?  Much less Oregon’s capitol city.

And who would of thought he would have a message, something to say to us? Salem Weekly was delighted to snag an exclusive one-on-one interview in a bush with the celebrated hairy giant.

SW: Mr. Sasquatch, thank you for meeting today.

S: “Squatch,” please. That’s what they call me where I’m from. Mind if I…??

SW: Ummm, sorry you shouldn’t do that. The law doesn’t go in effect till July.  So, where are you from?

S: I come from Drift Creek Camp Wilderness. Straub Environmental Center hosts many of their events out there such as Family Nature Retreat and Mushroom Retreat.

SW: I see, well it sure is amazing that you have traveled into the capitol city to “be seen.”  What would you like to say to Salem? 

S: Up at DCC, I overheard people saying Straub Environmental Center was bringing the FIRST Earth Day event to Salem and that they are in cahoots with the city on this event.  They’re calling it earth411: Information and Solutions for a Better Tomorrow. Its coming up April 11th at Riverfront Park.

SW: You eavesdrop?  That’s not very nice.

S: Says a human being, who crashes through my living room?  Anyway, the families of the woods got together and decided, due to the rapid decline of our habitat, we had to send out the bravest – that would be me, ahem! – to tell the humans to preserve what is left of the forests of Oregon.  And do all they can to save the forests beyond.

SW: I understand you were at Riverfront Park creating quite a stir at the Minto Bridge sign, and were sighted reading a Salem Weekly at the Grand Hotel lobby, and also while leaving the Grand Hotel men’s room…

S: (with deep embarrassment)  Oy! with bathroom details?? Can’t a Sasquatch have a private moment without the paparazzi filming it?

SW: I thank you for reading the Salem Weekly.  It sounds like everyone is excited to have you here in town and we are all happy to have you bring awareness of the forests to the Willamette Valley. 

S:  Me, too!  I myself plan to be at the earth411 event to meet the whole community for photos & high fives.  I hear Gary the Oak from Friends of Trees will also be there and Claudia the Chinook.  They are also having live entertainment there and boat rides, and I am especially excited they are having a costume contest and an Earth parade.

SW: This is sure to be a great event. A solar saucer is coming from Salt Lake City, Utah to power the event and it looks like a big UFO.  Electric cars will be on display, and over 50 grassroots organizations to share the services they provide to live resiliently.

S: It doesn’t stop there, dude!  The Program Coordinator of Straub Environmental Center, Nichole Rose, told me they are having a Lecture at Salem Public Library on Henry David Thoreau and Environmental Justice with Professor Lance Newman on April 15th at 7:00pm.  She is working on persuading me to stay for that as well.

And with that – the famed wooly behemoth disappeared out of the same bush we shared and into the mists.  This reporter was left alone, in shock at his powerful message.

Where will he turn up next?

Information about earth411 event can be found at:

straubenvironmentalcenter..org

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Dynamo at the Capitol -Kristen Grainger is one immensely capable person http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/dynamo-at-the-capitol-kristen-grainger-is-one-immensely-capable-person/ http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/dynamo-at-the-capitol-kristen-grainger-is-one-immensely-capable-person/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 06:39:57 +0000 http://www.willamettelive.com/?p=104200 On February 18, the day Oregon’s new governor was sworn into office, Kate Brown announced a handful of key people she already knew she wanted on her staff.

One of the only four that Brown considered so crucial was Kristen Grainger, who stepped into the role of Brown’s Communication Director.

At the time she was tapped, Grainger had been serving for twelve years as chief of staff for the president of Willamette University.  Before that, she worked for more than 13 years in Oregon politics as a journalist and legislative advocate.  She served as president of Grainger & Tresidder Government Relations.  She was chief of staff for Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers.  She was communications director for Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

Creative to the core, Grainger also wrote a whimsical piece for Salem Weekly in 2012 and has received top honors for her songwriting and musical gifts with the Pacific Northwest indie-bluegrass quartet, True North.

We caught up with Grainger to learn a little more about the talented achiever.

SW: How is the position working out, Kristen?

KG: The circumstances under which this opportunity emerged were less than optimum, certainly – no one could have predicted or wished for that unfortunate turn of events that resulted in Governor Kitzhaber’s resignation. For me, it was a whirlwind that started when he announced his resignation on Friday, February 13th. I was recruited that afternoon [and] since then, it has felt a little like building an airplane in mid-flight, and the pace hasn’t let up for one second.

I am thrilled to be on Governor Brown’s leadership team.  She is someone I have known, respected and admired for many years. (We met as new lobbyists in the 1991 legislative session when she lobbied for the Women’s Rights Coalition and I lobbied for Oregon Legal Services/Legal Aid).

Governor Brown has built a strong executive team, replacing several key positions right away.  Plus, the policy and administrative staff from the prior administration are truly outstanding.  They have helped assure stability and have been incredibly professional and supportive during what must also have been a very difficult transition for them as well.

SW:  As a lobbyist for 6 years, what do you feel makes for a successful lobbyist?

KG: As is true with business and in other arenas, politics is about relationships, building and maintaining good personal rapport and connections.  (And in case you think me naïve, yes, an oversized PAC doesn’t hurt.)

SW: What is the most exciting hurdle you’ve crossed since your new job began?

KG:  It was pretty exciting to prepare for Governor Brown’s first gubernatorial news conference after just two days on the job.  The room was packed with representatives from media outlets, and she needed to be prepared for questions on a wide range of topics, from water to biofuels to the death penalty to taxation, public records, education – you name it.  She walked in and lit up the room. She was terrific, very gubernatorial.

Regardless of the unfortunate circumstances that brought this about and the chaos she inherited, she has been calm and fearless.  She is clearly ready to be Governor of Oregon, and that first news conference brought that fact into sharp relief.

SW: What’s your biggest hope for the Brown administration?

KG: John Lennon said, “War is over if you want it.”  Governor Kate Brown is a collaborator – everything about the past 24 years of her career in public service underscores that fact.  Whether her political party was in the majority or minority, House or Senate, she has continually accomplished important policy goals through building relationships and coalitions of like-minded people regardless of political affiliation.

My hope is that her leadership style and philosophy will signal to others that collectively, they have the power to end partisan conflict and move Oregon forward, if they want to.

SW: Kristen, does this exciting new job mean you’re no longer writing and recording songs or performing with True North?

KG:  Heck no. It’s in me, and it’s got to come out.

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Mayor, citing costs, prunes budding tree commission http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/mayor-citing-costs-squelches-budding-tree-commission/ http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/mayor-citing-costs-squelches-budding-tree-commission/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 06:31:50 +0000 http://www.willamettelive.com/?p=104195 After the hubbub over the removal of trees outside US Bank on State Street two years ago, the City of Salem charged members of its staff and a citizens advisory committee to study and recommend ways of improveing Chapter 86 of city code.

Among the group’s participants were a city councilor, staff from Salem Parks and Recreation and members of the Shade Tree Advisory Committee, a collaboration between Salem Parks and Recreation and volunteers who hear controversial tree issues and make recommendations.

Chapter 86 deals with trees growing on city property.

At the City Council Work Session on Tree Code Revisions on March 9, 2015, Public Works Director Peter Fernandez introduced the work of the group saying that the “tremendous controversy” in spring 2013 made it “obvious that Chapter 86… which is only about half a page now… really doesn’t provide the council, the community or the staff with a lot to hang its hat on when we need to make decisions” about trees that need to be planted or removed.

Patricia Farrell, Natural Resource Specialist in Public Works, presented the group’s findings and recommendations.  Included among them were: establishimg criteria for tree removal, determineing a process for notifications and appeals, and createing an Urban Tree Commission that would replace the Shade Tree Advisory Committee, increase its membership, and give it authority to make decisions on tree removals and Heritage Tree nominations, among other questions.  Farrell said the group anticipated input from City Council that evening prior to taking the ideas to the public for input and hearings this spring.

Mayor Anna Peterson expressed concern about the expense of the endeavor.  “Instead of looking at trees, I’m looking at dollars,” she said.  She cited the constraints the city is operating under and added, “The biggest expense we have is staffing.”  She mentioned the staff time it takes to create commissions, to get commissioners educated and prepared, and to follow meetings with more work, saying, “I’m concerned about the staff time we would be building up.”

Decisions about trees, the Mayor said, were scientific decisions; whether a tree is diseased or dying, or what kind of tree is suitable for a certain place.  “I have tremendous confidence,” she said, “that the staff we have, the directors that we have, have the ability and the judgment… and I question the need for another commission… and also for the [current] Shade Tree Advisory Committee, altogether.”

When Ward 1 Councilor Chuck Bennett pointed out the advantage of multiple sources of input, saying, “there are… situations where facts can compete,” and suggesting that the community might “need to allow for that kind of clash of facts to be adjudicated by a disinterested group of people who have been briefed in the code,” Peterson disagreed.

“Yes, we could have dueling arborists,” she said, “but do we want to be that kind of community?”  She compared the advice of future committee members to interference with Peter Fernandez’ Public Works department making a decision on a certain type of pipe.

“Should we have the sort of situation where the community could be prescribing to him the kind of pipe that should be put in the ground?  I don’t think so.  Do we need the kind of system that feeds that?  I personally don’t… I want less live theater on these issues, not more.”

After the discussion, Farrell and her group were directed to return with new plans that involved city staff only, and suggesting for an appeal process.

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Senate passes measure to alter marijuana criminal records http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/senate-passes-measure-to-alter-marijuana-criminal-records/ http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/senate-passes-measure-to-alter-marijuana-criminal-records/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 06:29:59 +0000 http://www.willamettelive.com/?p=104193 On March 10, Oregon’s senate passed measure SB364 to vacate past marijuana convictions.  The measure is now in the Oregon House.

If passed by the House, Oregon courts would be required to consider the current, less-serious, classification of marijuana possession when they decide on setting aside, or expunging, people’s records.

SB 364 states, “When a person convicted of a marijuana offense based on conduct occurring before July 1, 2013, files a motion for a court order setting aside the conviction pursuant to ORS 137.225, the court shall consider the offense to be classified as under current law when determining if the person is eligible for the order.”

The classifications for marijuana possession were lowered in July 2013, making them less serious offenses in Oregon.

If SB364 is made into law, offenders would no longer have criminal records for behavior that has been reclassified – even if the behavior occurred before July 2013, when the law changed.

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Salem Meetups forge connections http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/salem-meetups-forge-connections/ http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/salem-meetups-forge-connections/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 05:56:14 +0000 http://www.willamettelive.com/?p=103954 One hundred years ago, most Americans didn’t have time to relax, discuss ideas or pursue hobbies.  The population was over 50% agrarian with “dawn to dusk” labor required to keep families alive, even in cities, manufacturing workweeks averaging 54 hours.

But whether in rural towns or urban neighborhoods – people’s lives were closely entwined then.  When they had a spare moment, they spent it with each other.

Now we live in a hyper-connected world with significantly more leisure time, but drive separate cars on long commutes, buy groceries from strangers, gaze into individual smartphones for news and entertainment.

Meetup, the largest network of local groups, was developed after the 9/11 attacks to combat the isolation.  The site boasts almost 21 million members world-wide, all of whom go online to discover face-to-face opportunities in their areas.

“Meetup’s mission,” it website says, “is to revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize.”

The 1672 Meetups promised on the “near Salem, Meetup.com website” include numerous Portland meetings, but many are near home as well: a mountain bike association, a digital photo league, a stay-at-home parents group, a social boozin’ club.

Book groups.  Christian Singles groups.  Knitting groups.  Puppetry groups.

“It’s about connecting with people who share your interests,” says Salem’s Kristen Wilson, “no matter what your interests might be. If there’s more than one person interested, Boom! you’ve got a Meetup group…  It’s worldwide. It’s massive. And it’s free.  It really is ingenious.”

“I moved to Stayton almost nine years ago,” says Gracian Howard, who organizes Salem Sisterhood of FUN events.  “I was caring for my family, but after my father died, I realized, ‘Hey, I don’t have any girlfriends.’”  A somewhat shy person, Howard attended her first “Sisterhood” tea with a friend so she wouldn’t be alone.  “But it was a large group, 4 tables of ladies, and I came away thinking, ‘This is great!’”

Currently, the “Sisters” boast 124 women, with 3-5 new members joining the group every week and 53 events, from walks in the park to “game nights” scheduled in coming months.  One favorite event is a Friday night dinner at la Margerita.  “They’re a huge success,” Howard says.

In response to inclement weather, another Meetup, The Salem Community Drum Circle has been getting together and drumming indoors at Duffy’s Hanger all winter.  Member Valerie Pickering says the group works as a team “to keep drumming going and educating people about hand drums and having fun.”  It will start drumming outside in Riverfront Park now that it’s March.  When it’s wet and cold in the park, Pickering says orgaizers expect about 10 drummers; when it’s dry and warm, “there can be as many as 40.  We just love having fun and drumming, dancing and making music.”

Russ Peak organizes Dungeons and Dragons gaming at TimeSync Gaming on Hawthorne Avenue.  “Meetup has been the number one way people can find us,” he says.  “Through Meetup, our Wednesday night attendance can be 10 – 25 people.  Whereas in Portland, when they don’t use Meetup, they have hardly anyone show up.”

Most people play Dungeons & Dragons at home, Peak says, but it can be difficult to learn how to pick it up on your own.   Meetup events provide experienced players happy to help.

“I travel for work, and don’t have as many opportunities to find local friends.  I really like what Meetup does,” Peak says.

Kristen Wilson first discovered Meetup in 2010 when she lived in Barcelona and wanted to find people with whom to practice Spanish.  Meetup provided one.

“It was a total blast,” she says, “just what I had in mind.

Interested in spirituality and consciousness, she searched for other like-minded folks in Salem and found that though there was activity, there was no single resource to pull them all together.  “So I decided to make one,” she says, “and about a year ago I started the Salem Area Energy and Consciousness Community Calendar.”

Wilson’s Calendar is a little different than many Meetups, in that the events are generated by the members, not just a few organizers, and every member can list events. “This means it’s got really rich and varied offerings,” she says, “from a wide range of people and organizations. Since last March, we’ve listed over 1,200 events… and we currently have over 300 more coming up.”

With a degree in Psychology and Social Relations from Harvard University and National Accreditation in the field of Addictive Behavior, Wilson sees the popularity of her calendar as indication that, “There’s such a thirst for spiritual connection and community these days, and so many people just don’t know where to go to find out how to deepen that connection.”

Now, in Salem, Meetup gives her members a real place to start.

“Fourty or fifty years ago we had the Welcome Wagon to connect people,” Howard says.  “That doesn’t happen any more, and people are more cautious and in their digital worlds.  But there is a need to meet face-to-face, and I love all the ideas that the ladies in the group keep coming up with.  I could be busy all the time if I wanted to be.”

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State or Oregon cannabis regulation, an industry perspective http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/state-or-oregon-cannabis-regulation-an-industry-perspective/ http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/state-or-oregon-cannabis-regulation-an-industry-perspective/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 05:53:52 +0000 http://www.willamettelive.com/?p=103951 The passage of Measure 91 in November legalized recreational marijuana in Oregon and began a process of study and negotiation in Salem.  Since the start of the session, lawmakers have worked to determine the specifics of how the measure will play out, day to day, as the state moves forward.  Activity began immediately; on the first day of session, at least 15 bills were filed that would alter or amend Measure 91.

“The state still needs to implement the specific details around many issues,” says Anthony Johnson, co-author of Measure 91 and Executive Director of the Oregon Cannabis Industry Association (www.newapproachoregon.com.)  He includes licensing requirements for marijuana businesses and the regulations around testing, processing, cultivation, dispensing, dosage, packaging and marketing.  “Good cannabis legislation would stick to the will of the voters, and the basics that need implementing.”

In January, the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 was established.  Composed of democrats and republicans, House and Senate members and led by Sen. Ginny Burdick (D – Portland) and Rep. Ann Lininger (D – Lake Oswego,) it held twice-weekly hearings throughout February, inviting testimony from law enforcement, medical professionals, health professionals, cannabis trade associations, environmentalists, testing laboratories and bankers.

Growers and dispensary owners from around the state attended nearly every session – another frequent presence was Tom Burns, who since 2013 has overseen the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) implementation of Oregon’s medical marijuana dispensary system. Burns, was made the director of Oregon’s marijuana program after the passage of Measure 91.

As March begins, lawmakers have more than two-dozen marijuana bills to consider.  The potential laws range from barring cannabis sales within a mile of schools to figuring ways for banks and credit unions to do business with growers, laboratories and dispensaries without being charged with money laundering under the RICO Act; (cannabis is still illegal under federal law).

“What our legislators are looking at,” says Peter Gendron, a grower from southern Oregon, “is avoiding the mistakes of Colorado and Washington.  I and others are committed to moving the industry forward and making sure the industry is well-regulated and operating in a socially responsible manner”.  “These are smart, thoughtful people on this committee,” says attendee Ed Burgmans, who runs A.M.C., a cannabis consulting business.  “They ask all the right questions.  They ask excellent questions.”

Let this serve as a brief introduction to some of the 11 Senate bills and 14 House bills now in play.

Generally APPROVED by

cannabis industry

Senate Bill 445

Asks for a warning against marijuana use by pregnant women.

“While there is no definitive science showing marijuana use to be a danger to a developing fetus, and in fact, some science showing benefits,” says Portland NORML’s Executive Director Russ Belville, “we should be extra cautious when it comes to pregnant mother’s use of any drug – from alcohol to Zoloft.”

Senate Bills 479 and 480

These bills would create a somewhat independent state agency to study the use and effectiveness of medical marijuana.  “These bills should have been passed a decade ago,” Belville comments, “but better late than never.”  Oregon Cannabis Connection, a statewide publication focused on the cannabis industry, calls both 479 and 480 “a very good law!”

House Bill 2676

This law directs the OLCC to register medical marijuana production sites, processing sites, wholesale sites and people who handle marijuana.  All involved in the industry hope for responsible regulation that will not needlessly penalized this legal business.  If developed properly, HB2676 may be the answer.

“Although this omnibus bill has been gutted,” says Donald Morse, Director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council,  “we’re going to help the committee put back relevant parts.  We have a hope that in upcoming months we can put back in elements that were written out.”

Generally OPPOSED by

cannabis industry

House Bills 2040 and 2041, Senate Bills 124, 162 and 540

All seek to restrict the location of dispensaries in relation to school zones or childcare facilities.  The Senate bills ask for a distance of 1,000 feet; the House bills require a distance of a mile.

Measure 91 makes no mention of school exclusionary zones, and cannabis advocates urge rejection of all laws that impose them. Belville says, “Take a look around Portland and find your nearest school.  Now, count up how many locations within 1,000 feet of it where an adult can buy alcohol or cigarettes.  Why should the standard be any different for marijuana?”

The one-mile laws are even more egregious, Gendron says.  “You’ve got so many small towns in Oregon”.  “You couldn’t have any cannabis business in the whole place with a one-mile rule.  That’s not what voters asked for.”

Morse doesn’t think a 1-mile law will see the light of day, calling them “so over the top that they effectively create a moratorium in some of our smaller towns.”

House Bill 2781

This bill, which would effectively prohibit any child care facility from employing or using the services of anyone who possesses a medical marijuana card, is rejected as unfair by cannabis advocates who point out that there is no law preventing day-care workers from using cigarettes, alcohol or prescription medications on their own time.

Senate Bill 542

This bill would repeal sections of Measure 91 that say how local governments can regulate all aspects of marijuana production and sales and is deemed “very, very bad law,” by Oregon Cannabis Connection.

“The most appropriate legislation,” says Johnson, “would be bills designed to protect consumers by ensuring proper packaging, dosage and labeling of marijuana products as well as bills necessary to give the OLCC the tools needed to best keep marijuana out of the hands of minors.”  He calls Senate Bill 542 “the most damaging bill” under consideration, saying it would encourage illegal sales, “completely undermining the most important priority of Measure 91 and the 56% of voters who want to curtail the underground, illicit market. Senate Bill 542 would allow for localities to enact exorbitant local taxes and prohibit state-licensed marijuana businesses with a simply majority vote of a county commission or city council, providing opportunities for illegal dealers to try and undercut the state-licensed businesses.”

Most members of the cannabis industry encourage the legislature to implement the will of the voters regulating marijuana sensibly.  They say marijuana laws are as important as laws for microbrews and wineries, cigarettes and medications.  But for them, the protection of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program is essential, as is upholding the will of the voters in November.

“What the Oregon legislature is doing right now is going to guide national policy in 2020,” Gendron says.  “A rescheduling of cannabis [making use legal nationally by removing it from the federal list of Schedule 1 substances] is going to happen in the next few years.  And when that day comes, policies across the nation will be based on what happens in Salem, Oregon, right now.”

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‘Playing’ in the big leagues -Salem Progressive Film Series http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/playing-in-the-big-leagues-salem-progressive-film-series/ http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/playing-in-the-big-leagues-salem-progressive-film-series/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 05:50:52 +0000 http://www.willamettelive.com/?p=103948 In the new film Pay 2 Play, the title phrase refers to the idea that one has to donate large sums of money to politicians to have influence on them. As Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich puts it in the opening minutes, “’Pay to play’ is essentially the kind of new rule of American democracy.”

This is the film’s fundamental thesis, facets of which it proceeds to explore in detail.

After the screening, two articulate Oregon thinkers, Ed Dover, Professor of Political Science at Western Oregon University and David Delk of Portland’s Alliance for Democracy, will lead a discussion about the film and present thoughts on the current system and ideas for individual action.

The film begins with the tale of “Coingate,” an Ohio scandal about a coin dealer who buys his way into Ohio politics, ultimately being put in charge of a $50 million fund of Worker’s Compensation money to invest, most of which ends up going to buy coins. The film points out that the return on investment for political donors is huge, largely because a politician repays donors using taxpayer money.

According to The Journal of Law & Politics, a large donor can expect a 22,000% return on his investment in politicians.

Viewers learn how the ‘Pay 2 Play’ system was given a shot of steroids when the Supreme Court ruled in the notorious Citizens United case that donated money was the equivalent of constitutionally, protected free speech, and made a couple other subsequent rulings further removing restrictions on corporate donations to politicians. In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court threw out a century of campaign finance laws.

Two of the country’s biggest political donors are the Koch brothers, the heads of one of America’s largest privately held corporations, Koch Industries. They donate to Republican candidates, and they donate a lot. According to the film, out of 1,216 winning Republican candidates running at all levels in the 2010 elections – 1,053 received money from the two.

“The presence of large sums of money from very, very wealthy individuals essentially to buy elections and election outcomes is of great concern to us,” Delk says.  “The activities of the Koch Brothers to use their vast wealth to undermine the people’s voice” draws the opposition of Alliance for Democracy.  Delk will talk some about the efforts in which the group is currently engaged in.

Pay 2 Play also shows how, under the current system, large sums are desperately needed by politicians just to get elected. It presents statistics from Mother Jones magazine, revealing that a campaign for a House seat currently costs $1.5 million, and for a Senate seat, $10 million.

“The greatest threat posed by big money,” says Dover, who will explore the thought after the screening, “is that it undermines a fundamental principle of American democracy: one person, one vote.”  With television being the nation’s primary form of political communication, big money allows wealthy individuals to have outsized voices because of their ability to purchase television time for advancing often simplistic messages.

Pay 2 Play illustrates yet another avenue that gives business access to lawmakers: the little-known organization called ALEC, or The American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC brings state legislators and business leaders together to draft legislation.

The film spends some time discussing the use of street art, i.e. posters and graffiti, to give voice to the individuals who don’t have millions to affect their political representatives.

It also offers “a few significant reforms” that could completely change our system. Each one of these reforms taken individually may seem difficult, but the film closes with an exhortation about how much influence a single voice can have in a political debate.

In the end, Pay 2 Play is an effective, illuminating and hopeful piece about the place of money in our political system.

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Slow down, Salem http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/slow-down-salem/ http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/slow-down-salem/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 05:48:31 +0000 http://www.willamettelive.com/?p=103945 Beginning February 18, The City of Salem and Marion County slowed traffic on two Salem streets.

The first street to get a new limit is State Street, running past the Capitol from downtown, at High Street, eastward to 14th Street.  Previously, the stretch had no posted speed limit.

The request to install one came from the Oregon State Police, according to Ward 1 city councilor Chuck Bennett, “primarily to lower speeds at the State Capitol complex. The city worked with the state on this, and I support this effort.”

When State Street had no posted limit, it was governed by the Basic Rule. ‘Basic Rule’ is Oregon Vehicle Code 811.10, which sets different maximum speeds depending on whether a street runs through a business district, a park, an alley, and so on.

“Since State Street does not easily follow the definitions” of the Basic Rule, says Kevin Hottmann, City Traffic Engineer with the City of Salem, “it [was] difficult to say what the speed limit [was.]”

The area could be dangerous, according to Bennett, because “there are numerous crosswalks in the area and substantial pedestrian traffic.”

So now State Street has the same the same 25 mile per hour speed limit as Court Street, which runs parallel to it, on the other side of the Capitol.

The second affected road, Gaffin Road between Cordon Road SE and Deer Park Drive SE, had its speed limit reduced from 55 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour.  “The Gaffin Road change traffic speed change was the result of work by Councilor Brad Nanke, the city and the county,” Bennett says. “This area has mixed county and city boundaries.”

Hottman adds that Marion County has received a number of complaints in years about cars going excessive speeds on that stretch of Gaffin.

These move to slower speeds are in agreement with the Center for Disease Control’s transportation recommendations, which advocate for slower traffic to reduce injuries from motor vehicles, including pedestrian and bicyclist injury.  Salem residents were recently shocked to learn we had four pedestrian deaths from motor vehicles between December 26, 2014 and January 15 of this year.

8 – 80 Cities, a Canadian non-profit with the goal of creating vibrant, healthy cities internationally, advocates for so-called “Complete Streets” policies across America.  These policies include traffic slowing an “encourage and provide for the safe access to destinations for everyone, regardless of age, ability, income or ethnicity, and no matter how they travel,” 8 – 80 Cities says.

Nationwide, a total of 610 jurisdictions now have Complete Streets policies in place.

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What she really wants to say -Young Salem poet loves the world http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/what-she-really-wants-to-say-young-salem-poet-loves-the-world/ http://www.willamettelive.com/2015/news/what-she-really-wants-to-say-young-salem-poet-loves-the-world/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 05:47:11 +0000 http://www.willamettelive.com/?p=103942 “I climb the irregular boughs of an ancient oak feeling the rough bark etching time under my hands… I go, searching the wide, wide world… “

In the poem, “I go,” 11-year old Eddy Binford of Salem, an Oregon State Fair prize-winning poet, describes her experiences in places as varied as the crowded streets of Shanghai, the dilapidated shacks of a South African township, the dancing water of a Czech Republic city fountain.

Binford has been every place she names, from the oceans of Hawaii to the sand dunes of Namibia.  She travels with her family, mostly because of her mother, Warren Binford’s, work.  Professor Binford is director of Willamette University clinical law program and lectures and researches internationally, primarily on civil rights and children’s rights issues.

“I like to see diffferent parts of the world,” Binford says.  “I like meeting new people.  We’re all people, so in some way we’re the same, but were all kind of different, too, because we each adapted to our surroundings.”

Binford has created books of photographs of her travels.  In one, she stands among laughing children in a South African shanty town.  Many of the local children rest a hand on her head, “because they loved my red hair,” Binford says, smiling.

A student at Salem’s Heritage School, Binford has been writing poetry for years and can’t count the poems she’s created.  She says the medium of poetry allows her the space to express things that would be difficult to speak out loud.  “You get time to think with poems,” she says, “more time to think it over and find out what you really want to say.”

Eddy Binford will be featured at the new earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 11, Called “Earth 411”. This event is sponsored by the City of Salem, and Straub Environmental Center. She’ll be reading, “I go” aloud.

She’s a big fan of Earth Day.  “I think the world is really beautiful,” she says.  “There are so many things we can treasure… Conservation is important, because if you don’t preserve the planet, then eventually all the trees will be gone.  I want people in the future to experience the world I have, in all its beauty.  If there aren’t any flowers and animals and bees, then we don’t have anything, really.”

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