Salem residents gave City officials and their consultants an earful at last Tuesday's Salem Strategic Plan Open House at the Broadway Commons. Actually, many earfuls, as the large crowd of concerned citizens was feisty, outspoken, and unwilling to accept pat answers from the moderators.
This photo, courtesy of the City of Salem Facebook page, only shows about half of the attendees. A partition at the back of the room had to be opened up to accommodate the unexpectedly large number of people who showed up to express their views about how Salem needs to change for the better.
(My seated gray-haired and partially balding head is just above my blue jacket in the top left corner.)
I don't know what City officials and their consultants were thinking when they scheduled a Stakeholder Charrette meeting on Tuesday afternoon, shortly before the citizen open house. Whatever their thoughts were, this was a bad idea.
About a month ago I wrote a post, "Few City of Salem 'stakeholders' are ordinary citizens."
Ah, yes, that wonderfully perplexing term, stakeholder. The dictionary has a couple of definitions that make sense in this context: one that has a stake in an enterprise; one who is involved in or affected by a course of action.
So seemingly every Salem resident and property owner, along with every person who works in or regularly visits Salem, is a stakeholder in the City's strategic planning process.
One would think that this would be an opportunity for City officials to hear from people who usually don't have much of a voice in civic affairs.
Well, anyone who thinks like that would be wrong.
Because it turns out that of the 48 Stakeholder Interviews scheduled to be conducted, I counted up only 9 -- nine! -- that weren't interviews with the Mayor, current and incoming city councilors, top City management, people affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce, and people affiliated with City of Salem committees/advisory groups.
Thus only 19% of the supposed "stakeholders" could be generously considered as ordinary citizens. I say generously, because even most of those nine arguably are part of the power structure in this town.
So the not-so-genius idea was to get these representatives of the Powers That Be together prior to the citizen open house and have them come up with their ideas for Salem's priorities, then have us ordinary citizens offer feedback on these potential recommendations.
Not surprisingly, this didn't go over very well.
Early on, someone asked who these "stakeholders" were. The consultant moderating the open house said he couldn't answer, but there was a list of them somewhere. I'm not usually someone who yells stuff at meetings, but I was impelled to loudly say "Chamber of Commerce types," or words to that effect.
The consultant made some other comments that didn't cast much light on the stakeholder question, such as noting that they were active in civic affairs. I then yelled out, "Who chose these people? Hey, I'm active in civic affairs and I wasn't chosen as a stakeholder." The answer: "City staff chose them."
Here's a photo I took before the meeting started of the Development section of the stakeholder priorities that were prominently displayed on sheets at the front of the room. The Chamber of Commerce mentality is evident in: "Job growth!", "Link economy and environment," "Promote small business," and "Business friendly marketplace."
Here's a photo of part of the Public Works section (on the right). When I saw "Maintain momentum on 3rd bridge" I knew several things: one, this indeed came from folks with a Chamber of Commerce attitude, and two, the ordinary citizens in the room were going to have a very different take on the 3rd bridge, a.k.a. the Billion Dollar Boondoggle.
A Statesman Journal story about the meeting describes how the crowd felt about the 3rd Bridge:
When the time came for a microphone to be passed around, speakers in the audience had their say on homelessness, the protection of undocumented immigrants and climate change, among other topics. The contentious third traffic bridge to cross the Willamette River came up more than once.
When local activist Jim Scheppke, a fierce opponent of the bridge, asked people who were against it to stand up, most in [the] audience did.
I took a bunch of photos of the sheets of paper where us ordinary citizens got to express our priorities for Salem. Here's some of the ideas that I liked a lot (sometimes, because they were mine!).
The red "Streetscape downtown to make more attractive and cyclist/pedestrian friendly" was penned in by me. The sentiment at the bottom in blue by someone else went along with this: "We are the Capital of one of the most beautiful states -- How about some creativity w/ center medians, w/ trees/plants on some major arteries/thoroughfares?"
(Click here for a web page I made about the Streetscape concept.)
"Stop giving $ to projects that will happen anyway. $749k to TJ Sullivan? Use the funds for real + needed development" didn't come from me. But it sure echoed my expose of how City officials gave $749,000 of urban renewal funds to the Park Front project even though the building was going to be constructed anyway and didn't bring any real public benefits to downtown.
"Downtown Bathrooms." Yes! Being able to use a restroom without having to spend money at a restaurant, coffeehouse, or wherever (or sneak into one) should be a basic human right. Every city should have public restrooms in its downtown area. It's good for business and it's good for people. Sisters, in central Oregon, knows this and has a great restroom facility in the middle of the shopping area.
I really liked this comment: "Climate change must be the lens thru which we examine and plan for City Public Works. Plan, commit resources to a Climate Action Plan. Thank you." Right on! City officials need to explain how the Third Bridge fits into a plan to reduce Salem's carbon footprint. (In fact, it doesn't, but this should be made explicit.)
"Bikeways that go places! Don't end out of nowhere." So true. Salem isn't a bike friendly town, because so many bike paths are just painted lines on a dangerous busy road, and there is poor connectivity between the bike paths that do exist.
"Outreach system in place for welcoming, hosting, communicating w/refugees/immigrants." There's a recently formed Salem for Refugees group that is doing this, but they need lots of help. Check them out at www.salemforrefugees.org (the web site is under development).
Great idea: "Anonymous (if needed) system for hearing/receiving grievances/complaints from individuals who feel un-/under-/mal- served by public service offices/officials." The City of Salem definitely needs this. So do other public organizations.
This is what the Chamber of Commerce types in the "stakeholder" group seemingly didn't realize: "Economy and environment are intertwined. You can't have a healthy, vibrant economy without a healthy, vibrant environment. We need a plan for adapting to climate change soon."
"Please prioritize completing the greeenway bike/walking path between Bush Park & Minto Brown Island (there's a gap)." Good example of lack of connectivity/planning here in Salem. City officials need to do a lot better. Stop wasting tens of millions on vehicular street projects and start spending much more on bike/pedestrian projects.
"People don't know 3rd bridge means toll bridge. Support would drop drastically if this were communicated. Other solutions include staggered work schedules." True. Unless the City Council steps in and stops the madness, in about a week the City of Salem will have committed itself to a plan that requires tolling the 3rd Bridge -- so get ready to spend $1.50 each way to cross the Willamette River.
"Developers and Chamber have way too much influence in Salem politics." Yes, indeed. Proof of this is that these stakeholder types got to have their own special get-together about the Salem Strategic Plan before us common people met.
And we were asked to comment on the stakeholder priorities. Should have been the other way around. It's time for People Power to replace Money Power in this town.