Salem Weekly, our alternative newspaper, is an indispensable voice for those who aren't listened to by the Powers That Be in this town.
The Salem Weekly editorial board leans decidedly progressive, but that's as it should be in Salem, a city that votes liberal.
Here's their end-of-year editorial -- a wish list of ideas to be considered in 2017 by the new City Council. New, because there are three fresh progressive faces on the council.
Naturally I couldn't resist adding in my own comments (in blue) on each of the 18 ideas.
On January 9th, a new era will begin in Salem city government. Three new progressive City Councilors will be sworn in to begin their four year terms. Cara Kaser, Matt Ausec and Sally Cook will join progressive Tom Andersen to form what we hope will be a new progressive caucus. Veteran Councilor Brad Nanke, who ran unopposed, will also be sworn in, as will our new Mayor Chuck Bennett.
So what should the new Council do to try to make Salem a better place for everyone? There are lots of solutions to consider, some that have been talked about for years that now have a chance to move up on the priority list. There are other new ideas that are emerging, and are deserving of consideration.
Here’s our list of ideas we hope the new Council will consider over the next year or two…
1) Put a bond measure for a new police station and seismic upgrades of City Hall and the downtown library on the May 16th ballot at a cost $20-30 million less than the measure that failed on November 8th.
Yes! I helped lead the fight against the poorly thought-out $82 million bond measure that was rejected by voters. Aside from the exorbitant cost, another reason Measure 24-399 failed was that people wanted everybody who works at or visits City Hall and the Library to be safe when the Big One earthquake hits, not just police department staff.
2) Create a Salem Sustainability and Resiliency Commission led by knowledgeable citizens who will advise the Council on ways the City and its citizens can work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take other initiatives to make Salem a model for sustainability and resiliency.
Absolutely. We've got to combat the global warming deniers among City officials with facts, reason, and passionate demands to preserve the livability of our one and only Planet Earth. The effect on Salem's carbon footprint should be a consideration for everything considered by the City of Salem.
3) Remove the Salem River Crossing Preferred Alternative from the Salem Transportation System Plan and Comprehensive Plan and withdraw from all regional planning activities on the 3rd Bridge, working instead to advance low cost and no cost ways to reduce peak hour congestion problems on the approaches to the Marion and Center Street Bridges downtown and in West Salem.
This makes so much sense, there's no reason not to do it ASAP. The Salem River Crossing/3rd Bridge, is better termed the Billion Dollar Boondoggle. The sooner it is put to rest, the better.
4) Engage our Legislators and ODOT to work to fast track a seismic retrofit of the Center Street Bridge so that it will not collapse in the next Cascadia megaquake, thus preserving a vital lifeline to West Salem.
Any transportation plan developed by the 2017 Oregon legislature needs to include funding for this. And that plan should have zero dollars for the unneeded, unwanted, and unpaid-for 3rd Bridge.
5) Renew the City Council’s commitment to Salem’s 18 neighborhood associations as the primary means for citizen input into the decisions of the City Council; provide better staffing and budget support for the work of the neighborhood associations.
People who have been active for a long time in Salem's neighborhood associations tell me that support for their activities by City of Salem staff has dropped hugely after conservatives took control of the City Council. Hey, don't be afraid of hearing from the people you serve, City officials.
6) Create an Urban Tree Commission along the lines recommended by the Shade Tree Citizens Advisory Committee in 2015 and empower them to advise the City Council on ways to strengthen prohibitions against tree removal on both City property and private property and to improve the tree canopy throughout the city.
Citizens charged with improving the City's Tree Ordinance recommended an Urban Tree Commission. But this was axed by Mayor Anna Peterson, with the help of Councilor Chuck Bennett, who now is Mayor. Peterson and Bennett were accomplices in the outrageous destruction of the U.S. Bank trees in 2013, so they have no credibility on tree protection issues. Salem needs an Urban Tree Commission.
7) Increase the transparency of City government by ending the practice of exorbitant costs for public records requests, by taking and disseminating minutes of all public meetings, large and small, and encouraging citizen observers at public meetings.
Couldn't agree more. After making a recent public records request for some documents, I was quoted a cost of $407 to get 50 pages. That's $8 a page. I was told that someone making $88 an hour would put in most of the time to fulfill my request. Really? There's nobody making less who could find the documents?
8) Take immediate action to provide more temporary housing for the homeless, with priority on homeless women, children and youth.
No-brainer. Stop with all the committees, reports, and useless talking. Just do it.
9) Work in partnership with the Transit District to find creative funding solutions to restore weekend and evening bus service; then work on longer term plans to bring transit service in Salem up to the level of quality and affordability common in other Oregon cities like Eugene and Corvallis.
Oh, man, this would be SO great. I speak as a senior citizen who is becoming increasingly senior'ish. My wife and I live outside the city limits now, but we see ourselves moving into Salem proper when the time is right. Having good bus service is important for older people who can't drive. Also, for the many younger people who don't have a car, or don't want a car. It's embarrassing that Salem is so behind the times, mass transit-wise. It put us at a competitive disadvantage with other cities.
10) Direct the Public Works Department to place a higher priority on improving biking and pedestrian infrastructure in the city, including more funding for sidewalk repair and sidewalk construction on all residential streets.
It's insane that the City of Salem spends so many millions on highly expensive street "improvements" that do little to help people get around town, while spending so much less on ways to bike and walk easily/safely.
11) Develop and implement a plan for a branch of the Salem Public Library in Northeast Salem to serve underserved children, families and seniors who live far from the downtown library, with support from the Salem Public Library Foundation; consider the old Borders/Book Bin location on Lancaster Drive.
Makes sense. Northeast Salem doesn't get much attention from top City officials, in part because most of them live elsewhere.
12) Reform the Water-Wastewater Task Force: it should be made up entirely of citizens (no Councilors) representing a cross-section of the community, including mostly ordinary rate payers, and it should make recommendations directly to the Council, not to the Public Works Director.
Good idea. The attempted water rate giveaway to Creekside Golf Course shows how dysfunctional the Water-Wastewater Task Force is. Regarding the Public Works Director, Peter Fernandez, it's time (past-time, really) for him to be let go. I'll never forgive Fernandez for making a backroom deal with the U.S. Bank president that led to the killing of the State Street trees. I have no idea why the City Manager and City Council keep Fernandez around.
13) Improve City communications with citizens, including a greatly improved City website and social media presence that allows for respectful dialogue with and among citizens; make a special effort to reach out to Salem’s large and growing Latino population to engage them in City issues.
The City of Salem web site is a disaster. Supposedly it was improved recently, but it's still really hard to find what you're looking for. The folks at City Hall view "public outreach" pretty much as a burden to be minimized as much as possible. Under her Majesty Mayor Anna Peterson, citizens were supposed to sit down, shut up, and go along with whatever the Chamber of Commerce told City officials to do.
14) Create a special City task force to look at compensation for the considerable time spent by Salem City Councilors and the Mayor on their civic duties, as a way to allow a more diverse group of citizens to hold public office.
City Councilors and the Mayor should be paid, for sure. Currently only those willing and able to spend a lot of volunteer time carrying out their unpaid elected position are able to run for those offices.
15) Dust off the Salem downtown “streetscape” project developed in 2012 by the Salem Downtown Partnership and begin to implement it to make Salem’s historic downtown the best in the state.
Another no-brainer. I recently blogged about this big, bold, exciting idea.
16) Create an Emergency Services Streamlining Task Force to examine best practices in other communities to reduce the cost of police and fire services that now consume 58% of the General Fund — this, given the City’s declining crime rate and declining incidence of fires.
Yes, the police and fire departments get too much of a free pass from City officials, especially considering how much of the General Fund they get. I'm especially perplexed by why giant fire trucks are dispatched to accidents and medical emergencies. This seems really wasteful. If there aren't enough fires to keep Fire Department staff busy, then downsize the department or change how it operates.
17) Revisit the City’s streetlight fee: evaluate its effectiveness in increasing road maintenance and installing more streetlights in the neighborhoods that want them; consider changes to the fee structure to make the fees more fair for ordinary homeowners.
I don't know much about the streetlight fee. From what I've been told, it indeed is biased against ordinary people, and favors businesses.
18) Create a Revenue Reform and Enhancement Task Force, with members from throughout the community, to consider ways Salem can have the revenue to invest in improved livability in our city, including many of the improved services mentioned above.
Part of this effort should be directed at finding ways to fund above-mentioned improvements to Salem's Cherriots bus service. The Chamber of Commerce fought hard, and quite sleazily, to defeat a payroll tax that would have funded weekend and evening service. Businesses need to pay their fair share in Salem, as elsewhere. Naturally other sources of revenue also need to be looked into, with the goal being to make funding for livability investments more equitable and effective.