Since my wife and I are part-owners of a cabin in Camp Sherman, Oregon -- about fifteen minutes from charming Sisters (the town, not siblings) -- we follow the political goings-on in Sisters as best we can.
Which mostly is through reading The Nugget, the town's weekly newspaper, though we also get insights from a business owner who we're on chatting-terms with. The Nugget always is an entertaining read.
The regular "Sisters sheriff's calls..." column is a favorite of ours. Here's some entries from the October 6, 2010 paper which reflect the laid-back nature of the area.
A deer got caught in a metal gate. A deputy used a tire jack to spread the bars and free the deer. The deer was uninjured and the gate took only minor damage.
A woman complained that another woman who is dating her ex-husband drove by her house twice. She realizes that's not a crime, but she wanted it documented.
We love Sisters.
It got revitalized through an astute decision decades back to make the town artsy, craftsy and Western-themed. Solid zoning and sign control (even the McDonalds blends in with the rustic atmosphere) makes Sisters a terrific place to spend a few hours, or days, shopping, eating, and playing. A host of festivals and other special events draw visitors from near and far.
Pretty damn impressive for a town with only about 1,800 residents (so says the sign on the edge of Sisters). Yet like most everywhere in the U.S. these days, Sisters is struggling to attract more jobs and economic development.
Reading the Nugget, I've learned that a slate of traditional "build, build, build" city councilors was elected several years ago. Now there's a counter-slate of candidates running in the November election who want to take a wiser approach to economic development.
This divide within the Sisters citizenry reflects a broad choice that many towns in Oregon are facing as they wrestle with the apparent need to balance livability with job creation.
I said "apparent," because this really isn't a balancing act. Livability goes hand in hand with jobs, especially in an attractive state like Oregon. It's crazy to think that the only thing people care about is money when they're pondering where to locate a small or large business.
Quality of life is a big factor in location decisions. If Sisters sacrifices its charm on the altar of short-sighted real estate development, the town will self-destruct its long-term economic viability.
This is the message that Mike Morgan shared in a great opinon piece in the October 6, 2010 issue of The Nugget. It should be required reading for every city councilor and county commissioner who believes in the "if we rezone it, or build it, they will come" economic development mantra.
Here's some excerpts:
We need new people on the Sisters City Council to effectively address economic development. There is a huge difference between economic development (vitality) and real estate development. The current council advances real estate development without understanding that econmic development must occur first. There must be significant demand before lenders will fund new development projects.
It's counterproductive to develop more property when inventory is high and occupancy low. This community doesn't need more homes, retail storefronts, or commercial buildings; there is little demand for improved property and to create more for a quick profit is shortsighted. Developing excess inventory drives down all property values and invites unsustainable competition for existing businesses; everybody loses except the contractors, real estate agents, landowners and others that profit from real estate development.
Economic development in this community cannot mean looking for companies to move operations here; that's not going to happen. Land costs too much, homes cost too much, rents are too high, and there's no significant workforce. Any company interested in moving operations to Central Oregon will go to Redmond, Madras, or Prineville. In the past 10 years Sisters has lost Weitech, Multnomah Publishing, O'Keeffe's, and DesignWorks. To think we can get new or existing companies to move operations here when we can't keep the ones we have is fantasy.
Economic development in this community requires getting people to move here that are retired or can bring their job with them. This is a great place for high tech companies to hide a few of their best scientists, engineers, and programmers. Once here they would create good jobs for the support services they require. This is a development model that has been used successfully in places that offer a high quality of life and good schools. We need to be recruiting people, not companies.
...I urge all voters to go about town and count the number of vacant store fronts, vacant offices, vacant homes, and vacant lots where improvements were made and abandoned. Will more of the same cure the economic ills of this community? Will more competition for existing businesses be good or bad for the community as a whole? Are you better off today than you were two years ago?
Any candidate supported by the political action committee, Citizens for Sisters, is beholden to special interests that benefit from real estate development. This PAC does not have broad community support. Go to https://secure.sos.state.or.us/orestar/jsp/CEMainPage.jsp and enter Citizens for Sisters then follow the links to campaign finance activity. Study the list of donors then ask yourself if you want this PAC controlling your city council.
I did just that. Among others, Citizens for Sisters is being funded by...
Central Oregon Association of Realtors
Dutch Pacific Properties
3 Sisters Partners, LLC
If I lived in Sisters, I wouldn't want my town being run by city councilors who are beholden to real estate developers. I'd be voting for Weed, Holzman, and Shepardson -- judging from what I've read about them (see here and here).