I'm a proud progressive. I'm a member of Progressive Salem. I enjoy hearing City Councilor Tom Andersen speak. And I like the food at the Marco Polo restaurant a lot.
So today it was great to mix those pleasures together and listen to Andersen talk about the past, present, and future of local progressivism at the first Progressive Salem Power Lunch meeting while munching on a tasty Marco Polo buffet meal.
If you're a conservative wondering if I'm going to share any inside political secrets, I'm sorry to disappoint you. But I hope you'll read this blog post anyway.
Andersen did refer several times to "Trumpism's emotional illogic." However, he also stressed the need for elected officials of all political persuasions to work together on making Salem a better place.
I heartily agreed with his call to make "livability, livability, livability" our mantra, rather than "jobs, jobs, jobs."
Jobs, after all, are a means to an end: livability. And that end will draw in more businesses and jobs, since livability is a key factor in why a company decides to locate in one city rather than another. Chasing warehouse jobs, such as those to be offered by an Amazon distribution center, shouldn't be our highest goal.
Andersen is a proponent of giving City Council members a monthly stipend, since currently they are unpaid. This restricts the ability of people to seek to become a city councilor. He noted that 28% of Salem residents are non-Caucasian, 18% are below the poverty line, and the average household income here is $49,000.
So a stipend would make it more likely that the City Council reflects the diversity of Salem. Currently, it doesn't. The City Council has rejected the stipend idea on a 7-2 vote. Likely Andersen will keep pushing it, since it seems like a desirable thing to do.
He was the lone Progressive Salem-backed councilor when elected in 2014. As he put it, "organized people beat organized money." That formula has been successful ever since, with progressives now being a 6-3 majority on the City Council following the election of Cara Kaser, Sally Cook, Matt Ausec, Chris Hoy, and Jackie Leung.
What a difference five years makes. Elections matter.
Running unopposed for re-election in 2018, Andersen joked that he was disappointed to only get 99% of the vote. Someone did write in the name of his wife, Jessica Maxwell. It could have been Andersen himself, though,
He talked about his disappointment at not being able to have the streetlight fee made more equitable. Currently a homeowner pays $2.80 a month, and Walmart (along with other businesses) pays $13.50 a month. When Andersen suggested doubling that latter fee to $27 a month, he was accused of being anti-business.
Pretty clearly he isn't. Andersen spoke about the generally good job SEDCOR (Strategic Economic Development Corporation) is doing locally. He said that 85% of their money/time is spent on retaining and strengthening homegrown businesses.
Given the new progressive majority on the City Council, developers appear to be keeping this political reality in mind, sometimes asking themselves, "Do we want to bring our project to the Council?" This is a good thing, as it encourages dialogue and cooperation with people affected by a proposed development.
One example is a residential development on Wiltsey Road in Jackie Leung's ward that now is going to save more white oaks than was originally planned after Leung asked to have the project reviewed by the City Council rather than being rubber-stamped on the "Consent Calendar."
I've written about another example, a proposal for an apartment complex on the Sustainable Fairview property that the Heritage School wanted some changes made to.
Perhaps because the developer was aware that the City Council rejected a controversial relocation of Costco, Andersen said that Mountain West has agreed to make some changes to their development that the Heritage School is pleased with. So a willingness to compromise headed off a contentious hearing before the City Council.
Likely this wouldn't have happened if progressives weren't a 6-3 majority on the Council. Here's some other accomplishments during Andersen's first term as a councilor that he mentioned in his talk today.
-- Salem is officially an "Inclusive City."
-- Supported DACA and Dreamers.
-- Opposed the Trump administration's border plan and Measure 105.
-- Voted to develop an Environmental Action Plan for Salem.
-- Defeated a sit/lie ordinance.
-- Said no to the Salem River Crossing project.
-- Established a downtown Congestion Relief Task Force.
-- Banned most plastic bags in grocery stores.
-- Increased system development charges to pay for new parks and traffic improvements.
During a Q & A period following his talk, Andersen said that progress is being made on homelessness, though much more remains to be done. Eighty-three of the 100 homeless people identified as most in need of help are being housed. Other measures are being implemented, such as providing a place for the homeless to store their belongings.
He noted that the "engine" driving the homeless problem is income/wealth inequality -- which obviously is impossible to solve at the local level.
Regarding the Salem River Crossing or Third Bridge, Andersen said this was a regional problem that tried to be solved locally (meaning, Salem residents were going to be expected to pay most of the bill for a half billion dollar regional bridge). Now it's time for proponents and opponents of the Third Bridge to move forward together on better ways to deal with transportation problems in our area.
Since the books in the Salem Library will need to be removed when seismic retrofitting and other renovations begin, someone in the audience suggested that the old Book Bin building on Lancaster Drive be used as a temporary library -- which could remain as a branch library.
Lastly, the Progressive Salem lunch meeting ended with someone thanking Councilor Andersen for the countless (almost) hours he puts in on public service.
"There's no way I'd do this for free," the person said. Me neither, I thought.