Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More on Wolves, Spring Birds, The Poppycock Proclamation


- Wolf Video: "Meet Limpy"

- Some Spring Birds
-- Osprey
-- Tree Swallow
-- Mountain Bluebird
-- Western Bluebird
-- Marsh Wren

- The Poppycock Proclamation

Wolf Video: "Meet Limpy"


Some Spring Birds

This first photo, an Osprey, was sent in by Sharon Raya of Richland. Her husband Art took it yesterday on his way back from the reservoir. It is the best local photo of an Osprey that I have have seen. Ospreys can be found here in the valley at the north freeway pond (UPS Ponds) and at the 203 pond. Another easy spot is at Hudspeth Road and Hwy. 7, among other places. They usually show up in April.
"Osprey With Lunch"

Last Friday, I went to Ladd Marsh to photograph a few birds prior to the Birdathon. I was able to catch this Tree Swallow in what appears to be the right light, so feel quite fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time. They show up in April and use tree cavities and bluebird boxes for nest sites.
Tree Swallow

These Mountain Bluebirds were photographed in the Wallowa Mountain foothills during the spring migratory count this last weekend. Bluebirds show up in march and are eagerly awaited by all. Like Tree Swallows, they use both tree cavities and boxes. Also like tree swallows, they are voracious consumers of insects. On a trip to the mountains in Utah, one flew from the top of a conifer tree to near my feet to pick off a small grasshopper.
Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird - Male

Mountain Bluebird - Female

These Western Bluebirds (below) were also photographed in the Wallowa Mountain foothills during the spring migratory count this last weekend. In California, they are often seen in the oak woodlands of the Peninsular Range. They were down on the south rim of the Grand Canyon in March at about the same time they arrive here in Baker County. They intermingle with Mountain Bluebirds but to my knowledge (and by definition of species), do not interbreed with them. Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and other cavity nesters must compete with non-native Starlings for these available nesting spaces, and may find themselves at a disadvantage.

Western Bluebird Pair on Nestbox

The chatty and curious Marsh Wren (Below) breeds in cattail marshes, such as can be found at Ladd Marsh, where this bird was photographed on May 9th. I have yet to see one in Baker County, perhaps due to the paucity of decent sized cattail marshes that are publicly accessible.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

The Poppycock Proclamation
Went to the City Council meeting last night. Right after the approval of the minutes the Mayor read a proclamation for Poppy Day, the first sentence of which read:

Whereas, America is the land of freedom, preserved and protected willingly and freely by citizen soldiers: and . . . .

They then paraded two very young children before the assembled crowd and encouraged them to hawk their hand made poppies to the people eager to show their patriotism. It reminded me of how our culture often uses young children to promote its religious, military and other doctrines, even before these innocents are able to defend themselves with the shield of rational and logical thought. The hand fed delusions begin I suppose with Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. Thus prepared to be favorably inclined to accept almost any bit of nonsense, we teach them songs like "Jesus Loves Me" (yes I know--for the bible tells me so), oaths like the Pledge of Allegiance, and dogmatic ideas like "our wars are fought by willing soldiers to protect our cherished freedom and democracy." Given 18 years of this faith and dogma, they will be ready to run off and kill even innocent civilians for the imperial designs of our corporate masters, all the while thinking it is for freedom and democracy, even if they have experienced little of either.

Well, after hearing the proclamation, I almost got to thinking the Council might be willing to let me exercise some democratic rights and freedom by reading my not quite two pages of comments objecting to, among other things, how they were getting set to attack our cherished freedoms with the new draft Property Maintenance Ordinance. The fact that they had cut me off twice and threatened to throw me out at the previous meeting did not dampen my hope, because after all, they had just told us that "America is the land of freedom!"

In a bit of irony, my hopes were dashed when the Mayor insisted I speak for only the alloted 3 minutes after I politely requested 6 and 1/2. I pointed out that there were no other citizens willing to speak during "Citizen Participation," but to no avail (even though the time limit isn't consistently enforced). I guess I've given them reason to enforce it as I ask too many questions, point out too many problems, and am not a business person. "Citizen Participation" is so important to the Council that they allow that whopping 3 minutes for a citizen to address them at the beginning of meetings. Often no one has the courage to show up for it unless they are there to praise the Council or ask for money. Critics are often cut off or insulted, as I was last week, so they have learned not to show up to practice the democracy that so many soldiers have died for. They realize far better than I that democracy is for the few, the "good-old-boys," preferably the financially well off and comfortable.

Fortunately, they haven't found a way to take away my blog yet, so I thought I'd post an expanded version of the comments they wouldn't let me finish. I had edited out many of the important parts to get it down to 6 and 1/2 minutes for Council, but here of course, I can cut loose with the whole uncensored rant.

Comments to Council 5/12/09

1. The op-ed by the Herald mentioned that Resolution 3407 required respect for the gavel ( ). What it didn’t mention was that the same resolution also requires respect for the citizen who in a democracy is allowed to voice an opinion or recite facts within the amount of time allowed to other speakers, even if the City Manager or a particular Councilor disagrees. I. E.:

Section 5. a) All members of the Council shall accord the utmost courtesy to each other, to city employees, and to public members appearing before the Council and shall refrain at all times from rude and derogatory remarks, reflections as to integrity, abusive comments, and statements as to motives and personalities.

In the case in question, Councilor Pope, who may be having difficulty differentiating between the role of a judge, and that of a Councilor, suggested to me, without getting approval from the Mayor, that my attempt to make a case for system development charges was a waste of their time. To me, that is both an insult to me, and to the democratic process, especially so since I was not given the same amount of time as the representative from the building industry.

2. The minutes often do not reflect the points citizens make during the citizens participation or other portions of the Council meetings. This is a form of censorship and information control. For example, last meeting I noted that some other cities were using the first round of stimulus money to improve the Oregon-wide problem of deteriorating infrastructure, such as streets and sidewalks (Ashland, for example.). They translated these specifics to “several projects . . . could have been selected,” leaving the reader to wonder if I had perhaps asked that they spend it on an addition to my house or sidewalks and curbs along my property frontage. They didn’t even mention that I also noted that instead of using the first round of stimulus money to benefit all Baker City citizens by reducing the backlog of streets in need of repair, they used it to pave and construct sidewalks on a short section of Birch Street. That construction is a gift and subsidy to the home owners and a speculator who own property along that section, as well as a gift to the people in the new developments to the north. Normally, the residents along the area paved would have been required to pay for the streets and sidewalks, as they were forced to do last year on “F” Street for the Elm street development.

Interestingly, Councilors have an opportunity to object to the minutes and get them changed, but citizens don't. What's up with that???

Another example is that I noted that the draft Property Maintenance Ordinance is not up on the City website for citizens to read so that they could become familiar with the proposed changes. The minutes indicated simply that there are “documents he would like to be able to access,” as if it were a personal problem rather that a matter of transparency and good democratic process to inform people in a timely manner of the changes being proposed. After all, the City Planner already met with at least one business group to discuss the new ordinances.

3. The new Property Maintenance Ordinance appears to be an attempt to criminalize poverty and semi-rural lifestyles and is similar to gentrification projects that realtors, developers and economic development interests have used to coerce or displace the poor in cities across the country.

It appears that real estate, builder/developer, economic development, business, and speculator groups have essentially captured Baker City government. (These are some of the same kinds of groups who brought you the housing and finance bubbles that led to economic collapse.) Instead of the Federal government coming here to “help” us (as in “we’re from the government, and we’re here to help”), these groups, and newcomers to City government, are here to help us and sanitize our little town to make it safe and accommodating for their own economic interests and the tastes of wealthier residents, as well as for home buyers, and tourists from the larger cities in the west.

There is money to be made and the poor are standing in the way.

Several years ago PBS aired an online discussion about gentrification and the community tensions it brings. In a portion about gentrification in rural communities, one participant explained that:

“Rural areas experience gentrification; however, it differs in important ways from the gentrification that occurs in urban communities. While urban gentrification typically affects a specific neighborhood, rural gentrification affects a whole town or county. Further,.., [rural] gentrification is primarily an issue of class. Wealthy whites have migrated to amenity-rich rural enclaves to avail themselves of the natural beauty and resources these rural communities have to offer. . . . [some poor rural] residents who are pressured by gentrification and the dynamics that typically occur (e.g., rising housing [and rental] costs) would be forced to leave the county to escape these pressures.”

Unfortunately, for many low-income people, there is really nowhere else to go.

Mr Chance, the hit man for the economic elites, and others, have cited a high rate of complaints about property condition to justify the new Property Maintenance Ordinance, so I asked Mr. Chance for supporting data on April 27. It makes sense that the Council and interested citizens should be able to access information about these complaints in a “trust but verify” sort of way. If they are going to attack the lifestyles of some city residents, we ought to be able to know the nature of the complaints, how many there are, whether they were submitted by real estate agents, the date they were submitted, etc. I received no reply, so I put in an Oregon Public Records Request for the data. I received a reply last week indicating that the City wants me to pay $208.00 for the information. Assuming that Councilors will be interested in the information as well, perhaps one of the Councilors will share it with the rest of us.

Here are some examples of problematic provisions:

- The new opening to the general provisions generally implies that poor people and people who don’t share the values of the business or administrative classes create “visual blight” and are a drag on the economy and other people’s property values. “Visual blight” might be something speculators in housing would be interested in, but it is none-the-less a value judgment that may or may not have anything to do with health and safety.

- If a low income person can’t afford to keep up on regular maintenance of their home or fence, and someone complains that it is “unsightly,” they can be fined $500 for the infraction and for each day that it is not remedied.

- If a person accumulates salvage wood or building materials to use later, or piles up tree clippings and other materials for drying and eventual burning, they can be fined $500 for the infraction and for each day that it is not remedied.

- If a person brings 4 to 8 foot lengths of firewood back from the forest, the ordinance requires the wood be cut up immediately in fireplace or woodstove lengths and stacked, or the individual will face a $500 fine for the infraction and for each day that it is not remedied.

- The new ordinance would define any “parts vehicle” that is not currently operable as a “discarded vehicle,” even though it is not discarded, but is instead useful and is being recycled. If an inoperable parts vehicle is not placed within a building on one’s property within 72 hours, the person faces a $250.00 fine for the infraction and for each day that it is not remedied.

There are other examples of onerous regulation in the ordinance and also provisions for a doubling or quadrupling of fines for subsequent violations. The problem with them is that they are not really related to health and safety. They are value judgments made about what is alleged to be unsightly and about the way some people live, often not through their own choosing. What good does it do to fine people who are barely getting by to begin with, or who have always lived the way they live without causing harm to others? If a person could afford a building to put their parts car in, they wouldn’t need a parts car.

Another obvious problem is that anyone, including city officials or political opponents, can use them in a vendetta against someone they don't like for whatever reason, knowing that the accused will never know the name of the accuser.

That realtors, builders, and economic development gurus are major forces behind this latest effort can be seen clearly in the ordinance, in statements made at “focus” group meetings, and in the statements of a builder and a realtor at the last council meeting. One builder, who lives out of town, mentioned that someone he considers his friend, City Planner Chance, actually sat down with his special interest group to go over proposed ordinance changes with them. This has apparently occurred, but they still haven’t put the draft Property Maintenance Ordinance up on the web site for affected residents and ordinary citizens to read. A realtor, Jerry Corn, noted that he went to visit Mr. Chance within 10 days of his being selected as City Planner, and that he complained to Mr. Chance about the way some people live in Baker City. Even though he lives over on Cedar, he said that “Ninth and Campbell has been a thorn in my side for years.” (Oh, and why is that Mr. Corn???) Mr. Chance told him the existing “ordinance doesn’t have the teeth nor the enforcement to take care of Ninth and Campbell or other derelict properties.” The City now proposes to “take care” of the alleged problems by creating a new oppressive and classist Property Maintenance Ordinance with many of the changes being imported from Bend and Seaside, Oregon. It is obvious why the Board of Realtors unanimously endorsed Mr. Chance.

Hopefully, Council will see the value of respecting the class and lifestyle diversity that currently exists in Baker City, and will remove any provision that is not clearly related to health and safety.


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