Sunday, May 17, 2009

Property Maintenance Jihad Targets Disabled Life-long Baker City Resident



City rolls over unrepresented indigent citizen.

Meet Ron Calder (above) and His Side Of the Story
Ron on the Right Of Way in Front of His House. There used to be a 100 year old house where the new homes are in the background.

On May 17th, I met with Ron Calder to talk about the citation he received last year for alleged violations of Baker City Ordinances. He talked with me about how the Baker City Police Department has treated him, and about Justice of the Peace Lise Yervasi’s recent court order giving him “7 days, instead of 14, [to remove] all the remaining inoperative, wrecked, dismantled, partially dismantled, abandoned or junked vehicles, including any camp trailers that are inoperative, wrecked, dismantled, partially dismantled, abandoned or junked." (If he doesn’t win an appeal or do things to the City’s and Court’s satisfaction, the City will “abate” the property anyway and charge him for it.) He also talked with me about his life, about why it has taken him so long to do some of the things the City is requiring him to do, and about what he believes to be the truth concerning what he has agreed to do to comply with the City’s demands. The following paragraphs tell his side of the story, as it was told to me. (See note 1 at bottom)

Ron is a lifelong resident of Baker City. For 34 of his 58 years, he has lived on the corner of Fifth and Grace streets. When he was young, most of the streets were not paved and many were without curbs and sidewalks, but people liked their semi-rural lifestyles and were used to living without the amenities found in the larger cities of the west. People had a live and let live attitude and did not intrude upon the affairs of their neighbors or tell them how to live. A lot of people, including Ron, learned to get along as best they could, and they saved and stored things they thought they might need to get by. He attended Baker schools, but due to some cognitive difficulties and other problems, he did not graduate and can barely read or write. (His friend Diane reads his mail for him and helps him with his other matters requiring those skills.) Not long after his teenage years, he was helping his father pour concrete for the Culley Lane overpass when he fell down into a hole filled with rebar and wet concrete, severely damaging his feet. A subsequent botched surgery left one of them nearly useless. Over the years since then, he has gotten along as best he could doing concrete work, welding, and odd jobs, until his knees went out, and the injuries to his arms and shoulders from accidents at his mining claim left him disabled. During his working years, he helped remodel many Baker City Buildings, including the County Court House and City Hall. Since then it has been a challenge to just keep a roof over his head.

In addition to his mangled feet and chronic pain, he has a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, and he lost strength in that arm and leg due to several mini-strokes. He has had bone transplant surgery on his right arm, and he can’t get it over his head. Due to these problems and others, his doctor has him on a box full of prescriptions.

Mr. Calder owns a small 1 bedroom, 1 bath home on about 1/4th acre right next to the railroad tracks where 5th Street is interrupted by them. The home was built 109 years ago and the assessor’s office says the structure has a real market value (RMV) of $4,190. By contrast, a 2 year old, 3 bedroom, 2 bath home just up the street has a RMV for the structure alone of $140,840. With the land, the assessor’s office thinks the residence has an RMV of $167,870. Nelson’s Real Estate is trying to sell it today for $179, 900, as well as another newer home next door for $125,000. The average RMV of the other four houses facing 5th Street on that block is $74, 42.00. It would appear that the two houses Nelson’s Real Estate is trying to sell, at prices so much higher than the average for that block, are a bit out of place. Might be hard to sell them at that location unless everyone else’s home is spruced up or bulldozed, especially with the train tracks so close. Maybe that’s where the police department comes in.
Looking down 5th street towards Ron’s house in corner at upper right.

The story goes that one of Ron’s neighbors was solicited to make a complaint by Shannon Regan, Baker City’s Code Enforcement Officer, but they refused. (No one can offer any proof that this is the case, and because the City has said that it won’t release the names of those who complain, we will probably never know who actually filed it.) Mr. Calder ultimately came to believe that the complaint was associated with the sale of the expensive house up the street. On August 22, 2008, Shannon Regan issued Ron a citation for violations of Ordinance 3216, an “illegal Fence” and Ordinance 2686, “Discarded Vehicles on Private Property.” The fence portion of the citation was subsequently dismissed.
Portion of citation showing alleged violations

I asked two of Ron’s neighbors up the street about the complaint. One characterized him as an “Inoffensive neighbor” and the other said that Ron had never caused them any trouble or been a bother of any kind. Ron felt the same way.

The Police Department has been over to the house 3 or 4 times during this episode and on one visit they brought along Mike Pina of the Planning Department. Ron said that Mike and the others wanted him to let them into his trailers without a warrant so they could look around. Ron cooperated by letting them on the property, but just let them look inside, rather than, I would guess, go on a fishing expedition. While it was not listed in the complaint, not long before his May 13th appearance, the police department told Ron that the City Manager wanted him to remove all personal items from the right of way in front of his house. Below is a photo of the 5th Street right of way in front of Ron’s house. It dead-ends at the railroad tracks just to the left of the photo. He has worked to remove his things.

5th Street right of way in front of Ron’s house

Ron says he has mowed and taken care of this right of way for over 34 years, having worn out several mowers on it. He said that some years ago he received a verbal okay and agreement, first by Tim Collins and then by Milo Pope. He says they agreed that so long as Ron agreed to maintain the right of way he could use it for his own private use. He says the police recently told him that he can’t even drive on it or park in front of his house, even though people park on similar right of ways all over town. Because he had no place to put the firewood he stored in front of the fence, he ended up giving away around 5 cords despite the fact that it is his primary source of heat, and it would be nearly impossible to go out and cut replacement wood.

He says they also told him he had to get rid of freezers he stored meat in, his washer and dryer he had outside, and the oil barrel he uses for backup heat, even though none of these things were on the original citation. There is nothing in the citation that relates to these issues.

He also said they suggested that he and a neighbor were running an unlicensed business subject to another citation. He says that the only business he’s currently engaged in is the “survival business,” and that his mining claim is a hobby. Even the IRS doesn’t call a consistently unprofitable enterprise or hobby a business. Because he is in the “survival business,” he has accumulated a lot of things he finds useful in that endeavor. In that respect, Ron is not a lot different than many of us who pride ourselves on self reliance and making do with what we can make from what we have, including salvage materials that others may see as eyesores.

While the court order says Ron agreed to remove camp trailers with mining equipment in them, he maintains that he only agreed to move the mining equipment on utility trailers that had been stored on the right of way in front of his house. He had planned to take the equipment up to his mining claim, which is at a little over 7,000 foot elevation, but the late winter/spring snow pack has made the roads inaccessible.

In looking at his camp trailers, I have only found one that is inoperable, and that should be easily remedied by pumping up the tire. All the rest have the tires pumped up, and I didn’t see any that would fit the ordinances definition of “discarded vehicle” that is cited in the complaint. If this is the case, on what basis is the court asking him to remove them? The citation only mentions “Discarded Vehicles,” not operable vehicles with mining equipment in them.

There are two, perhaps three, motor vehicles that are currently inoperable, and one old Toyota truck that a neighbor would like to fix up. All but the Toyota can be fixed as Ron gets help. He says he tried to put a starter in one last fall, but the part didn’t work. The worst enemy he has had in getting the motor vehicles running since that time, besides the fact that he is disabled and has to have someone else do a lot of the work, is the deep snow and freezing temperatures we all had to deal with this last winter. He has no building in which to work on the cars, so the work must be done outside in the elements in the dirt, mud or snow.

Mr. Calder has worked to meet the City’s demands for six months now, doing what he can, weather permitting, almost every day. He says his doctor has informed him that this work has been detrimental to his health and has made his condition worse. He would like to comply where health and safety, or public property storage issues actually exist, but given his situation, he needs more time, certainly more than seven days. Where the City seems to be infringing on his private property rights, he feels he has needed legal representation, but he can’t afford it.

A look around Mr. Calders’s neighborhood reveals two other significant issues. One is that many others could also be cited for similar types of alleged violations, but have not been. The other is that his property does not look significantly different than many other properties along the tracks in the area, much of which is zoned industrial. A look along the tracks at the back of his property reveals an industrial zone right across the tracks and in the nearby areas to the northwest. Granted, the vast majority of those along the corridor created by the tracks are ether commercial, or belong to the City, but their character is similar to that found on the Calder property. I have no issue with or complaint about the conditions found on nearby properties, and they are only included here to show that they exist and are being ignored, while Mr. Calder is being cited. Captions refer to photos above them.

These are the camp trailers in Mr. Calder's yard. He stores mining equipment, tools, and other personal items in them.

Ron’s Property starts behind the Garbage Bin and wood fence on Left. Distributing company is over the tracks.

This photo is of the abandoned industrial zone about 2 blocks up the tracks.

This is another picture of the industrial zone, 1 block to the northwest.

This is a photo of the conditions in the City’s Public Works lot one block to the northwest

Examples of possible violations are abundant in the city and in Ron’s neighborhood. One can be found 1&1/2 houses up from Mr. Calder’s home. The unlicensed Ford Bronco in the photo below is said to have been in the same place on the City’s street for a year or more now, a clear violation, and yet nothing has been done about it.

Unlicensed Ford Bronco. Ron’s home is in upper left.

Residence on Carter Street nearby.

Conditions near tracks 2 blocks up on Auburn.

Another residence within 5 Blocks.

This residence is across the tracks and up two blocks.

These photos are just a few examples of how some people live in Baker City. Numerous examples can be found that would not meet the standards of many in the middle and upper classes. Does it give the powerful a right to harass, intimidate, and inflict financial and emotional harm upon them?

What’s different about these situations that would have the City picking on Ron Calder while ignoring these and many other similar situations throughout the City? Does it have something to do with the fact that Nelson Real Estate is selling two expensive, overpriced, and out of place homes just a few doors up from Ron? Or is it that Mr. Calder is simply easy pickings for example setting? I don’t know, but I do know that the City’s actions reek of a high-handed abuse of power that sets the stage for running over the rights of other Baker City residents who are not in a position to defend them selves. If they can do it to Ron Calder, they can do it to others.

The last, and perhaps most troubling aspect of this episode, is the way the City and Court have treated an unrepresented indigent and disabled citizen. This is a classic case of indigent or otherwise powerless people appearing in court without legal representation or other means to defend themselves. In this case, with non-representation, illiteracy, cognitive and physical disability issues, and low income tragically converging, the defendant is literally defenseless. This is because, even though we pride ourselves about cherished rights, freedoms and democracy, and even though we provide some minimal defense to indigent people in criminal cases and certain types of civil cases, there are no provisions in law to force a local jurisdiction to provide legal counsel for anyone in a civil case for alleged property maintenance violations. This leaves unscrupulous City Managers who have arranged for unwarranted power, and Police Departments looking for justification of their expansion, with the ability to prey on people who have few options and no way to defend themselves. Although many states have a few statutes granting right to counsel in certain cases relating to child custody, health, safety, shelter and sustenance, in Oregon there is currently no general right to civil counsel for many of these categories, including property maintenance and other ordinance violation allegations.

The lack of counsel for low income, disabled, or otherwise resourceless defendants often leads to a forfeiture of rights because the defendant has no real idea as to what those rights are or how to enforce them. The police may come in and attempt to intimidate and coerce the victim with threats of other, often baseless charges, such as illegally operating a business. They may expand the nature of the complaint beyond that which was originally alleged to areas not covered in the original citation. They may put a person’s health at risk by forcing them to work beyond their capabilities, especially when they are disabled and don’t have money to hire a crew to make the demanded changes ( “abatement”). All of these things may have occurred in the case of Mr. Calder. Ultimately, because the defendant is unable to comply with their demands, the local authorities, lacking any conscience, may come in and forcefully abate the property with their own crews, hauling off any property they find offensive and charging the victim far more money than would have been necessary if they had been able to do it themselves. Because the defendant lacks the money to pay for the work, the City will then place a lien on the property.

Recognizing a wrong when they see it, the American Bar Association unanimously passed a resolution in August of 2006 that called for a right to counsel in civil cases relating to human needs. Until our American “civilization” advances and legislates such a right, we will continue to see the powerful prey on the powerless in ways that defy the American values we say we cherish.

One wonders how much property the City will end up owning before the Ayatollah and his militia end the Jihad on our hapless low income residents. Hopefully the City Council will assert their ultimate authority to put an end to this before any more people are hurt.

If anyone knows an attorney who would like to offer Ron some pro bono legal help, please call 541-523-2376 and leave a message with a contact phone number.

(Note 1: Given the Court’s timeline of 7 days and the urgency of Mr. Calder’s situation, I decided to go forward without the City’s side of the story at this time. If they are willing to cooperate by providing adequate information to me for completing the story, I will. Unfortunately, the last time I requested information from them, they wanted $208.00 for it)

City's Side of the Story:

Request for their side of the story:

Hello Jennifer,

Thanks to your gracious reception of Ron Calder's appeal this morning.

I will gladly post something of reasonable length, say three pages not counting a reasonable number of photos, if the City would like to give me their side of the story.

I would appreciate any information in addition to that, if the City will provide it.


Christopher Christie


Hi Christopher,

We will prepare a staff report on this matter that will be available for the public. In our case, it’s not “our side of the story” but the laws and their interpretation by many lawyers and judges over the years. I appreciate the opportunity, but I’m sure it will all be publicly presented in the near future.

Thanks for your offer.

May 18, 2009

Mr. Calder filed the following appeal at about 9:50 this morning.

May 18th, 2009

Ronald G. Calder
1249 5th Street
Baker City, OR 97814


Baker City Council
C/O Jennifer Watkins, Baker City Recorder
PO Box 650

1655 First Street

Baker City, OR 97814

Dear Councilors:

My name is Ronald Calder. My address is 1249 5th Street, Baker City 97814. My phone number is 541---------. My message phone number is 541----------.

I am the owner of the property at 1249 5th Street and on August 22, 2008, I was cited (Citation and Complaint # ’08-50851) by Baker City Police Officer Shannon Regan for alleged violations of Ordinance 3216, maintaining an illegal fence, and Ordinance 2686, having discarded vehicles on my private property at that address.

On May 13, 2009, a Judgement and Order for that case, number 08 V 1901, was issued by Baker County Justice of the Peace, Lise F. Yervasi. This letter is a request of appeal to you to amend that Judgement and Order. I would like an appeal hearing. This appeal has been filed with the City Recorder’s Office within five days after the decision of the County Justice Court, which has heard the case.

The basis of my appeal is the following”

1. As a disabled, largely illiterate, low income person, I have not been able to adequately defend myself against the charges brought by the City because no public defender has been provided, and I cannot afford one. I did not graduate from high school, can barely read or write, have cognitive issues, and have been disabled since 1987. I was officially classified as disabled in 1991.
2. Ordinance 2686, relating to motor vehicles discarded on private property, calls for, in Section 6, a “Hearing by Municipal Court.” My hearing was not held in a Municipal Court as there is none. Therefore, the complaint and order should be dismissed.
3. In the original complaint dated 8/22/08, the City only identified 2 motor vehicles that they thought were “discarded,” but during the course of this issue being presented before Judge Yervasi, Officer Regan was allowed to make a very confusing assault against me to include all aspects of my property that she deemed in violation of any City ordinance.
4. The order states that I agreed to do things I did not agree to do. For example, I did not agree to move all my camp trailers off my private property. I only agreed to move the mining equipment and utility trailers that had been stored on the right of way in front of my house.
5. My camp trailers are not discarded, inoperative, wrecked, dismantled, partially dismantled, abandoned or junked, so there is no basis for removing them under any interpretation of the ordinances cited in the citation and complaint.
6. The title of the ordinance in question, 2686, refers to motor vehicles, but the ordinance defines “vehicles.” This shows that the intent is to control storage of motor vehicles, not the camp trailers referred to in the Judgment and Order.
7. The Court and/or the City had no right to try to have me agree to things that were not related to the original complaint, as no complaint concerning those other issues had been filed. Debris and scrap metal were not part of the original complaint for “discarded vehicles” on private property. Likewise, the city had no authority to attempt to force me to remove personal items such as a full freezer, my oil barrel, my washer and dryer, or other items, without a formal complaint and citation.
8. Additionally, Judge Yervasi has apparently allowed Officer Regan to disallow any use of the public right of way located on the portion of 5th Street that runs along the front of my house. I am now told I am no longer allowed the use of this right of way to access the front or south side of my house, even to park, but other citizens throughout Baker City are allowed to park on the public rights of way in front of their homes. Because of the layout of my property this has resulted in severely limited access onto my own property.
9. Even if the Court is determined to have been legally correct to require me to do the things they wanted me to do, my physical condition and the winter weather conditions they expected me to work in were not fairly considered in the hearings. My disabilities and financial condition made it impossible for me to have complied with their demands.
10. The improvements I was able to make were not recognized by the Court and I was given no credit for my attempts, even though they have resulted in a deterioration of my health. I can elaborate at the appeal hearing.

In summary, I believe that this all has been allowed to go far beyond the issue of the citation. I believe that both Judge Yervasi and Officer Regan have been very unfair to me in this entire matter. I believe I have not been given any consideration for what I have already done, or for what I continue to do on a daily basis to try to comply. Additionally, I was not given any consideration that throughout all of this I have been doing the majority of the cleanup solely on my own, despite my being disabled, and that it was expected of me to do these things in the worst of winter. I definitely believe that my punishment for the supposed ordinance violation handed down by Judge Yervasi in her judgment and order that now requires me to remove "everything within my personal property not located within an enclosed structure or she will have it all removed by the City on her behalf,” and that it goes far beyond anything that can be justified by the original complaint.

I respectfully request, and it is to my understanding, that neither the City nor the Court will take any further actions against me, Ronald G. Calder, or my property located at 1249 5th Street Baker City, Baker Co., Oregon, until the appeal is heard by the City Council and their final decision in this matter is given. I also ask that demands made by the Court requiring removal of items, or other actions, not covered in the original citation be rescinded. For any decision regarding actions to alleviate a situation relating to “discarded vehicles,” I request that my disabilities and financial situation be taken into account so that I have adequate time to comply.

I have included a copy of the ticket and a copy of the final judgment and order for your convenience.

Thank you for your just consideration in this matter.

I provided the personal details for this appeal. This appeal was read to me, I agree with what is written in it, and to the best of my ability, I believe the contents to be true and correct.

Signed __________________________________ Dated: May 18, 2009

Ronald G. Calder

CC: Lise F. Yervasi, Justice of the Peace in the Justice Court of the State of Oregon for Baker County District 1.

I request that the City Recorder, or her representative also sign this document, and my copy, in the spaces provided below, to show that the appeal was received in a timely manner.

Signed __________________________________ Dated: _____________

City Recorder or Representative

While Ron and I were giving a copy of the appeal to the Justice of the Peace's ofice this AM, I ran into an acquaitance who had received a $150.00 ticket for exceeding the 25 mph speed limit on 17th street below Pocahontas. I understand that the Police Department gave several tickets in one day there recently. Unstated quotas for patrol officers as the end of the fiscal year approaches?

A description of the speed trap can be found at:
Did We Have An Open Public Process For Purchase Of New Police Building?
Speed Trap on 17th Street
March 6, 2008.

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.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Wolves Again. . . .

This is a in part a re-post of a blog from December 6, 2007 about wolves and the persecution of predators.

I re-posted the original several paragraphs below due to the current interest in the wolf situation generated by the April incident near Keating, Baker County, Oregon, and because Oregon Public Broadcasting did a Think Out Loud segment this morning concerning the conflicts arising due to the wolf's homecoming. I had wanted to ask about the rancher's responsibility to protect their livestock and whether much effort was expended to do that prior to the Baker County wolf incidents. After remaining on hold for almost 15 minutes, the program ended without my being able to speak and without the moderator asking the question which had been provided earlier to the screener.

People are aware that living in the country presents certain risks, including the possible loss of domestic animals to native predators. When people are aware of a threat, they usually provide adequate security for their animals. I myself raise chickens and I provide them with secure pens made of dog kennel fencing with extra chainlink buried along the edges of the pens to prevent digging under. So what I'm wondering, what with some 6 guard dogs, and the sheep so close to the house, just how were the wolves able to get to the lambs, and how could they have done it without the dogs raising enough ruckus to alert the owners that they had a problem to attend to? They knew (despite Congressman Walden's claims ), as everyone out here knew, that the wolves had come home, and an April 16th Oregonian article, "Wolves kill 23 lambs. . . ." wrote that "Jacobs saw a wolf last year, and neighbors have reported them in the area recently, he said."

A search on "Wolf proof fencing" reveals that many designs for wolf-proof fencing have been developed. One article from 1982 describes such fencing being developed in 1935. (THE USE OF FENCES FOR PREDATOR DAMAGE CONTROL )

The facts are that wolves are responsible for about 1% of livestock losses in Idaho, a state with around 1600 wolves at the time of delisting. In Wisconsin, a state with about 2600 wolves, about 30 to 50 livestock animals are lost due to wolf depredation each year. With over 3 million cattle and calves alone, this represents a very small fraction of 1% of cattle, calves and sheep (something like less than 1/100th of a percent) in Wisconsin. These are hardly the kinds of numbers that could justify the current hysteria about wolves coming back to Oregon that exists among ranchers and others.

Defenders of Wildlife provides the following facts and more at

Wolf Predation Plays Small Role in Livestock Losses in 2005
"In the continental U.S., health issues such as respiratory problems, digestive problems, calving complications and disease were overwhelmingly the most significant causes of cattle death in 2005.

- Only 0.11% of all cattle losses were due to wolf predation in 2005.
- Coyotes killed more than 22 times more cattle than wolves killed that year.
- Domestic dogs killed almost 5 times as many cattle, and vultures killed almost twice as many cattle as wolves did in 2005.
- Theft was responsible for almost 5 times as many cattle losses as were lost by wolf predation.
- Predation by coyotes was the largest cause of sheep loss in 2005, accounting for 23% of all losses, followed by health problems & weather-related issues.
- In states with wolf populations, an average of less than 2.5% of sheep loss was due to predation by wolves in 2005.

Only 5% of all cattle losses in the continental U.S. in 2005 were attributable to predators. In addition, only 0.11% of all cattle losses in 2005 were due to predation by wolves. Coyotes killed more than 22 times more cattle, domestic dogs killed almost 5 times as many cattle, and vultures killed almost twice as many cattle as wolves did in 2005.
Interestingly, theft was responsible for almost 5 times as many cattle losses as were lost by wolf predation."

So why is it that everyone else takes it as reasonable that they are completely responsible for protecting their animals, but the Cattleman's Association and many ranchers think they are different? They might say, well, after we and the government won our little war on the wolf, we expected that people would let us continue the persecution forever, even on public lands. Fortunately, this isn't 1946; people now realize the value of predators, and they want their wolves back. Ranchers will just have to start acting like the rest of us by bearing the expense of protecting their animals, and if they put them on public lands where wolves are present, they should expect some uncompensated losses. They already receive large government subsidies and only pay $1.35 a month, less than what it costs to feed a hamster, for having a cow and her often half-grown calf eating and tearing up riparian areas on the public lands. No doubt they can deduct it from their tax liabilities, if any.

It was interesting to hear the Cattlemen's Association President talk about the "passion" ranchers have for wildlife, and to hear a caller from N. Powder speak about the East-West divide and the lack of respect shown for ranching tradition in Eastern Oregon and elsewhere in the west. My blog from December 2007, describes some of that passion and tradition. It explains the relationship between ranching and the persecution, and extirpation or near extirpation, of native predators, including the wolf. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Year Book for 1920, where classics like “Hunting Down Stock Killers” and “Death To The Rodents” can be found, details with words and pictures the morbid and passionate tradition. Today, at the behest of ranchers, Baker County still uses taxpayer dollars to gun down coyotes from helicopters every winter.

You can download Defender's "Livestock and Wolves: A Guide to Nonlethal Tools and Methods to Reduce Conflicts" at:



Gray Wolf (Canis lupis) [USF&WS Photo]

I enjoyed the Herald Tuesday’s article by Jayson Jacoby on the dispersal of wolves into North East Oregon. It was gratifying to see it as it helps confirm my sighting of a pair of wolves near Lick Creek (Wallowa County) in August of this year. I reported the sighting to the Fish & Wildlife Service that month, but apparently they were unable to independently confirm it. Good that the snow held the tracks found by a local rancher, hopefully not one of the “shoot, shovel, and shut-up” up crowd, so that wolves could be confirmed this year. We should be relieved that the wolf has finally come home. I look forward to hearing their howls in the coming years but predator persecution has a long history in America, and in Eastern Oregon in particular (2 of 4 recent wolf migrants have been shot). Hopefully the State and Federal government will take their responsibilities seriously and protect the wolves from those who have vowed to stop their reintroduction here.

In America, the practice of predator persecution by the agricultural “producer” community has its roots in the insecurity of an expanding agrarian pioneer population dating back to the arrival of Europeans on this continent during the 1600’s. It has since spread to the hunting industrial complex, which has concerns that it will reduce numbers of “game” species, like elk and deer, which in turn could reduce the number of tags allowed and licenses sold. This could lower income to the State hunting bureaucracy, to gun shops and ammunition dealers, and ultimately to local communities who depend on the flush of hunter dollars in the fall. (On the other hand, it might bring the curious into the area hoping to view or hear wolves.)

Bounties on wolves were offered as early as 1630 in the Massachusetts Colony, at which time, some 250,00 or more wolves roamed America’s wild lands. By about 1700, wolves had been eliminated from the Eastern United States. According to the Wild Rockies Alliance, “Professional ‘wolfers’ working for the livestock industry laid out strychnine-poisoned meat lines up to 150 miles long. Wolves were shot, poisoned, trapped, clubbed, set on fire and inoculated with mange, a painful and often fatal skin disease caused by mites.” The persecution reached its apex in the late 1800’s and into the early years of the last century, by which time it is estimated that some 55,000 wolves a year were being executed. Between 1918 and 1920, over 128,500 wolves were slaughtered in the Western U. S.

A palpable hatred for both predators and other “varmints” is revealed in articles printed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Year Book for 1920, where classics like “Hunting Down Stock Killers” and “Death To The Rodents” can be found.

Some quotes:

“Uncle Sam, tired of a drain on his resources of from $20,000,000 to $30,000,000 every year through the slaughter [slaughter is to be reserved for humans alone] of domestic stock by predatory animals, now keeps constantly in the field a force of hunters who are instructed to wipe out these nonproducers. In their place, and safe from their depredations, it is the aim to populate the range country [I.e., primarily public lands] with flocks and herds….”
. . . .
“Losses of live stock from ravages of predatory animals are among the most spectacular and exasperating of those suffered by the stockman. Disease may decimate his flocks and herds, or drought or wintry storms may result in the starvation or death of numbers of valuable animals. None of these disasters, however, arouses such resentment and determination to settle the score as arises in the heart of the ranchman when wolves or other stock destroyers enter corrals or operate on the open range [public lands], maiming and killing his cattle or other domestic stock.”
. . . .
“Men with keen insight into animal psychology and the ways and motives of wild creatures had sought out improved methods of luring them to destruction when their presence was detrimental to the live-stock business.”
. . . .
“Careful field studies of the abundance, habits, and relationship of predatory animals to the live-stock industry had been made by the Biological Survey of the United States Department of Agriculture for many years.”

. . . .
“. . . the death of the Custer wolf was hailed with delight by stockmen throughout the region where the depredations had occurred, and has added to the impetus to a movement for cooperation with the Department in order to meet more adequately the needs of the live-stock industry.”

“Evidence that Uncle Sam’s Hunters Get results”

In another part of the article titled “’Getting’ the Chief Offenders,” a caption, under a photo of trapped coyotes and wolves, and of a “hunter” spreading poisoned baits, states: “Trapped coyote—more than 250,000 of his ilk have been accounted for [killed] in five years by Federal and cooperating hunters.” [Emphasis added]

It is clear from these attitudes that the American people are expected to sacrifice their public ecosystems, and all the species there-in, (not to mention their tax dollars flowing to the U.S.D.A predator control efforts, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management) to the economic interests of ranchers. In practice, that is exactly what has occurred. Like every thing else in our corrupt American “democracy,” the theft of our public lands and ecosystems has been financed by the economic power of special interest groups like the various Cattlemen’s Associations. This is accomplished through their financial contributions to members of Congress, especially in districts where extractive industries and ranchers have large landholdings with the significant economic and social power that those holdings bring.

And it is not just native predators who suffer. Prairie dogs and other important rodents have suffered as well. As the picture above illustrates, prairie dogs, and those who depend on them, like the black-footed ferret, have been the targets of the stockman’s jihad. Hawks and many other species depend upon the availability of a prey base, which consists largely of rodents, for their survival.

Black-Footed Ferret [USF&WS Photo]

Black-Tailed Prairie Dog [USF&WS Photo]

Swainson’s Hawk [Photo © Christopher Christie]

My question, and that of many in the environmental community, is why should ranchers or hunters have control over which of our native predators should be allowed to have access to their historic habitat on our public lands? The wolf has an important role in maintaining the health of our public ecosystems. If public lands ranchers insist on putting their livestock in a situation where they will naturally become prey, then that is their problem. Our lands should not be managed for the benefit of ranchers and hunters, our lands should be managed for the benefit of native ecosystems and the services they provide for all of the American people.
[For old letter on predator control see: