U.S. should rethink its Cuba policies, expert argues in Bend talk

America’s hard-line policy toward Cuba actually hurts efforts to improve societal conditions for the Cuban people, an expert on U.S.-Cuban relations told a Bend audience Thursday night.

“The more you threaten, the more you try to throttle the Cuban economy … any Cuban government, whether it’s (Premier Fidel) Castro or anybody else, who has any sense of pride in nationality would react defensively,” Dr. Wayne Smith told about 100 people at a gathering hosted by the High Desert Forum (http://www.hdforum.org).

“Our policy is an impediment toward a more open society in Cuba and it’s totally counterproductive to our interests,” said Smith, who directed the U.S. Interests Section in Havana until relations between the two countries were broken in 1961.

Smith touched on but did not dwell on the recent Elian Gonzalez affair, stating his opinion that the Clinton administration and Attorney General Janet Reno did the right thing in snatching the boy from Miami relatives, whom he said had no real interest in negotiating an end to the matter.

“Cuba isn’t important at all” to the United States, either in terms of being a serious threat to U.S. security or the potential of a large trading partner, Smith said. “If they had 100 million people there, we wouldn’t have an embargo. They’d be too big a trading partner,” he said. But the 40-year-old embargo is maintained in part due to inertia, he said, and also because of the small but very vocal and powerful Cuban-American community in south Florida.

Legislation pushed through by congressmen who back the Cuban exiles “means the United States is blocked from any negotiation with any future (Cuban) governments,” since it insists, contrary to international law, that Cuban-Americans be compensated for their lost property.

Still, Smith said he’s “a little more hopeful than I was six months ago” that the two countries might eventually reconcile their differences. The Gonzalez case, he said, is the “first time I can remember (that) the two governments are on the same side of the issue.”

The Cuban-Americans in Miami, and more specifically Elian’s relatives, “have so blatantly defied the law, defied the federal government, that I think the American people are reacting sensibly to that. I am completely baffled by the reactions of political leaders, on both sides of the aisle.”

Smith said he was sorry that it came down to a show of force, but added, “What was Janet Reno supposed to do? It is not a matter of the Clinton administration trying to reach out to Cuba, to improve the relationship. This has never been a high priority of the Clinton administration.” Instead, it was purely a matter of upholding the law, he said, or 1,000s of Americans seeking custody of children now overseas would have a precedent set against them.

Smith told a questioner the U.S. should at least remove food and medicine from its embargo of Cuba, areas in which he claims America is in violation of international law.

But he added that with some 200,000 Americans visiting Cuba each year, and U.S. companies doing business there through third parties, changes may come and the embargo may become a moot point, over time. “U.S. policy is almost irrelevant,” he said. “There’s no greater way to convince people to do something than to tell them they can’t,” he joked.

Smith’s nightmare: Burger King in old Havana

Smith also said he is somewhat of two minds, when it comes to the possibility of greater U.S. business involvement in Cuba and the impact that could have. “I have a horror of Burger Kings in old Havana,” he said.

Smith said no new Castro is waiting in the wings, and he expects a collective leadership would take over, at least initially, upon Castro’s passing. He also said he is no Castro apologist. “I am appalled by some of the things he has done,” Smith said. “He has shot a lot of my friends.”

“My friends in Cuba acknowledge that life is difficult, that it’s not as open a society as they wish,” Smith said. But they add, “It is our country. It is a bitter wine, but it is our wine.”

Smith said he has a nightmare of an aging Castro becoming “so illogical and irrational” that tensions escalate. But he professes hope, nonetheless, of better days to come.

“Cuba will move toward a new model,” he said, “and it will move much faster and more efficiently with Fidel out of the way.”

Old Town historic district on hold, faces likely retooling

Bend’s Old Town neighborhood will be at least several months older before a proposed National Register Historic District proceeds, possibly in scaled-down fashion.

Faced with sharp divisions and some confusion over the impact of such a district, the Deschutes County Historical Landmarks Commission voted Thursday night to put off the nomination, at least until fall. The panel also directed Michael Houser, the county’s historic planner, to compile the rules that govern creation and governance of historic districts, to educate both the commission and the public.

Martin Hansen, a Bend attorney and the commission chairman, noted that groups of area property owners have formed on both sides of the issue, and could help inform residents of the pros and cons of an historic district.

A public hearing in late March brought sharply divided public testimony about whether the proposed 38-block historic district would be a good way to preserve Bend’s sawmill-era homes, or would put undue restrictions on homes that have little or no historic value.

As a result, Hansen said, the commission did not seek a spot on the state Historic Preservation Office panel’s May meeting agenda. That means the historic district proposal is basically on hold until fall.

“It seems apparent that there’s still much debate on the issue,” Hansen said. He noted that some foes of the current district are proposing that its boundaries be changed and the size scaled back.

Commission member Dorothy Stenkamp said the go-slow approach is wise. “There were issues raised (at the hearing) that gave me more to think about,” she said. “Since this is the first one of these around here, I’d like to do it with a process that’s clear to everybody.”

Houser said he met Monday with a group interested in changing the boundaries and adjusting the ordinance, in terms of what type of renovations would require review.

“The possibilities are endless,” he said, “but I think we’re getting there.”

Dwight Smith, a new ex-officio commission member and former Oregon Department of Transportation historian, said Oregon has about 50 historic districts, 30 of which are primarily residential areas. Smith, who helped create Salem’s first historic district, suggested bringing in people from other districts, to talk about the pros and cons and their cities’ experiences.

Noting that the process can seem “terribly complex,” Smith added, “It needs to go slowly, and maybe to step back and slow down a little bit is a good idea.”

Commission member Jim Kress of Sisters said he’d like to know the potential impact on property values, by reviewing other historic districts. Fellow commissioner Ray Bennett, with a real estate appraisal background, said he’s learned that such a district only would boost property values. “It has a lot to do with location,” he said. Once he learned of the positive impact, Bennett said, “I became a lot more enthusiastic about the proposal.”

The main benefits seen in historic districts are usually tax breaks, while the biggest fear is that relatively minor exterior changes will face government red tape. No matter how many adjustments are made or how much more groundwork is done, Bennett said, “It’s impossible to get everybody convinced favorably. There’s always a negative. There’s always a tradeoff. You have to weigh the negatives and positives.”

Goodbye ruts: Third Street paving due this summer

In just over a month, a long-awaited repaving of about 9 miles of Highway 97 (Third Street) through Bend will get under way, using a tightened specification in hopes of reducing the heavy ruts seen in recent years.

Hap Taylor & Sons Construction was the winning low bidder at $1.2 million for the project, according to Oregon Department of Transportation (http://www.odot.state.or.us) spokeswoman Laurie Gould in Bend. The firm’s crews will work during nighttime hours, grinding out two inches of asphalt and laying down a new layer in its place.

“They will have 60 days (to complete the job) but we hope to do it in 45” days, Gould said, including a break for the busy Fourth of July weekend. “It’s noisy and it’s kind of going to be a pain for businesses along Third Street, but there’s no other way to fix it.”

While motorists continue to debate whether studded tires or heavy trucks are the main rut culprits, Gould said there’s been one big change since the last Third Street paving job: tightened standards for the “mix,” or percentage of rock to oil that makes up asphalt.

The last time, crews used a more “open mix,” which is designed to shed water easier but uses bgger rock pieces and has a more pitted surface. “Studded tires tend to wear it down more quickly,” Gould said.

The new, “closed-grade mix” will use more oil to seal the material together, which holds up better to studded tires. Gould added, however, that there is a tradeoff: The different grade “doesn’t do as well with the weight of a heavy truck.”

“We are trying to find a way to design a surface more durable for both” studded tires and heavy trucks, Gould added.

Using a finer rock of higher standard also points to an ongoing debate about ODOT’s effort to find a new, local site for a rock quarry, to the consternation of neighbors in the so-called “golden triangle” between Bend, Redmond and Sisters. For the past six years, Gould said, ODOT has spent $17 million a year for rock needed in road-building projects around the region, mostly the Bend Parkway.

“We have to have higher quality materials,” Gould said. “Unless we can balance that with publicly owned (rock) sources, we estimate we are going to pay $1 million more a year than we need to. Whether we choose to use (the ODOT rock source) or not, it makes bidding more competitive.”

Elian grab was right thing to do, say Bend speaker, Cuban visitors

Amid the dramatic turn of events in the Elian Gonzalez saga, Bend residents who recently visited Cuba and an expert visiting Bend this week support the government’s decision to forcefully reunite father and son.

“I think it was right to get him out of that home,” said the Rev. Patty Campbell-Schmitt, co-pastor of Bend’s First Presbyterian Church. “I think the Miami relatives have to take responsibility for what happened. They have had five months to return that child. They were kidnapping that child, basically.”

Campbell-Schmitt was part of a 10-member group that spent two weeks in Cuba in February. Eight of the participants were from Bend, including the group’s leader, Judy Alford.

“It was incredibly exciting and interesting,” Alford said. “It’s important that people know that not every Cuban wants to leave Cuba.”

Dr. Wayne Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the church, 230 NE Ninth St. He is a visiting professor of Latin American studies at John Hopkins University and a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington.

“In the days ahead, as more and more pictures come out, it will be clear the reunion clearly is a happy one,” Smith told bend.com earlier this week. “The whole position of the family down there is blown out of the water.”

“The negotiations were not going to go anywhere,” Smith added. “I never thought that the family had any intention of turning this kid over. They saw this kid as their ticket to fame and fortune. I don’t think the family left (Attorney General) Janet Reno any alternative. The negotiations were simply stalling for time.”

‘These people are not whipped’

Alford said, “Many of the Cubans find themselves in far better situations than they did before the revolution. The 97 percent literacy rate – that’s an incredible number. The (U.S.) embargo has just created incredible obstacles. These are people well able to deal with a certain amount of hardship and difficulty and not lose hope.

“These people are not whipped. They are not all brainwashed. They are intelligent, articulate. It’s an oral culture. You can’t believe the children who are able to get up, with great poise and presence, who are able to discuss any subject under the sun.”

Campbell-Schmitt said Cubans’ basic needs are covered. “There are not homeless people in Cuba. They are not hungry people. They don’t have a lot more than the basics. We’ve heard since we’ve come back that Cuba doesn’t have that literacy rate, that it’s all Communist propaganda. Well, we experienced it. We met children far more articulate than our children in Bend. They were all reading.”

Smith said he believes the little boy’s seizure by government raiders could improve U.S.-Cuban relations.

“For the first time, the two governments are on the same side of an issue,” he said. “To some extent, we worked together to achieve a common objective. And the hard-line Cuban-American crowd, who until now have really had the heaviest influence of policy, have shot themselves in the foot.”

Money magazine is 2nd to herald Bend’s retirement joys

Bend has done it again, winning its second national honor this year as a great place to retire.

This time, it’s Money magazine that has chosen Bend as one of the five best places in the nation to retire. The others: Fort Collins, Colo.; Bradenton, Fla; Brunswick, Maine, and Asheville, N.C.

Earlier this spring, Modern Maturity Magazine listed Bend as one of the 50 best places to retire in America, ranked No. 2 in the “Green and Clean” category to Boulder, Colo.

According to the Money magazine profile, “if retiring to the great outdoors is your dream, (Bend) is the place to go.” In fact, the magazine (available online at http://www.money.com — but only for America Online subscribers) calls Bend “the ultimate retirement destination for nature lovers.”

“Shielded by the Cascade Mountain range to the west, the city enjoys a high-desert climate and mild weather that permits just about every outdoor activity imaginable,” from golf to fly-fishing, whitewater rafting and hiking, camping, biking and horseback riding.

The magazine talked to two couples who retired to Bend in recent years, including Dave and Pat Quenzer, both 56 and avid skiers. Don and Helen Compton moved to Bend in 1994 from Ohio and grow hay for pasturing on their 20-acre farm, biking into town to shop.

Dave Quenzer also noted the downside of such national recognition: more potential overcrowding. But he wasn’t talking about traffic on the roads — he meant lines at the ski lifts on Mount Bachelor.

Back in April, Jack Boyd wasn’t surprised to hear Bend had won another national kudo as a super place to retire. But he knew that meant the new senior center he’s helping to make happen is more overdue than ever.

In the May/June issue of Modern Maturity magazine, Bend is honored as one of the “50 Most Alive Places to Live” in America (http://www.aarp.org/mmaturity/may_jun00/50alive.html) . It is ranked No. 2 to Boulder, Colo., in the “Green and Clean” category, one of five 10-city lists compiled by the magazine of the American Association for Retired Persons.

“I’m not totally surprised,” said Boyd, a 13 -year Bend resident who turns 82 in August. “For a long time, Mount Bachelor has been ranked as one of the top 10 ski areas in the country.”

The magazine endeavored to find the best cities in the country suited to a “new style of retiring” that in effect, isn’t really retirement at all, as much as a “transition, segue, ease into another lifestyle,” wrote Karen Westerberg Reyes.

In measuring the ideal locale, “golf courses, sun and active senior centers were not at the top of our list,” she wrote. “Neighborliness and good restaurants were,” as well as civic activities, availability of organic foods, and good hospitals and neighborhoods. The AARP team looked at twns that were easy to get around, where the streets were safe and opportunities for lifelong learning plentiful.

Each of the top 50 cities was rated on nine factors. Bend hit the top “platinum” category on just one category: “sports and such” – but only ranked in the lowest, “bronze” category on one item as well – “multicultural”. Silver marks were awarded on “getting around,” “good eats,” “health options,” “lifelong learning,” “seriously civic” and the “vitality quotient.” Bend took the gold in one area: “safe streets.”

The magazine’s brief description of Bend should sound familiar to anyone who’s read a brochure on the place, saying the town “boasts an exhilarating mix of high desert, volcanoes, forests, rivers and mountains.”

“This Oregon outdoor paradise attracts all kinds: Wealthy yuppie tourists from California, who come for the fabulous downhill skiing at Mount Bachelor, meet Bend’s local population of down-to-earth mountain bikers.”

Boyd has been one of the leaders of the United Senior Citizens of Bend in its 4-year quest to replace the aging, 5,500-square-foot senior center in northeast Bend with a 14,000-square-foot facility about to arise at the south end of Larkspur Park, east of 15th Street and Reed Market Road.

“The latest count we have is that 37 percent of the area’s population is seniors,” Boyd said. “Right now, we’re only serving 1 percent.”

Boyd said there’s a dire need for the new center, which won’t just be for seniors but will be available for many community activities. “It should have been built 10 years ago – we’re bursting at the seams,” he said. “It’s pitiful.”

Fund-raising effort reaches home stretch

The seniors’ organization is still heavily involved in fund-raising efforts after securing in $1 million in grants and loans from the state, city and Deschutes County. The total construction tab is estimated at $1.8 million, Boyd said. A May 4th fund-raising luncheon at the Boys and Girls Club has sold out on its 300 tickets. The group’s board, meanwhile, will vote late next week on a pending offer for the old senior center site that should net close to $320,000 for the fund-raising effort.

Even if the figure is reached and construction begins as expected in mid-summer, Boyd said, there still will be a need to raise funds for ongoing operation of the facility, and quite possibly a future expansion as well. The group has a target for completion and opening of the new senior center in June or July of next year.

“Once we start construction and people see that we really mean business and are moving, I think we’re going to get a lot of people to really rally around the project,” Boyd said. Persons interested in donating to the effort can contact the senior center at 388-1133.

The current, cramped center recently helped almost 1,200 seniors complete their income tax forms, in an annual AARP-sponsored “Tax Aid” project, Boyd said. While no fees could be charged, about $3,000 in contributions were raised, to go toward the new center’s operational fund, he said.

The new center will have, among other amenities, a computer room with 12 workstations. Central Oregon Community College has committed to holding classes of all kinds, not just for seniors, and the Deschutes Public Library System is planning a satellite library offering at the center, Boyd said.

Bend studies way to cut looming sewer costs

The city of Bend has come up with some daunting numbers: 4,000 homes needing sewer hookups, many on septic tanks nearing failure. And an even more scary price tag of up to $54 million to make it happen, with much of the burden shouldered by homeowners.

That was a big issue looming over the November 1998 vote to annex 11 square miles of Bend’s urban growth boundary: How soon could the city extend its sewer lines, and who would pay? The answers still aren’t complete, but are getting a bit clearer. And the city now believes it has come up with a way to cut the costs, as well as the disruption, of sewer line installation.

City councilors heard a presentation from public works official Mike Elmore Wednesday night, giving the first concrete numbers on how many homes will need to get on city sewer in coming years. Elmore also pointed to a method that could cut the cost in half.

Most city sewer lines now are built using the gravity method, which requires less ongoing maintenance. But the deep trenches mean sky-high costs in volcanic Central Oregon, where trenches must be dug as deep as 29 feet into solid lava rock, often blocking traffic as well, Elmore said.

Instead, Elmore proposed using pressurized sewer lines that require pumps, or the latest generation of vacuum sewer lines. They require much shallower trench depths and smaller work zones, and cost far less, but can require added maintenance over the years.

Elmore noted that the $760,000 budgeted this year for a sewer line along Brosterhous Road would build only 1,200 feet of gravity lines, but 2.4 miles of pressure or vacuum sewer lines.

Fifteen neighborhoods in Bend’s rural outskirts are listed as needing city sewer, from 791 homes in King’s Forest to 31 homes along Knott Road. The difference in estimated cost between the two systems is substantial. In the Hollygrape area, for example, city officials estimate the cost for gravity sewer lines as $65,300 per home or lot – the highest cost on the list. That price would be cut almost two-thirds, to $22,720 a lot, if pressure or vacuum lines are installed instead, officials estimated.

Grants being sought to ease sewer’s bite
Still, even the average cost of $10,000 per home, using the cheaper method, is a lot of money for any homeowner to come up with — even if the city provides long-term low- or no-interest financing, as expected. But Elmore said state grant funds are available to help, especially if new-generation vacuum systems are tested.

City councilors approved Elmore’s request to pursue two grant applications, each of $300,000, from the Central Oregon Community Investment Board. One would help fund construction of a new water system for the First on the Hill subdivision near Century Drive. The other grant would fund a demonstration project for utilizing vacuum sewer collection in the Woodriver Village subdivision, south of the Old Mill District.

“Woodriver Village has a lot of old septic tanks, close to the (Deschutes) River,” Elmore said, noting a concern about river contamination. He also said other grant funds could be available to trim the cost for homeowners seeking city sewer hookups.

Elmore said the agency feels the cost of maintaining the pump system “will be very minimal,” pointing to similar systems, such as the one at Black Butte Ranch, that have been in place for 30 years. He said the much lower initial cost should offset the ongoing maintenance costs.

Councilors go ’round and ’round before backing traffic circles

In fittingly roundabout fashion, Bend city councilors endorsed west Bend developers’ request to build two traffic roundabouts on a new segment of Mount Washington Drive leading to new elementary and high schools.

Only after the council held a public hearing on the proposal Wednesday night did City Manager Larry Patterson inform councilors that similar traffic proposals have been approved by city staff in the past, not needing council approval.

City planner James Lewis said a hearings officer’s approvals of the new schools did not find they would generate enough traffic to warrant traffic lights at either the Mount Washington-Shevlin Park Road intersection or the road’s link to a new east-west collector road at the new high school. So instead, only stop signs would have been used for now.

Lewis said the West Bend Property Co. proposal to install roundabouts now would slow traffic and boost safety for children walking or riding their bikes to the new schools. The developers asked for a quick decision in order to get the road and roundabouts completed in time for the elementary school to open this fall as planned. The high school is due for completion in 2001.

“This is a means for potentially getting ahead of the game,” Lewis said.

Deborah Hogan of the Bend Area Traffic Safety Advisory Committee said that panel had endorsed both roundabouts in a unanimous vote, as they cut down on accidents and all but eliminate the deadliest type of crashes: head-on collisions. She also said the panel appreciated a rare opportunity to weigh in on traffic safety before a road is built, rather than after.

Valhalla resident Ken Chard endorsed the roundabouts as well. But he chastised the city for failing to contact him and his neighbors about the plans, calling it another example of “the city’s high-handed treatment of its residents.” He accused the city of failing to control dust and other construction impacts on neighbors and urged a moratorium on all construction in the city until it does so.

Al Tozer also supported the roundabout concept but urged the installation of low steel bollards at the corners of pedestrian refuges so walkers won’t be injured if vehicles slip on ice while navigating the traffic circle.

Chad McMullen of Deschutes Ready-Mix said he had some concerns about his firm’s trucks being able to safely traverse the roundabouts but said West Bend Property officials had eased most of those fears and were working to ensure a safe design.

Developer Mike Tennant said the Westside builders will be reimbursed the estimated $500,000 cost of the roundabouts, but only from development fees paid years later when houses are constructed. The other key developer, Mike Hollern, said Hap Taylor Construction could face penalties if it’s not done with the road construction by a June 28th deadline, so time is of the essence.

But Patterson said the council might not need to weigh in, only object to it if they are opposed. “This is not a land use decision,” he said. At that point, Councilor Bill Friedman joked, “I think we ought to not tell ’em not to do it.”

Colleague Wyvetta Wilson, who entered Bend politics after helping successfully squelch a proposed roundabout on 27th Street, said, “I (still) feel very negative about them.” But she said she was glad the hearing was held, adding, “I’m being educated.”

Councilor John Schubert said he understood city policy was for the council to weigh in on “traffic calming” proposals on arterials and collectors. City Attorney Ron Marceau said that analysis was correct, and so the council voted 6-0 to endorse the roundabouts. (Councilor Benjie Gilchrist abstained, citing property he owns in the vicinity.)

Big City Hall crowd splits on sign code

Bend city councilors heard from a sharply divided public Wednesday night about whether proposed new sign rules would improve the area’s livability or harm local businesses.

The 28 people who spoke at a packed public hearing were split evenly on the proposed new sign code, in the works for more than two years. Most of the testimony focused on key differences between the original draft compiled by a citizen committee, changes made by the Bend Urban Area Planning Commission and a recent set of proposals by the Bend Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

City councilors made no comments after the testimony and are expected to discuss the issue at their May 3rd meeting. Any recommendations are expected to take some time to enact, since city planners still must review the proposal for consistency and compliance with the First Amendment’s protection of free expression. A chamber consultant has claimed many elements of the draft sign code are unconstitutional.

One of the biggest issues is whether to allow the 41 billboards now erected around the city to remain, as the sign committee proposed, or to require their removal within eight years and to ban any new ones, as the planning commission recommended. The chamber’s proposal also would allow no new billboards but would allow existing ones to be moved to other commercial or industrial zones. It also would not continue the city’s ban on new billboards along the Bend Parkway.

The other big issue involves what is called “amortization” – how long existing signs that violate new rules on sign size or styles could remain in place. The planning commission would give businesses up to eight years to replace the signs, depending on various “triggering events,” but the chamber version would not set any such time deadline, so some nonconforming signs could remain in place indefinitely.

Kim Ward, whose family owns Crown Villa RV Park on Brosterhous Road, said his billboard on Highway 97 is crucial to drawing traffic to his business, two miles away.

“My sign is imperative to my link with my customers,” he said. “To take away my sign right now, after 32 years, would be an injustice. I’ve never, ever had a customer say my sign is ugly.”

Judy Duncan, chamber president, joined Bend Postmaster Bob Zlatek and other businesspersons in saying ground-mounted “monument” signs can be more hazardous than pole-mounted signs. Duncan said the lack of clear vision means small children could be hidden, dart out and be injured.

Todd Tory, a representative of a Eugene outdoor advertising firm with one Bend sign, said the amortization language is unfair and illegal. He said all Eugene billboards were supposed to be removed three years ago and they still have not been, due to the need to provide just compensation for damages.

Robert Thomas of Bob Thomas Chevrolet said the proposed sign rule would clearly target his car dealership’s tall pole sign, white and internally lit, that he has rented from General Motors for 30 years.

“There are two things I hope you consider about this: Who benefits, and who pays?” Thomas said. “I love my city as much as anybody.” He called it “a little myopic” to look at only signs when landscaping and other building aspects also affect the city’s lookl. “It’s an idealistic and narrow proposal,” he said.

Peter Carlson of Carlson Sign Co., which is in the billboard business, said the proposed new code “does not allow for reasonable and effective signs along Highway 97,” due to the monument sign requirement.

“I think abolishing 52 years of work is a bad thing, and I don’t think it’s legal, either,” Carlson said. “We’ve never sued anyone,” he said, noting he’d rather not have to start sending money on lawyers.

Not all chamber members backed the stand taken by its leaders. Aleta Nissen, co-owner of Wanderlust Tours, said the chamber’s board represents a “vocal minority, a small faction looking out for its own self-interest and not for the good of the whole community.” She said tourism in the area will suffer if garish signs are allowed to remain and multiply, further degrading Bend’s character.

“Tourism is now Bend’s No. 1 industry, and once Bend grows to look like any other town in the nation, visitors will stop coming to Bend and go somewhere where its citizens have taken care of its appearance and quality,” Nissen said. She also claimed imposing new sign rules only on new businesses means “we will never have hope for a level playing field.”

Don Gamble, a former planning commission member, also attacked the city council for “bypassing the public process in giving credence to this proposal by the chamber. Without realistic amortization … the old parts of Bend won’t look much different in eight years. Without a realistic amortization schedule, there will be no effective sign ordinance.”

John Nielson, also endorsing the planning commission version, said, “There are many, many signs in Bend that are too big and too tall. These signs sit there like the 500-pound gorilla in plaid pants.”

Al Tozer joined others who said the recently adopted Bend General Plan calls for improving the community’s appearance. He said he is a chamber member who backs the tougher planning commission language – except for the proposed ban on billboards.

“I don’t care for billboards, personally,” Tozer said. “I find them unattractive. But I find it tough to swallow that the city council would ask businesses to remove a revenue stream.” Instead, he made an “out of the box” suggestion that businesses which lose billboard space might get cut-rate prices for new signs on the side of city transit vehicles, if and when such a system comes to pass. “I would suggest the side of a bus is an even better way to capture eyeballs than static billboards,” Tozer said.

Wayne Purcell, general manager of The Riverhouse and a sign panel member, said his nearly 40-year-old motor inn “will be at a disadvantage if we have to take down our sign,” since the business is set back more than 100 feet from Highway 97.

Rocky Patel said his motel, the Rodeway Inn, has found that its new ground-mounted sign can’t be seen by drivers approaching from the south on Highway 97. But Scott LeTourneau said he grew up in New England, where billboards are banned, and that strict sign codes have not harmed businesses.

Redmond dedicates family center named for special activist

REDMOND – A crowd of dignitaries and well-wishers gathered for Tuesday’s dedication of the Becky Johnson Community Center, which brings together numerous agencies to assist children and families in northern Deschutes County.

Most prominent among all the legislators, commissioners and the like was 86-year-old Elizabeth “Becky” Johnson, community activist and widow of the late Sen. Sam Johnson.

“It’s a unique, absolutely one of a kind honor,” Johnson said. “To have it happen in your own hometown is extra nice.”

Born and raised in the Midwest, Becky Johnson served as a recruiting officer during World War II and met her future husband in Portland. Sam Johnson was a lumberman, mill owner, investment manager, seven-term state legislator and was mayor of Redmond when he died in 1984.

The Johnsons moved “temporarily” to Redmond in 1947 but never left as Becky Johnson began her role in a wide range of civic, political, social and public service activities. She has served on numerous local and state education-related boards and remains heavily involved in education and children’s issues.

Barbara Rich of the Soroptomists of Redmond recalled that she lived across the street from the community center site when she moved to a much smaller Redmond 37 years ago. Her kids used to play tennis on the city-owned courts that stood where the Becky Johnson Community Center has arisen.

Asked if she felt 86, Johnson laughed and said, “Only in my knees.”

The list of those honored and thanked for their role in making the community center happen was a lengthy one. Congratulatory letters were read from U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and Sen. Gordon Smith, both R-Ore., who also sent a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol.

The center will offer services ranging from family planning to immunizations and is similar in many respects to the Rosie Bareis Community Campus, created on former church property in west Bend more than a decade ago. Former county Commissioner Nancy Schlangen said she and current Commissioner Linda Swearingen “looked at each other and at almost the same moment said, ‘Becky Johnson!'” when it came time to name the facility.

“The best part of this whole project is how the entire community of Redmond has come together to support and help make this project happen,” said Jan LaChapelle, director of the Deschutes Children’s Foundation.

Before cutting a red ribbon, Johnson offered her personal thanks to all involved in creating a facility that is user-friendly and non-institutional in atmosphere, offering a “human touch” and comfortable place to help children and families. She also was glad to be around to see it happen.

“All too often, the buildings are named for those who are no longer with us,” she said, rattling off a list of special “firsts” she and her late husband were involved with, such as Central Oregon District Hospital and Central Oregon Community College.

Johnson quoted a card she got recently and its message from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Lewis moves in wake of dog’s death, but vows not to quit

State humane agent Kimball Lewis, grieving over the shooting death and hanging of his dog, has moved to protect his privacy but vowed to return to work and “hit the ground running” in his fight for animal welfare.

Lewis said numerous Portland TV station trucks parked by his property northwest of Bend convinced him to move elsewhere in Central Oregon. He leaves behind the home where he found his 7-year-old German shepherd, Donner, hanging in a juniper tree in the front yard last Wednesday, a bullet in its head.

“The media was hounding him,” his spokeswoman, Sue Barker, said Monday.

She said Kimball felt he needed to move as a safety precaution, due to the potential motives of retaliation or intimidation that led to last week’s crime. Deschutes County sheriff’s detectives are still working on the case as Lewis, executive director of the Humane Society of Central Oregon (http://www.envirocenter.org/groups/hsco/hsco.html), is out of the area on a leave of absence until next Monday.

“I have given the governor reassurance that I will continue to use my special appointment (as state humane agent) to be an advocate for abused and neglected animals throughout the state,” Lewis said. “At a local level, I have given the board of directors a solid commitment to continue on the present course in creating the most progressive animal welfare protection organization in the region.

“When I return, I will hit the ground running,” Lewis vowed. “It’s the least I can do for the animals and the people who own them in our community. I’ll continue for my companion, Donner.”

Cards, flowers and calls of support have flooded in from throughout the country in the wake of Donner’s killing, Barker said. “They are outraged – they want this person caught,” she said. A reward fund has been capped at $15,000, but contributions are flowing into a memorial fund set up at U.S. Bank. Donations can be made at any branch of the bank.

“We’ve had calls from people begging, ‘Please, don’t quit, because that would mean they’ve won,'” Barker told bend.com.

Regarding the memorial fund, “Some people are saying, ‘How dare you make money off of this?'” Barker said. “They (shelter officials) have not asked for one cent. People are sending the money in and asking how they can help. They didn’t know what to do, so they set up this fund.” All proceeds will go to the Humane Society of Central Oregon’s animal abuse investigation division, for the future protection of animals, Barker said.