Cameras’ role may expand

One of the red-light cameras at Queen and Geary in Albany.

One of the red-light cameras, with its light, at Queen and Geary in Albany.

This is how the surveillance society grows -- with good intentions every step of the way.

You may remember some years ago when Albany was added to the cities authorized to install red-light cameras. After much debate, the city installed one set of two, at the corner of Geary Street and Queen. The last time the local paper checked, the cameras had caught mostly drivers who didn't stop completely before making a right turn on red. Whether accidents were reduced, I don't remember.

The law authorizing the cameras says they can be used only for traffic enforcement. Washington state has a similar law, and there, a judge authorized footage to be used in a criminal investigation, now the subject of a court challenge. With this in mind, the Oregon House Judiciary Committtee held a hearing March 28 on House Bill 2601, which would remove the limitation on using red-light camera images. They could be used for anything, though a proposed amendment would allow their use only in criminal investigations.

Who could possibly be against catching a robber or kidnapper because a red-light camera saw him and could identify his car or his  face? So the bill will no doubt pass. Sooner or later, the question then will be: To what other uses could government cameras in public places be put? (hh)

Road fee: What’s the problem?

The House Transportation Committee backed the bill, but Republicans didn't.

The Oregon House Transportation Committee backed the bill, but its Republican members didn't.

It's not obvious to me why Republicans are opposed to making the owners of so-called green vehicles pay their fair share of the cost of keeping up Oregon roads. Owners of all-electric and hybrid cars now pay little or nothing toward the highway fund, even while all other motorists buying fuel in Oregon pay 30 cents a gallon. That can't go on forever, especially if the number of high-mileage vehicles grows.

So, House Bill 2013 would have ODOT develop a system of charging a road tax on vehicles that get more than 55 miles to the gallon. The fee would start with vehicles in the 2015 model year. This has been debated since the legislature formed the Road User Task Force in 2001. Conservatives generally were suspicious of any system that allowed the state to track where vehicles went, but that was never the idea.

The idea was to find an automated and simple system for reporting how many miles vehicles are driven so they could be charged a fee per mile. Nissan and other car makers already install such systems, so it's no big deal. And yet, when the House Transportation Committee on March 27 endorsed the bill, all six Democrats on the panel voted for it, and all four Republicans voted no. I'm trying to find out why paying for roads was a partisan issue, at least on that bill. (hh)

Ted Salmons, via Facebook: I absolutely support a system that enforces the "you use it, you help pay for it" fairness system.  Also if anybody supports this theory, then I can't understand how they could not support bicyclists paying fees to help pay for a road system also.  At least for hybrids and totally electric cars, all drivers use the same portion of the roads.  Only bicyclists get a portion of the same roads that are set aside just for their use.  Where's the fairness of that?

My response: It's a question of practicality and diminishing returns.There is no feasible way to assess or collect a bike tax proportionate to the extent to which a bike is used on public roads. Further, pedestrians also use roads. If there's a fee for bicycles, would a fee for walking be next? (hh)

Council tables coal train protest

Again: This is not a coal train, and Albany is unlikely to see any.

Again: This is not a coal train, and Albany is unlikely to see any.

Albany's city council, to its credit, is not on record today against coal trains. On Wednesday night the council voted to table a resolution "to oppose the transport of coal through Albany."

Councilor Bessie Johnson's motion to table called for the measure to come up again in two weeks, on April 10. She said she wanted to do more research on the coal issue on her own. But Councilor Floyd Collins was skeptical. What would the council be able to learn in two weeks that it didn't know now? He and others, including Mayor Sharon Konopa, seemed to prefer shelving the resolution altogether and relying on state officials, including the Oregon and Washington governors, who have already asked the federal government to do a thorough economic, social and environmental analysis of transporting coal from the Rockies to Asia via Northwest ports.

Councilor Rich Kellum was the most outspoken against the anti-coal resolution and its backers in the audience. He questioned some of their claims -- on coal dust and other points.

If the measure never comes back to the council, it hardly matters. The plan to develop a coal export terminal at Coos Bay seems to have run out of steam, and with it the notion that coal trains would roll down the valley from Portland. As I've observed here before, coal trains through Albany are one problem the council does not have to worry about. (hh)

Albany issue: “Debt” explained

Bond counsel Harvey Rogers before the Albany City Council on Wednesday night.

Bond counsel Harvey Rogers before the Albany City Council on Wednesday night.

Until it is amended, Albany may have trouble with routine finances under the debt-limit charter amendment approved by voters this month. That was the gist of advice the city council got Wednesday night from Harvey Rogers, a renowned bond lawyer whose clients include the cities of Portland and Salem as well as several state agencies. It's his business to certify that borrowings by public agencies are legal and proper.

The Albany initiative prohibits new debt and debt extensions unless authorized by a majority of electors. Rogers agrees with City Attorney Jim Delapoer that this means he could not give his unqualified endorsement to future city debt unless it is approved by more than half of all registered voters, which has never happened. He confirmed that last month's refinancing of $30 million in water debt, which saved the city $5.6 million in interest over 20 years, would not have gotten his OK if it had come after the March 12 election instead of two weeks before.

Rogers explained what "debt" means according to the Oregon Supreme Court: The term includes general obligations bonds, any other borrowing pledging the full faith and credit of the city to repay, and any long-term contract not subject to appropriations, among others. Not considered a debt, though: water and sewer revenue bonds, obligations authorized by the legislature, and borrowing by the Albany urban renewal agency, CARA.

The council heard all this and then went into an executive session closed to the public to talk about what to do about the measure when it comes time to canvass the election result on April 10. Among the possibilities: Declare that the measure did not pass because it got fewer than a majority of all electors but pledge to conduct city business as though it had passed, and then propose a new charter amendment, perhaps in November, to carry out the intent of the voters without the complication of using the word "electors." The council may get a preview of a resolution spelling out its intent at a work session on April 8. (hh)

Gordon L. Shadle: Let's hope the council shows some common sense by passing Measure 22-117 and placing a cleaned-up (meeting Delapoer's standard) charter amendment on the November ballot. Of course, if the council proposes watered-down language that preserves most, if not all, of the council's current decision making power, then they should expect a counter punch from the people.
If the council does as you suggest and rejects Measure 22-117, the public scorn would be immense. And no mitigating actions like a cleaned-up amendment would overcome the disdain the public would hold for our elected officials. A rejection would certainly motivate some to start immediate litigation and/or a new petition drive.
The saddest part is the current deliberations are being held in secret. This issue is inherently political and deliberations should be conducted in public. Attorney-client confidentiality should not be invoked for political discussions. Last night was a good start. It's time to lift the shroud of secrecy.

Springtime at E.E. Wilson

A quick visit to the E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area northwest of Albany on a pleasant spring day in March. The area's paved and gravel roads without motor traffic make it an ideal place for an outing on your bike.

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