Albany’s CARA: In search of direction

The Wheelhouse builiding on the Willamette River was privately funded and also received some assistance from CARA.

Albany's downtown urban renewal district is working once again to define what it wants to do from now on, and how.

Earlier this year the city council, acting as the governing board of the Central Albany Revitalization Agency or CARA, put several pending projects on hold. In October, the CARA advisory board agreed that it would draw down or borrow the roughly $3 million remaining of a $5 million line of credit with Bank of America, with the understanding that the money would be available for public infrastructure projects such as street and utility improvements to encourage development.

On Wednesday, though, the city staff recommended a change in financing, and the council approved it. Now the renewal agency, instead of borrowing more, will use cash on hand to pay off, in order to avoid additional interest charges and fees, the $1.97 million already borrowed and spent. Then the renewal agency -- essentially the city government but legally a separate entity -- will explore less costly financing for any public infrastructure projects that it decides to pursue in the meantime.

What projects? That's the big question now. The urban renewal plan, adopted in 2001, lists 51 projects or possible activities, mostly downtown. About $13.8 million has been spent on some of them so far, according to a table urban renewal manager Kate Porsche drew up. These include street work on First and Broadalbin, as well as numerous aid packages to private remodeling projects and other building ventures such as the Albany Carousel.

The advisory board spent some time discussing how to pick its next projects, but so far there's no agreement and no clear direction. The board will meet again on Dec. 19. (hh)

Caught in the system

Some people  just can't catch a break. That is the case with a 28-year-old mother of three from Turner in Marion County.

One evening last winter, she took an Ambien sleeping pill and went to bed. Next thing she knew it was after 2 a.m. and she was sitting in the gravel next to her 1993 Camry, which was in a ditch on Richardson Gap Road in Linn County, 16 miles from her home. She had no recollection of why or how she had driven there, but she was taken to jail and charged with DUII and reckless driving, two misdemeanor crimes.

Her doctor would later give a written statement that she had suffered an episode of "sleep driving," a rare but well documented side effect of Ambien. The Linn County deputy DA handling her case said last summer that side effect or not, impaired driving is a serious matter, and he went ahead with the prosecution. But she tells me that her trial, set for Oct. 30, was canceled on the 29th.

Meanwhile, though, she says she was pulled over because of a failed license plate light. That's when she learned her license had been suspended in April because she didn't have insurance when the accident happened. If she had been informed, she says, she would have challenged her suspension. "I wouldn't have been driving if it wasn't for the Ambien." Now, she's fighting her new ticket and waiting for a new trial date.

At the time of her crash, a "certified drug recognition expert" with the Albany police gave his opinion that she was under the influence of marijuana and a central nervous system depressant. A urine analysis at the state crime lab in Springfield proved him wrong about the marijuana. Except for the prescribed medications, Ambien and an anti-depressant, she was clean.

This woman was not drunk when she ended up in a ditch. Her blood alcohol was zero. She failed field sobriety tests -- among them walking heel to toe in a straight line and turning around, and balancing on one foot -- but those tests might be unusually difficult for someone of her physique. There is no public safety benefit in grinding her through the criminal justice system. She and the public would have been saved a good deal of grief and expense if she had just been allowed to call for a ride home. (hh)

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State lines: Let’s redraw

Maybe some of this could one day be the state of Jefferson.

Puerto Rico has narrowly voted to apply to become a U.S. state, a request that now will go to Congress for a decision. Judging by a report in The Week magazine, the majority was at least partially motivated by the prospect of more federal aid, not exactly a big surprise. But if we are going to have a 51st state, maybe Congress could order some other changes that would keep us at 50 -- and the Senate membership at an easily remembered 100,One possibility: Combine a couple of those little bitty states in the Northeast, hardly bigger than some western counties, to make one state out of two. Connecticut, for example, should really be combined with Massachusetts. And why do New Hampshire and Vermont have to be two states instead of one? Delaware is so tiny as to be a joke, which may explain Joe Biden. Combine it with Maryland, at least.

If we did all three of those, we would have room to make some adjustments of boundaries in the West as well and still remain at 50 states. California is really too big to be one state. It should be two. And if there was a way to put both San Francisco and Los Angeles in the same half, the other half would have a better chance of forming a government that works.

And how about letting Eastern Oregon join Idaho, giving that region a better economy because it would be out from under the yoke of policies and laws made by the Portland-Eugene axis. If not that, how about forming the state of Jefferson by joining the southern tier of Oregon counties with an area from, say, Red Bluff north?

Once you start playing with state boundaries, as you can see, it's tempting to come up with all kinds of possible changes that might work out for the common good. (hh)

Comment from Mike Reynolds:  "I would imagine many in northern California would love to join with Oregon, or at least Eastern Oregon. I would only like that if Linn County could join them. :) I have wondered why so many states in the NE are so small. It would make sense to combine a few, especially since the political dynamics wouldn't change."

Freeway planning: Slow is the word

I-5 at Santiam Highway: What's taking so long?

For two or three years now, the Oregon transportation department has been preparing for an environmental assessment of plans to widen Interstate 5 from Highway 20 in Albany to the Jefferson exit. The process is an example of how the agency, following its own and federal regulations on big projects, wastes both time and money.

Yes, all the angles have to be considered, especially how to configure interchanges and how best to route traffic to and fro. But why does it have to take months and even years to make up drawings or incorporate public comments and engineering recommendations?

This particular project may cost roughly $500 million, ballpark. It's too big to be funded and built all at once, if it ever is. So ODOT will have to keep updating its plans, lest they get stale and no longer reflect the latest thinking. Now the agency plans to ask for more planning money, according to a report to the Albany council.

To speed things along, Albany agreed to chip in $200,000 -- from where the council did not say. The council hopes that this results in the next round of funding paying not just for more studies but for actually getting something done, like acquiring property for a long-awaited southbound on-ramp to I-5 at Knox Butte Road. These freeway improvements should have been made years ago.

The planning process has taken far too long. The money spent on more studies should be used to start putting pavement on the ground instead. (hh)

Comment: $500 million to widen I-5 from Hwy. 20 to Jefferson exit? That is insane!
Why so much? Thanks, HH, your work at the DH will be missed. -- Mike

Comment from Albany Councilman Ray Kopczynski: "To speed things along, Albany agreed to chip in $200,000 -- from where the council did not say." True -- because that info was offered by (city transportation analyst) Ron Irish:  Two different line items in the existing budget @ $100K/ea for planning will be used -- so no additional funds will need to be spent.


Poor Petraeus: Emails?

For years the press described General Petraeus as a brilliant man. Now we find out that he traded emails with a lover who was not his wife. Not only that, but the lover turned out to be the kind of woman who threatens someone she believes may have her eye on the general as well. All this is according to the press reports on Sunday. I don't know General Petraeus personally. For all I know he is indeed brilliant in important ways, such as military planning, public administration and getting ahead in his career. But sending emails as part of an affair? How just plain dumb is that? Hasn't he heard of all the cases where emails became the instrument of someone's downfall? Who, in this day and age, still puts potentially embarrassing details of his private life in an email? Professional brilliance is one thing, but evidently basic decency and common sense in matters of personal conduct are something else. (hh)

Comment: "Totally agree. What an idiot. Aa horrible role model for everyone else who keeps trying to do the right thing, and does, even when no one is watching." -- Michele LaB.


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