By Rachel Dawson
Should we breach Northwest hydropower dams to replenish native fish species on the Columbia or continue benefiting from hydro’s cheap and reliable power?
With the innovative Whooshh Fish Passage System, our region wouldn’t have to choose between the two. And, yes, the company is really called “Whoosh.”
The system is set up alongside dams to help fish reach their spawning grounds. It knows the fish better than their own moms. It figures out the fish’s size, whether it’s wild or from a hatchery, if it’s a native species, and whether it’s injured. The system then propels the fish through the appropriate tube to the other side of the dam. Whooshh also has machines available that focus on invasive species removal.
The technology has been tested at several Northwest dams and has proven to be safe without causing the fish stress. It also costs significantly less than a traditional fish ladder. While a fish ladder would take years to build and cost $50-60 million, Whooshh’s system could be built within a couple of months and cost $7-10 million.
Instead of breaching our region’s dams, Oregon officials should utilize new and innovative technologies that improve fish passage over them.
Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.
By Helen Doran
The president of the National Education Association recently said she does not expect schools to be back to normal in the fall. “We still have a lot of questions,” she concluded. For many Oregon parents, the thought of some form of distancing learning in the fall is the last straw, especially as school leaders hesitate to promise a full-time return.
Despite mounting pressure from parents, Oregon has trailed behind much of the country in offering hybrid learning. According to a national survey of 8,000 school districts, 94% of participating districts offered fully in-person or hybrid instruction when Governor Brown required Oregon schools to offer some form of in-person instruction by the end of March.
According to Return to Learn Tracker, Oregon is currently ranked the third most cautious state in returning to classroom instruction. For many parents, this extreme caution does not match up with the state’s low COVID-19 case counts and the CDC’s recommendations for full-time school.
Students have already lost a valuable year of classroom instruction, and with it, community, extracurriculars, and individualized support. Oregon’s school leaders should follow the example of states successfully ending distance learning and commit to the goal of full-time school in the fall.
Helen Doran is a Program Assistant, External Affairs at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.
By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.
We’re in the waning days of the pandemic, and it’s time to take action to return to normal. About one-quarter of the state’s population has been vaccinated or received a first dose. If the state keeps the current rate of vaccination, we should achieve herd immunity by early July. This also coincides with Independence Day, as well as some of Oregon’s best weather. Let’s make the Fourth of July the day Oregon celebrates our independence from the pandemic—a summer of street fairs, block parties, dining out, and get-togethers. That gives us a little more than three months to get ready. And like any big celebration, there’s a lot to do.
This is the chance for state and local governments to show the leadership that’s been missing for the past year. They must take whatever steps necessary to open all public buildings to the public—libraries, recreation centers, swimming pools, summer camps, council chambers. If democracy dies in the darkness, it’s stifled over Zoom. Last year Portland voters approved steep tax increases to fund libraries, parks, and schools. Let’s put that money to work.
But, there’s no point in re-opening if no one shows up. We need to feel like it’s safe to return. Businesses need to feel it’s safe to take down the plywood. Residents need to feel it’s safe to walk, drive, and park downtown.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told business owners who were outraged about the destruction from protesters, “We’ve got five action committees of which two address this subject.” Five action committees—let that sink in. The rioters are past the point of peaceful protest and have moved on to pointless destruction. Wheeler is the mayor and the police commissioner. No matter what the five “action committees” say, Wheeler is uniquely situated to put an end to the looting, destruction, and vandalism. Just do it, Mr. Mayor. The city will thank you.
The most recent data from U.S. Housing and Urban Development show that homelessness ticked up in the tri-county region from 2019 to 2020. No one needs federal statistics to see that homeless camps have multiplied since then. Nearly every neighborhood is within walking distance of one or more sprawling camps littered with filth, needles, abandoned furniture, shopping carts, and stolen bicycles.
The cities and counties in the tri-county area as well as the Metro regional government should take immediate action to open enough emergency shelters to accommodate all the people who are currently sleeping on the streets, in parks, under bridges, and camping outside. With sufficient shelter space, local governments have much greater leeway to clear out the camps and clean up our community. For more than three decades, local politicians have wrung their hands over homelessness with no noticeable improvement. Now, Metro is sitting on a gusher of money from its two new income taxes for homeless services. Let’s put that money to work to bring immediate relief to our homeless residents and the community at large.
Beautification is a key part of the Pandemic Independence celebration. Get the Portland Bureau of Transportation street sweepers to clear our roads. Get the graffiti abatement teams out there to remove the tagging. Work with SOLVE, Downtown Portland Clean & Safe, neighborhood associations, and whoever wants to help to pick up litter and clean up our city.
For too long, our local government leaders have given up on leadership and given up on governing. They spend enormous energy passing tax increases, imposing burdens on businesses and residents, and using identity politics to settle scores. They seem to have forgotten that we elected them in hopes they’d make all our lives better, not worse. This post-pandemic reopening is their chance to shine. They can lead by reopening the programs and services our taxes pay for, cleaning up the messes left by years of neglect and deferred maintenance, and restoring peace and safety in our community. If we start this summer with an environment where residents feel safe and businesses can flourish, our Pandemic Independence celebration will fuel a rapid recovery and return to normal—or even better than normal.
Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article originally appeared in The Portland Tribune on April 2, 2021.
Vlad Yurlov, Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, provided testimony on Portland City Council’s Shelter to Housing Continuum
March 30, 2021
Portland City Council,
I’m Vlad Yurlov, policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute. It’s time to free all residential development from design review.
Since 2015, Portland has been operating under consecutive housing emergencies. Under the emergency declarations, the city has expedited the design review process for affordable housing. The Shelter to Housing Continuum you are now considering would exempt outdoor shelters from design review.
I am glad that the City Council has recognized design review as one of the key roadblocks to increasing the supply of housing in Portland. Design review does not just stand in the way of supplying affordable housing and shelter for our homeless residents. Design review stands in the way of providing market rate housing too. I urge City Council to go further and remove design review requirements for all residential development in Portland.
As the Council knows, the design review process adds delays, expenses, and confusion to all types of housing, not just affordable housing and shelter for homeless residents. The delays, expenses, and confusion that affect residential developments are a key reason for Portland’s continuing affordability and homelessness crisis.
Design review for residential developments typically takes between 42 and 90 days. That’s up to three months that could have been spent building more housing units. These burdens apply to the City’s affordable housing bond projects as well. Developers are left to appeal to the subjective whims of Portland’s design commission.
I hope you remember Landon Crowell’s proposed development at 1122 SE Ankeny Street. Starting in 2016, Crowell spent an absurd 18 months and $200,000 in fees trying to meet the design commission’s demands. Even after the commission agreed the project was consistent with Portland Zoning Code, Crowell was denied his right to supply Portland with more housing. The design commission’s main concern was that building in accordance with “development standard allowances” was incompatible with the unique lot that Crowell had to work with. In September 2017, Portland City Council unanimously overturned the design review commission’s decision and allowed Crowell to build.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 2, 2021
Cascade Policy Institute
4850 SW Scholls Ferry Rd., Ste. 103
Portland, OR 97213
Say your roof is leaking and you call a roofer for a quote. If they say “I’ll have to charge you the highest rate in the region” before saying hello, you’d probably just hang up. Oregon’s leaky roof is infrastructure spending. Instead of hanging up the phone, Oregon’s legislators may force every contractor to charge your tax dollars the highest rates on every public works project, by signing House Bill 2491 or Senate Bill 493.
A prevailing wage is the rate of pay that contractors must offer their employees on public works projects such as highway repair, affordable housing construction, and public school improvements. Oregon’s prevailing wages are currently calculated through independent wage surveys conducted by the state’s labor commissioner. Instead, HB 2491 and SB 493 would tie prevailing wages to the highest wages in collective bargaining agreements.
On March 25th, Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio told the federal House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that Americans are “tired of potholes, they’re tired of detours, failed bridges, [and] congestion….” All of these problems are rampant in Oregon, and they’ll only get worse under the new prevailing wage proposals. Nonetheless, Oregon’s legislature is teeing up HB 2491 and SB 493, which would only make it more difficult to meet infrastructure needs on a controlled budget.
Oregon should learn from its northern neighbor before adopting the same kind of language. In 2018, Washington voted to tie prevailing wages to the highest wages of union contracts in their regions.
The Association of Washington Housing Authorities reported, “As a result of this legislation, prevailing wages for residential trades saw dramatic increases that have put in peril some affordable housing projects and weatherization programs.” Furthermore, Washington’s government affairs director of Associated General Contractors pointed out that one contract representing less than 13% of the total operator hours in the region was able to dictate wages for the other 87%. The result of tying prevailing wages to the highest collective bargaining agreement in the region destroyed the concept of prevailing wages, because “prevailing” implies some sort of prevalence. If Oregon follows in Washington’s footsteps, expect similar results.
ECONorthwest studied the impact of Washington’s policy and projected the effect of similar legislation on Oregon’s affordable housing projects. After applying Washington’s wage spikes, ECONorthwest estimated that a newly constructed 200-unit affordable housing project in Oregon would cost about 10% more.
The Oregon School Boards Association is also warning Oregon’s legislature. Public school districts use bonds to fund improvements that are considered public works. On behalf of OSBA, Lori Sattenspiel told the House Business and Labor Committee that “this bill could push bond project costs up significantly….” Aging schools and COVID-related projects would all be caught in a “perfect storm.”
Cascade Policy Institute policy analyst Vlad Yurlov says, “If HB 2419 or SB 493 pass, the Legislature will paint taxpayers into a corner. Public infrastructure will be in demand, but if the prevailing wage is always tied to the highest collective bargaining agreement, the price of the infrastructure will continue to outpace government budgets. Taxpayers will have to cover the additional expenses whether they want to or not.”
Oregonians are lucky that Washington experimented with sending the prevailing wage on an unlimited upward spiral a few years ago. Now, our legislators must learn from the mistakes and avoid the same pitfalls. The evidence clearly shows that tying prevailing wages to the highest collective bargaining agreement is a problem that we don’t need to bear. Transportation infrastructure, affordable housing, and schools are expensive enough as it is. Oregon legislators should vote no on HB 2419 and SB 493.
Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free-market public policy research center. Cascade’s mission is to explore and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. For more information, visit cascadepolicy.org.