Friday, August 7, 2009

The Truth about the Incumbent's "Appreciation" of the Arts

Though my opponent hasn't shown any interest in the arts at all over his last 20 years in office, he seems to have suddenly woken up and realized it might be a good campaign tactic to "care."

In today's Columbian, Jeff Mize reported on the mayor's sudden announcement at this week's City Council meeting that Pollard intends to re-convene an arts commission. That's a convenient change of heart, given that it was his administration that summarily disbanded the city's cultural commission a few years ago.

A few members of the arts community are working with Pollard on his plan to create a commission that is controlled by the city but unfunded and unstaffed. Many, many others in the arts community are coming forth to share their opinions on this half-cocked plan.

Here is a note from Jaynie Roberts, Artistic Director of Vancouver's Magenta Theater Company:

My experience with current city government and the arts…..

I served on the Vancouver Cultural Commission from May 2004 until it was abruptly disbanded in 2005. I have a framed letter on my wall, from Royce Pollard, as evidence of such.

I formed Arts in the Chamber – a program that brought the arts into City Council meetings. The perception was that council members were too busy to attend arts events so by bringing the water to the horses, perhaps they would drink and develop a thirst for more. Vietnamese musicians, actors, musical theater performers, and a Celtic violinist brought their talent to the meetings and were well received (I thought) until I was informed that the program was no longer to be included in the meetings. End of Arts in the Chamber.

I participated in the long drawn-out discussions about Wendy the Welder – a sculpture that now (finally) sits on the waterfront. I was in awe of how long it took to get Wendy from blueprint to final resting place. Good grief!

I attended numerous off-site functions where Cultural Commission presence was requested. I chatted with visitors from Japan – in Japanese. It was difficult for the visitors to remember my name, as Cultural Commission members were not provided with name badges. So, I took it upon myself (with the ok from our City liaison) to design and purchase badges for all Cultural Commissioners. The name badges were such a positive move that the months of waiting for reimbursement hardly seemed problematic. (Although I did object slightly to the fact I had to provide my entire credit card statement to prove I had made the purchase.) Shortly thereafter, the name badges became obsolete. Mine now serves as a shiny refrigerator magnet.

I was puzzled and confused when a Cultural Commission meeting was cancelled because City Hall was locked and we couldn’t get in. I was highly offended when I was informed through the grapevine that the Commission had been disbanded. All of this was handled in such an unprofessional manner, that I felt used, abused, minimized and dismissed.

I could go on and on about my experiences with the Cultural Commission but I can sum it all up by saying this. I would never, ever serve in any official capacity on any commission or committee under the ‘leadership’ of Royce Pollard ever again. I was burned, I was offended, I was pushed aside, I was treated rudely. Ugh!

Jaynie Roberts, Former Member City of Vancouver Cultural Commission

OREGONIAN Editorial Board Out of Touch--Tolls are Unnecessary and Unjust!

On Monday, August 3rd, the Oregonian Editorial Board presented a piece endorsing tolling of a new Interstate 5 bridge. Citing that tolling would help manage congestion and that tolling as a concept is nothing new for the I-5 Bridge, the Editorial Board attempts to justify the tolls as a necessity in order to build a new bridge.


First of all, if the purpose of tolling is to manage congestion, then why build a new bridge at all? Leave the current bridge and unsafe interchanges in place. That alone will 'manage' congestion -- and we'll save $4 billion. If the goal of tolling is to encourage commuters to utilize light rail transit or buses, then why build a new bridge at all? Just build a light rail bridge and extend the rail into Vancouver. Again, keeping the existing bridge will 'manage' congestion. Oh ... wait a minute ... my apologies, these are options that a number of public officials VERY MUCH PREFER!

If the desired purpose of tolling is to push discretionary travel to off-peak hours, thereby freeing up space for freight and commuter travel, then the premise is faulty. I'd like to see someone -- anyone! -- come forward publicly and explain that they CHOOSE to sit in rush hour traffic just for the heck of it. I'm betting there aren't a whole lot of people who pile onto the bridge each morning just to to grab a scone and coffee at a café in downtown Portland.

The presumption that commuters can control their hours of travel -- that thousands of employers in the Portland-Metro Area will allow commuting employees to show their faces at work at 11am to avoid high tolls is PREPOSTEROUS.

The presumption that mothers and fathers can even change their work hours that dramatically, taking into account childcare, parental responsibilities and other life circumstances is PREPOSTEROUS.

The presumption that senior citizens, hard working families, and the lower-income workforce can afford another $1,500 (minimum) in tolling costs each and every year, is PREPOSTEROUS.

The presumption that commuters ought to be willing to sacrifice another 1-1.5 hours of their day to commute on light rail transit or buses, in order to avoid tolls, is PREPOSTEROUS.

I'm envious of those folks who are ardent supporters of tolls, because they have something going that allows them to sock it to the rest of us -- Some have publicly admitted that they have no reason to routinely travel between Washington and Oregon; some are wealthy enough that they can easily afford a $4-6 toll each way during the peak commute; some don't even live in our community and never have to cross the Columbia River; some know the project won't be finished within their lifetime so they won't be around to have to worry about tolls; some are too closed-minded to think creatively about how to accomplish this project without the brunt of tolls on our families and businesses; and frankly, some are just plain out of touch with our community.

I agree with the Oregonian Editorial Board on one point: I am ticked off.

Who is representing the hard-working families and businesses of the Portland-Metro region, and particularly SW Washington? It's certainly not the Oregonian Editorial Board. It's certainly not local elected officials, like Vancouver's current Mayor, Royce Pollard. Nor are a number of other higher-up elected officials. Nor are transplants from the east coast, who proudly proclaim that tolls are a way of life. Tolls may be a given on the other side of the country, but one of the reasons many of us are here in the west coast is because it's NOT like the east coast!

You see, it's quite easy to force an issue onto the public when you don't have to worry about facing that public every day to listen to the hardship and explain why your position just cost jobs, homes and closure of businesses. It's easy to force a matter onto the public when you have only a few months or years left in public office, and then can go into retirement and out of the public eye.

The answer to building this project without tolls is really quite easy, as I've explained before:

#1) Feds step up and build the bridge at their cost. The bridge is a federal asset, and if anything, is a poster project for federal stimulus money. Build the bridge and the two interchanges on either side of the River. Our representatives just found another $2 billion for the Cash for Clunkers program. How about $2 billion for the most important public works project in the Pacific Northwest, if not the entire West Coast of the United States of America? This project is estimated to be in construction for a DECADE, creating thousands of jobs.

#2) Feds have already committed money to build the light rail extension. So build it.

#3) Remaining Cost --- Five interchanges to be improved will occur as money becomes available. Interchanges have generally been more a responsibility of the States and Local, with some support from the Feds. The estimated cost of improving the five interchanges is around $1 billion. Recently, the State of Washington committed some $1 billion to projects in the Seattle/Puget Sound area. As cash flow is available in Oregon and Washington, the interchanges can be improved. The result will be a longer construction period, but we'll only be spending money we have--not borrowing credit that's being paid off on the backs of Vancouver's working class.

And guess what? No tolls necessary.

Let's be creative. Dump the status-quo attitudes and get on with productive business. Some of us are actually invested in the future of this region, and we won't tolerate otherwise.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Local 307VC AFSCME Agree to Save the City Nearly $400,000

Today, it was announced that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Local 307VC, have voted to approve a two-year contract with the City of Vancouver that includes no wage increases. This action was taken by Local membership in recognition of the city's continuing budget challenges, and will save the City up to $398,000 for 2009.

AFSCME is the largest union within the national AFL-CIO, representing 152 city employees in the Water Maintenance, Wastewater Maintenance, Greenway/Sensitive Lands Maintenance, Street Maintenance, Storm Water Maintenance, Facility Maintenance, Traffic Signal, Traffic Sign, Warehouse and Dispatch Divisions of the Public Works Department, as well as the administrative/clerical unit of the City Attorney's Office.

In June, AFSCME announced its endorsement of me, over the incumbent, in the race for the Vancouver Mayor's seat. The Local 307VC President, Ron Fredin, says of their endorsement, “Leavitt is truly committed to collaboration and relationship-building, has respect for labor issues, and boasts an unmatched record on advocating for jobs that pay family wage.”

I am so proud and honored to have the endorsement of a group that would make this kind of sacrifice. The rank and file of our city employees -- those who are out in our community taking care of our roads, utilities, sensitive lands, and protecting the interests of the citizens of Vancouver --- are to be commended for sacrificing for the greater benefit of the entire City. I am proud of them, and I am honored that they believe in my leadership as the next Mayor of Vancouver.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Vancouver and the Arts

In the past couple of weeks, the incumbent mayor's campaign has finally started to pay some attention to the state of arts and culture in Vancouver. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I am duly flattered. I've been working with and talking about supporting and celebrating Vancouver's arts and culture for quite some time now--it's a pleasure to welcome Mr. Pollard to the party.

Vancouver has the potential and the resources to be a community thriving with performing, visual and cultural arts -- and with that, could be seen as a unique destination for enthusiasts and tourists. Look to other nearby locations like Leavenworth, Washington, or Ashland, Oregon. For two years now, I’ve been speaking to the need for returning our local arts community back to center stage with a sincere commitment. We need more than "lip service" if anything is to survive and thrive.

It’s clear we have a wealth of local artists, performers and culture right here in our own community. Unfortunately, leadership over the past 14 years has shown no interest in nourishing and nurturing our local vibe.

I’m thrilled that the incumbent is now taking notice. It's amazing how election season brings about convenient changes of heart. But to do so in a tangible and impactful way will take more than a nod to the arts community and the simple acknowledgement of an Arts Commission.

Those performers and artists that have struggled to keep their businesses open over the past 14 years can speak to this.

The City once had such a commission, but it was underfunded, understaffed, and unsupported. Then it was summarily dismissed when it didn't produce what leadership wanted to hear.

What we are currently hearing from the incumbent is a half-hearted proposal to ‘re-recognize’ an Arts Commission, help them become a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and offer extremely limited staff support.

To fully realize the opportunities we have here in Vancouver for arts and culture, an Arts Commission is going to need some ‘teeth’, some real support and resources to build a strong foundation for which to be successful. I will recommend more than an acknowledgement, and request that the business and development interests meet with the arts community and City to strategize about moving forward collectively and with the resources necessary to allow for the viability of an Arts Commission and the flourishing of our local arts and culture.

Also, I'm pleased to hear that the Vancouver Downtown Association has taken interest in my idea about closing off lower Main Street to vehicles and allowing for a street fair during the weekends. I've experienced street fairs during my travels to many other cities -- they appear to be hugely successful for promoting local community and business. Most recently, I was in Chicago attending one of five street fairs occurring that particular weekend. There were tens of thousands of visitors enjoying food, music and buying things like artwork, crafts and sculptures from local artists. I envision Vancouver having its own version of these fairs, or even an 'institution' like Beale Street, in Memphis, Tennessee--but with the very specific, unique talent and spirit of Vancouver, Washington.