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2020 Post Forum Candidate Submissions

October 15, 2020

Candidate responses to questions

Maryanne Miensner answers forum questions:

La Grande City Council Candidate forum 2. In what ways could La Grande improve economic development?  What is
your opinion on Urban Renewal Funds and their effectiveness over the years?  What changes would you like to see made if any?

In order to improve Eco Dev, I believe La Grande must offer to current and potential employers’ educated workers, affordable housing at all levels, shopping availability, recreational opportunities, and a safe environment. The first answer, a lot of people will say is recruitment of new businesses which is true; however, we can also obtain these results by supporting our current local businesses and helping them stabilize and grow.

We need to encourage our students to become educated in a variety of areas. We are in a unique situation by having access to Eastern Oregon University which does address this issue for many of our youth; however, we can’t forget the trade schools. Not all people are geared for college. Becoming a plumber, electrician, auto mechanic, workers in the health industry, etc. are all valuable occupations which provide for family wage earning jobs.

My opinion on the effectiveness of the Urban Renewal Funds Urban Renewal Agency was started in 1999 and a distinct boundary was established. The intent of the program was to cure and prevent conditions of blight and to improve physical, economic and social conditions within the UR district. The Agency was formed by an Ordinance of the City Council before I was on the council; however, I was a member of the first UR Advisor Commission. The Goals and Objectives of the Agency are: Revitalize Downtown, Create High Quality Family Wage Jobs, Retail Development, Housing, Transportation, and Community Facilities. By using UR Funds many businesses have
been expanded, relocated, or opened. At first the funds were used to purchase land and develop the LG Business & Tech Park, Big H street scape project and the Adams Ave Streetscape, contribute to the Liberty Theater, IOOF (Seth Pennington project – now home to Tap That Growlers), downtown upper floor apartments, façade grants to name a few.

UR Funds have a Public Investment estimated cost of $3,250,000 versus an estimated Private Investments of around $19,000,000. Please contact the city or me for a more complete financial calculation and/or list of projects. Therefore, I believe that the use of UR Funds has a great value to our community. Several time over the years and again in the 2020-21 budget the council made the decision to under levy the URA which allowed money to be returned to the other taxing districts.

3. Should La Grande have dispensaries for recreational marijuana in the city limits? Why or why not?
I personally don’t support recreational marijuana stores in La Grande. One of the arguments in favor of these stores is revenue. I agree it is enticing; nevertheless, I am not sure it is worth it. As more stores have opened in adjacent counties, the total available revenue will be reduced per county. Also if Measure 110 passes, the revenue from these sales will be disbursed to help cover the expenses to fund this measure.

Although I realize it is a personal choice for people to use these products, I also feel that it is counterproductive for employment to have recreational marijuana stores since several of our larger employers require drug tests for hiring or performing random drug testing.

In the future I feel strongly that if the citizens wish to have recreational marijuana stores in La Grande, it needs to happen through a citizen initiative. There was an attempt this year to place it on the ballot, but they were not able to gather enough signatures due to the virus keeping people home. I have heard that there might be a request to ask the council to place it on the next ballot; if this was to happen, I would not support it. I believe it is not the role of a city council to supersede the method of the public initiative by placing this issue on a ballot.

Corrine Dutto

In what ways could La Grande improve economic development? What is your opinion on Urban Renewal Funds and their effectiveness over the years? What changes would you like to see made if any?

I think that improving our housing stock and improving broadband availability would make La Grande a more attractive place to start up or move a business. We do not have enough low and middle income housing stock to support an influx of workers from a medium or large size business added to our community. Improving internet connectivity is essential to a modern business and we currently have some limitations in our internet speed.

Highway closures in the winter are a barrier to any type of manufacturing business that ships out product. At the state level, we need reduced winter highway speed limits and stiffer penalties for semis involved in wrecks that were not obeying the speed limits, not using chains.

I was a huge skeptic of the Urban Renewal Agency when I was on the budget committee and when I joined the City Council. There was no data on if the funds were being spent effectively and the funds were being spent on many different programs. It seemed like we were just throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what would stick. The projects seemed very random and with little real focus or purpose. Since that time, we have come up with data to show that the tax base in the central business zone actually increased at a rate higher than the rest of the city, showing that the investment in that area was paying off, producing increased tax revenue for the city. Some programs were not effective and have been dropped. The purpose of the Call for Projects is not to prop up businesses, but to improve the structures in which businesses are housed. That is what has value to the city via taxes and through aesthetics. It is not our job to underwrite businesses with taxpayers’ money. However, we can help businesses with their structures which helps the business with growth and helps the city meet the requirements of the Urban Renewal District.

I hope that we can do an inventory of businesses based in the City of La Grande and find out our gaps. Then we can support the establishment of new businesses to fill those gaps and expand into areas where we have not ventured. Again, if we do not have the infrastructure to support new businesses, we cannot significantly grow our business community.

Should La Grande have dispensaries for recreational marijuana in the city limits? Why or why not?
I am fully in support of medical marijuana. It can be a very effective pharmacologic for many diseases and I have seen it make a positive impact on quality of life for some of my patients. I personally voted NO on the statewide ballot measure which legalized recreational marijuana in the state of Oregon. We on the Council spent a great deal of time researching, listening, and debating whether La Grande should have growing, manufacturing and dispensaries in La Grande. By law, if you accept one of the pieces of the industry, you accept all three. The City can tax the sales if it is allowed, but gets no additional revenue for police to deal with law enforcement issues related to marijuana if it is legalized within the city. I spoke with many different individuals on this topic. I spoke with our law enforcement and discussed what impacts legalization has had on Colorado and Washington and what resources they were using to deal with marijuana issues. I spoke with teenagers who told me it didn’t matter if it was legal-they could get it if they wanted. I spoke with people whose children were addicted to narcotics, which is tragic. I spoke with Grannies who drove to Pendleton to get their marijuana medicines. In the end, the overwhelming public comments on my email and at the council meeting helped me to decide to vote no on growing, manufacturing and dispensaries. Recreational marijuana could create such a change in the landscape of our city that I recommend that if anyone wants recreational marijuana in the city limits, they will need to petition and put it up for a vote of the citizens. I do not think this is an issue that should be decided by just 7 of our citizens, even if they are elected to represent the citizens.

Given your knowledge of La Grande, can you ever imagine a time as a La Grande City Council member where you would vote to limit the authority of Law Enforcement?
Some cities have some terrible laws or procedures that allow law enforcement officers to do some of the horrific things to citizens that we have seen in the news over the past few years. I do not think these policies are good for anyone. They obviously allow for mistaken identity and physical abuses that place citizens at risk. They also place our law enforcement officers in greater danger. Such instances are also very costly to cities. Within this last year, I have inquired about our policing policies and we have no such policies here. I see no need to limit the authority of our police because the policies that we currently have on the books are sound policies and allow our law enforcement to do their jobs well. Our police do an excellent job. We have an infinitesimal amount of complaints about our police officers or police department. So I see no reason to change anything we are currently doing as far as law enforcement. I think one reason we have so few complaints is because our officers live in our community. They are our neighbors. They have a vested interest in our community. They care about our citizens. And we support them.