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Day: December 12, 2014

Good fences make good neighbors


You may ask after reading the article in last week’s Keizertimes, (Council clears buffer in KRP plan, Dec. 5), why is there so much talk about the “good neighbor buffer” at Keizer Rapids Park? I would like to clarify the reason for the request from the West Keizer Neighborhood Association in regards to the 2014 amendments to the Keizer Rapids Park master plan.

The “good neighbor buffer” was one of the agreed upon amenities to add to the KRP master plan in 2006. It was even considered a “common given” along with a boat ramp, canoe camp, trail system and conservation easement to incorporate into the park. Hundreds of citizens were involved with a charette process to determine the best design for the new regional park.  Park architects created six plans, all of which included a 75-100 foot area in the 120 acre park adjacent to the existing neighboring properties along the eastern boundary.

The buffer was to consist of greenery, trees and shrubs that would add to the natural beauty of the park.  It would screen off a view of chain link fence and the backside of houses and buildings.  Park users could walk along the pathway and feel like they were in a semi-wooded area and not next to a housing development.  The buffer would enhance the experience of the walkers, runners and bikers in a seemingly natural area.

The other purpose of the buffer was to create a distance of public activities from neighbor’s backyards. For example, placing a picnic shelter or other amenities for other public uses close to the proximity of the neighboring property line could cause potential conflicts from activity on both sides of the fence. In fact, with such a large park there seemed to be no reason to place activities, even picnicking, right next to a neighboring backyard. However, park users would still be allowed to enter this area. It never was intended to be a “no trespassing” area and would always be considered to be park land.

This aspect of distance from park activities is considered to be even more important now that 28 acres of parkland, the filbert orchard, has been added to the park west of the neighborhood. With the addition of soccer fields, a destination play structure and a large softball complex planned to accommodate tournaments the WKNA felt that the buffer should be extended up to Chemawa Road. This action would offer the same consideration to future homeowners adjacent to the park that was given to neighbors to the park in the 2006 master plan.

I want to add that the WKNA supported the addition of the 28 acres of land to the park bringing the total size of the park to approximately 150 acres. After all, parkland is a precious commodity and we were supportive of adding more opportunities for Keizer citizens to get out and enjoy nature at its best. The WKNA was excited to be involved in the planning of a  thoughtfully developed river front park, an asset to our community.

So, although we had asked for 50-75 feet of buffer, we will have to accept the 25 foot buffer.  Time will tell how well this plan works for everyone. We hope that the 2006 intentions of a “good neighbor buffer” adding to everyone’s enjoyment on both sides of the fence will still be able to be accomplished  in the future. Communication by park planners to the adjacent neighborhood will be an important factor in its success.

As plans for development of the park move ahead and more activities are brought into the park, so may be the affects on the neighborhood of noise, parking and traffic on our local streets. Consideration will need to be given to these issues, when and if they arise. Hopes would be that these issues will be non-issues and we can all enjoy a beautiful park.

For many of us our home is our biggest investment and a place of sanctuary. Those things that affect each of us the most are the things that happen next to our homes and in the neighborhood that we drive through.  Anytime our local government can mitigate the effects of any development on neighborhoods in a positive way, it should be given high priority.  In some cases, this may not be feasible, but in other cases, the answer may be as simple as a good neighbor buffer.

(Rhonda Rich is president of the West Keizer Neighborhood Association.)

The responsibility of the majority

“The minority is always aware of who they are in the presence of the majority.” – Mat Johnson

I was at a writer’s conference in Seattle earlier this year when Johnson, an author, imparted that bit of wisdom upon a room packed full of writers seeking a deeper understanding of how to treat those who don’t look like us on the page.

Throughout the weekend, I found myself gravitating to panels and lectures that tackled hard topics like minority representation or how those of us without military backgrounds might write meaningfully about war, but that single line from Johnson is the one that rings in my ears over and over.

It reverberates louder with each unarmed black man and boy we lose to bullets loosed from the guns of those sworn to protect and serve.

Last week, a columnist for this paper suggested that riots in Ferguson – over the lack of indictment in the death of Michael Brown – warranted a response of lethal force. While it is likely true that the fires and destruction of property were the result of a few bad actors, they were surrounded by friends and loved ones who were seeking a higher level of justice. How many of them would have been caught in the crossfire? How many of their lives were worth the relatively few burned cars and broken windows?

Brown was shot repeatedly in a situation where it was him and a lone police officer. Given the numbers on both sides of the lines in Ferguson that night, would a targeted elimination have resulted in anything less than a bloodbath? I have many friends and relatives living in and around St. Louis. Both of my childhood homes were within 15 miles of the intersection where Brown was slaughtered. While there is evidence to suggest Brown himself was shoplifting not long before the incident, his crimes in no way fit the punishment. In light of the whole situation, a “no escalation” policy of dealing with rioters, at the very least, allowed the flare-ups to extinguish themselves relatively quickly.

The columnist also suggested that the release of evidence, given to the grand jury tasked with indicting the officer that shot Brown, should put an end to the discussion. That is also porous thinking. For proof, look no further than the lack of indictment in the case of Eric Garner, a New York man who was choked to death while being accosted by police for selling untaxed cigarettes, another crime which does not fit the punishment. A bystander filmed most of the altercation.

Garner’s frustration is palpable in the resulting video. He speaks emphatically using his hands, but does not move toward either of the officers before being placed in a chokehold from behind. He’s brought to his knees and then the ground before pleading with the officers that he cannot breathe. His death was ruled a homicide by the New York City medical examiner’s office and, still, no indictment was issued against the offending officer.

Early on in the confrontation, Garner can be heard saying, “This stops today.” The exasperation in his voice as he utters those words summons up a litany of racial grievances and strife in this country that most of us appear more unwilling than unable to confront.

For Garner, it did end, but not on his terms. And the list of black men and boys who are meeting the same fate at the hands of police is growing each week. For anyone to suggest more violence in response to the anguish of lost grandfathers, uncles, fathers and sons borders on reprehensible.

Mat Johnson’s words ring loudly in my ears of late, but I’ve also begun to wonder if his statement would have had more impact had he phrased it as a question: Shouldn’t the majority always be aware of what they represent in the presence of minorities?

(Eric A. Howald is associate editor of the Keizertimes.)

Whose recipe for American greatness?

Entertainment happened for me the other day while reading letters to the editor from another newspaper.

The letter writer was, perhaps facetiously, commenting that his best advice to the Democratic party on what their proper candidate for president should be is that he or she “should love the Constitution, the free enterprise system, traditional family values, a powerful and effective military, small government, local control of education, Horatio Alger and overall American greatness.”

The U.S. Constitution was written by 55 male delegates, 39 of whom signed it. It presents itself in seven articles and 10 amendments known as the Bill of Rights.  The  Constitution is and always has been a living document, meaning that it has been and continues to be interpreted. It does not matter which political party is dominant anywhere throughout the federal system, including which party’s standard bearer occupies the White House because, unless we give up the Constitution for some other guiding document, its current form directs the nation.  Regardless of party affiliation, the president must have an affection for the Constitution, if not love it.

The United States does not practice a free enterprise system and it’s highly unlikely, maybe impossible, that a Democrat or Republican could write an executive order to establish a free enterprise system since nothing in existence now resembles such a economic design here.  Anyone with any knowledge of modern day corporate charities, government subsidies, tax breaks and federal regulations  knows that’s not the case and it’s a fool’s fantasy to think it otherwise.

The world is a dynamic place and no place is more dynamic in the world than the United States.  Whatever is identified as “traditional family values” may have been generally true in America at one time—a very long time ago—but the freedom of diversity that had its foundation laid in the U.S. Constitution, with its emphasis on freedoms in the Bill of Rights, sent the nation hurtling through the decades of its existence with evermore liberty and justice for all.

We have a powerful military.  How effective is it?  Except for the 1983 invasion of tiny Grenada (that was no real conflict), the U.S. has not won a war since 1945.  At present our military forces are active and at futile work in the Middle East and it looks like we’ll be there eternally even though our current commander-in-chief promised to free us from such military commitments.  A “Fielded Force Forever” has become our 21st century motto but what’s evolved from mainly a two party system is now the American War Party.

Meanwhile, all our bridges will fail soon and our highways are falling apart, our social services are drying up for those Americans in need, a few Americans are Midas-wealthy while most others are struggling to put food on the table (one in every two American children is hungry) and keep a roof overhead due to the absence of jobs that have been outsourced in the millions overseas. A higher education is more commonly available only to those rare American individuals with the means to afford its price tag or those who are willing to carry its debt into their retirement years.  Family-wage-paying-jobs nowadays go to those with connections; otherwise, it’s the minimum wage at fast food stalls and those numbers currently pump down the unemployment percentage.

Small government is what the Republicans want but it means social service programs take a hike and crime goes big-time.  In Oregon, local control of education went away years ago when voters dumped property taxes onto the trash heap of history and forfeited its warp and woof to state government in the governor’s office and legislative chambers and thereby goes small, local government.

American greatness was a 20th-century phenomenon that began with the Spanish-American War and ended on a day sometime early in the presidency of George W. Bush.  Today, greatness of economy by the spreading of American wealth into a strong middle class and a promising standard of living for all can be more often seen in China, Germany and United Arab Emirates. It’s a diminishing phenomenon in America and, with the GOP controlling both houses of Congress come January, 2015, promises only to speed up and get a whole lot worse.

(Gene H. McIntyre’s column appears weekly in the Keizertimes.)