Tuesday, May 26, 2009

City Council can barely decide to consider whether to decide upon a recommendation to be decided later

The public hearing on the proposed changes to permit up to three hens as a permitted land use in residential-single (RS) zoned areas of Salem nearly foundered tonight. A bare 5-vote majority of the Council was determined to have some kind of hen-allowing result, but the only thing that could get five votes was to kick the can over to the Planning Commission so that they can ponder the imponderables awhile and then report something back to the City Council (after a mandatory public hearing and at least a 45-day process), when the process will begin again, exactly where it left off.

In other words, it was a grim night at City Hall, till nearly 11 p.m. We almost lost it entirely, although the Mayor's throwing her support to allowing hens in some form saved the day and was very welcome indeed.

The bottom line is that there are a number of councilors who need to ask themselves some fundamental questions about why they serve on city council and how they have come to see their role as conflict-avoidance cops who have a very low opinion of Salem residents.

These councilors all make what Ward 1's Chuck Bennett called "obsequious" bows to the Chickens in the Yard advocates, hmmming and hawwing about how all the CITY folks would, of course, be "impeccable" at keeping hens without causing problems ("Compliance" boss Brady Rogers' term). But, after acknowledging that anyone who is motivated can care for hens properly, these councilors turned right around and voted to say, in effect, that it doesn't matter.

Instead of seeing local government as the agent for building community, they see government's job as anticipating the worst conduct from people and preparing accordingly. In other words, your reward for being a solid citizen is to be ignored in favor of governmental policies that are built on the low opinion of that the councilors have of most of us.

Of course, the miscreants that these councilors fear --- and thus, the ones they actually pay attention to when considering policies -- don't care what the council does or doesn't do. The irresponsible will keep chickens (including roosters) if they want, just like they keep pit bulls, play loud music at all hours, and other anti-social things. And they will play games with any enforcement scheme. The net result of the government as cop mindset that these councilors have is the conflict-avoidance of the no-man's-land: avoiding conflict by privileging objections over actions, giving anyone with a fear a trump card.

The anti-chicken councilors call ignoring the wishes of the responsible citizenry because of fears about irresponsible ones "avoiding conflict" but it actually just decides the conflict in favor of intrusive government that thinks badly of most of its citizens.

As the Mayor said, we've got lots of real issues in Salem that could benefit from this intense level of scrutiny from Council: graffiti, often gang-inspired if not directly gang-related, abandoned cars, homelessness, hunger, high rates of teen pregnancy and dropping out of school. In the face of all these difficult problems, the Salem City Council is apparently not yet ready to let its residents keep a few hens.

Weird juxtaposition: Another presentation, donation, and plaudits for the work of the Marion-Polk Food Share at the start of the meeting tonight. Followed by a couple of hours of hemming and hawing about whether home henkeeping is really saving money or would help with food security or not. Bizarre.

And as much as one might try to respect the opponents, most of them embarass themselves. One in particular tried to tie meth labs to chickens (some meth addicts have tried making meth in chicken coops before! -- but of course that applies to bathtubs too, so . . . ) and then ordered all pro-chicken types to move to the country. Another argued that we shouldn't have urban hens for eggs because it would cut the income of local farmers out in the counties. I guess we shouldn't be allowed to grow vegetables for the same reason.

Excellent! Support local farmers right here in Salem

Nice! For about $3 a week, the "Travel Salem" office on High St. is offering to serve as a drop-off point for the "Community Supported Agriculture" (CSA) shares from French Prairie Farm in St. Paul -- so you can have fresh, local produce delivered for you to downtown Salem and ride your bike over and pick it up (or pick it up on your way home from work. You'll save more than the cost of delivery to Salem just in gas alone, not to mention wear and tear on you and your car.
Area program offers fresh produce

Travel Salem has partnered with French Prairie Gardens' community-supported agriculture program.

The program allows busy people to get farm-fresh produce each week.

Participants receive 18 weeks of produce during the growing season. "Harvest Boxes" can be delivered or picked up at the farm.

Travel Salem will act as a drop-point for CSA members in the Salem area to pick up their goods at the Travel Cafe, 181 High St. NE .

Harvest Boxes containing eight to 12 fruits and vegetables, which vary throughout the season. Each box will contain about $20 in produce.

Recipients will get a newsletter with recipes and ideas for produce use. They are offered free admission to French Prairie Gardens' Strawberry Festival, set for June 18-21, and invited to cooking and canning classes.

Season membership runs June 3 to Sept. 30. Cost is $350 and delivery to the Travel Cafe costs an extra $50. For information or to sign up, visit www.FPGardens.com or call (503) 633-8445.

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Wonderful idea -- let's grab it

Salem should implement ASAP. There are modified bikes that roar along 17th and other major ways through Salem that are so loud that the 2 a.m. train whistles seem like sweet whispers in comparison.
KENNEWICK, Wash. — If police in Kennewick have their way, the city in southeast Washington will be quieter this summer.

Officers are planning emphasis patrols over the coming month to crack down on modified vehicle exhaust systems and thumping car stereos.

The Tri-City Herald reports that officers will issue tickets with fines of $350 for loud stereos and exhaust systems.

City law in Kennewick prohibits car stereo systems from being played loud enough to be heard more than 50 feet from the vehicle. And car exhaust systems cannot be modified to amplify engine noise.


One of the things we can look forward to once Peak Oil is inarguably (rather than, as now, arguably) in the past is the end of the belief that we can maintain any kind of decent living by educating children to do nothing more useful than chase pixels around on video screens and manufacture arguments to suit the desired outcome of the employer-du-jour: knowledge work, in other words.

The schools in Salem seem to have caught the "college for all" fever pretty hard, but we're still in the middle of farm country down here --- which means we're well-positioned for a return to educating kids in the most basic, most useful, and most important skill of all: that of feeding yourself with food you know to be good in such a way that you can continue to do so indefinitely (nice, saying all that without using the "S" word that is so trendy, eh?).

NYTimes Magazine has a great extended piece on someone who has managed to put aside his BS "educated" jobs for a real one, doing something useful, fixing motorcycles.

If I had one piece of advice to whisper to grads today --- and for the next umpteen years --- like the guy in "The Graduate," advising "Plastics," I would say this:

"Learn how to grow/raise your own food or how to be useful/indispensible to people who do."

I don't think there's a more important field of study than that in any pre-college curriculum.