News You Might Have Missed – February 12

Sorry for missing last week’s news roundup! I was off taking a bit of break from, you know, everything. It’s always important to take care of your mental health, and one of the most surefire ways of doing so is deleting social media from your phone and unplugging from the internet for a week.

It works wonders.

Of course, I spoiled some of that bliss by reading parts of Andy Ngo’s book and getting all riled up about how terrible of writer he is. But I also played a lot of NBA 2k21, so it balanced out.

Anyway, The Good News is that the local news has been somewhat slow, so I didn’t miss much. The Bad News is that I’m still catching up on all the latest developments, much like you are.

So let’s jump in.

City Declines to Renew Natural Gas Contract, Councilors Clark and Zelenka Show Frustrations

The ongoing campaign by a coalition of climate activists won a key battle when the City of Eugene declined to renew their franchise contract with NW Natural on Monday, Feb. 12.

While the decision is not a complete ban on natural gas utilities or other fossil fuel derivatives, the expiration of the contract on May 11 will mean that NW Natural will find it harder to build new gas pipelines and infrastructure within city limits.

The negotiations between NW Natural and the City of Eugene were detailed in meeting materials released by the City Council, which includes an annotated copy of the existing natural gas contract. Among the revelations in the materials was a caveat that would’ve allowed NW Natural to cancel the contract within 30 days if state or local governments passed new regulations for natural gas utilities. It also showed how Eugene generated revenue by essentially renting public right-of-way to the utility for the construction of new gas lines.

City councilors framed the non-renewal as an impasse in negotiations. Climate activists considered it a win for their cause.

Activists have been pressuring Eugene’s City Council for months, attending every public meeting and flooding the public comment portion with testimony from concerned citizens and climate advocates. 

While most of the council voiced support for ending the franchise agreement, Councilors Mike Clark and Alan Zelenka showed signs of frustration with the constant testimony offered by citizens and climate activists.

“I don’t very much appreciate all these people that are demonizing those of us that…disagree on tactics,” said Councilor Zelenka, who considers himself a local leader on climate issues. “I’ve been working on this for 35 years, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to question people’s commitment to acting on climate change, especially if they’ve been doing for longer than people have been alive. I actually think a collaborative agreement with NW Natural will get us further and faster than a Plan B, and I think it’s naive to think that a Plan B will be easy or cheap or fast. It’s probably actually none of those.”

He then went on to complain about the tone and tenor of youth climate activists and how they represent the problem of the body politic.”

Similarly, Councilor Clark, who is facing calls for his resignation following comments he made during a council meeting in January, claimed that the hours of testimony presented before the council was not representative of the rest of Eugene. He noted that the Chamber of Commerce had not been included in the negotiations, and said he wanted to hear from “the general public” about the issue as well.

For her part, Mayor Vinis applauded the city’s decision, but vowed to continue negotiations with the utility “if they want to negotiate with us.”

EPD Chief Testifies In Defense of Oregon’s Unlawful Assembly Law

EPD Chief Chris Skinner made an appearance before the Oregon Legislature to defend the state law allowing police forces to declare unlawful assemblies.

State representatives are currently debating on a measure to repeal the law, which has been used by police in Portland, Salem, and Eugene as a pretext for crowd dispersal. Most recently, it was used in Eugene after a fight broke out at the Jan. 9 fascist rally in front of the Federal courthouse, but was quickly rescinded after things settled down.

Skinner, speaking as a representative of Oregon’s police and sheriffs associations, said that the law was necessary to prevent “extreme violence” during protests and rallies.

“Repealing this statute will eliminate a valuable tool that law enforcement uses to disperse unlawful gatherings and de-escalate tensions when violence and threats to community safety become likely,” Skinner said.

As currently written, the law allows police to make arrests before any crimes have been committed, but lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union–which is leading the charge to repeal the law–noted that “police in Portland have regularly declared Black Lives Matter protests to be unlawful assemblies but not gatherings of white supremacists, which are sometimes violent.”

ACLU representatives said that similar laws have already been repealed in other states as violations of First Amendment guarantees of free speech and assemblies.

The legislature plans to vote on a slate of police reform bills by March.

Remember How the City Said It Wasn’t Going to Evict the City’s Unhoused Encampments?

Well, they did it anyway.

Matthew O-G over at Solidarity News has a great write-up on the ongoing sweeps in Eugene.

Memory Care Workers in Springfield Announce Formation of Union

Workers at The Rawlin, a healthcare facility for patients with Alzheimers’ and dementia, announced the formation of a union back on Feb. 1. 

The nascent union is demanding immediate recognition of their union, formed under SEIU 503, as well concrete steps to protect both workers and the residents of the long-term care facility. Onelife, the parent company of The Rawlin, has so far declined to recognize the union. As a result, workers plan to go on strike starting next week.

The facility is currently experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 that has already claimed the lives of six elderly patients. Studies have shown that COVID mortality rates at unionized nursing homes are 30% lower than facilities without unions.

After Rawlin workers announced their intent to unionize, the SEIU released a series of videos with testimony from workers about the conditions they experienced on the job. They’re available on YouTube.

New From DSM

In their latest column, Janusz Malo wrote about how the Queer community will benefit from Oregon’s move to decriminalize drugs 

Coming Soon: A Deep Dive into Eugene’s History of Unrest

On Monday, DoubleSided Media will be releasing the first of a whopping SEVEN PART SERIES on Eugene’s history of protest, activism, and unrest, written by Editor-in-Chief MG Belka and Editor-at-Large James Croxton. 

The series will explore how Eugene transformed itself from a working-class timber town to a center of unrest, how the city’s neoliberal establishment co-opts protest movements, and how the recent incursion of far-right agitators is rooted in over a century of racist resent in the southern Willamette Valley.

The following Monday, Feb. 22, the authors will host a live Q&A, where readers will be able to pick their brains on all the strange little quirks they’ve learned about this town’s history and learn even more from the people who experienced it for themselves.

We worked hard on this story, and we certainly hope you like what we’ve created.

Here’s Something Kinda Weird

You ever notice that the Register-Guard puts their protest coverage in the “Business” section of their website?

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