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North Bend residents concerned about warming center

NORTH BEND — Oregon Coast Community Action and College Park Church had to take a step back in opening their warming center after the public voiced concerns at last Monday’s planning meeting.

College Park Church hoped to open a warming center in North Bend to accommodate a little over 20 people who left out in the cold this winter. The church wanted to focus on providing families with a meal and a place to stay on the coldest nights this winter.

“There was a big turnout from adjacent neighbors to the church. Public comments were directed at the potential for increased crime rates to have a warming center open,” North Bend's City Planner Code Compliance Officer Chelsea Schnabel said.

Based on public concern about crime rates around the warming center the planning commission decided to continue the public hearing to allow for College Park Church to provide more evidence to support compatibility with the residential neighborhood.

 “Essentially what they need to show is that opening a warming center doesn’t correlate with an increase in crime, and not going to be affecting adjacent residential neighbors. I think part of the conversation was that the church wanted to have a community meeting,” Schnabel said.

Because the church is zoned in a residential area, the public has more say in what the space is used for, whereas a place like the Devereux Center in Coos Bay has less trouble opening a warming center because it’s zoned for commercial use.

“When you have a church use in the city of North Bend that use and any accessory use needs to go through the conditional use permit process. This is more than a question of do you meet fire life and safety standards, do you meet building code standards. It can be discretionary and it needs to show that it can be compatible with the adjacent neighborhood and surrounding area. That’s where they’re kind of stuck right now,” Schnabel said.

The planning commission has given the church till Feb. 1 to provide the community with the information on how the Warming center might affect crime in that residential area.

Oregon Coast Community Action representative Maggie Sackrider said “We’re OK with the project being postponed, we want to engage the community. Unfortunately we probably won’t get the warming center open this winter, but any movement in the right direction is a good thing.”

According to Schnabel the church has been very proactive about considering the community throughout the application process, and now they just have to show that it’s not going to have an adverse effect.

 If the church can prove that the warming center won’t negatively affect the community sooner than February then they could potentially get it up and running late this winter.

“If they got that info to me as soon as possible, we could have it on January’s planning commission meeting, but I don’t foresee that happening with the holidays,” Schnabel said. 

Shoppers spending more may make a merry season for retailers

NEW YORK — Shoppers who are feeling good about the economy and spending more than expected on items like kitchen gadgets, toys and coats could make this the best holiday season in several years.

That's good news for retailers, some of which have had few reasons of late to be merry. But there's no question that stores need to keep adapting to how people shop as spending moves online. Customer sentiment could shift again based on how they feel the tax overhaul is affecting them. Tax cuts mean some shoppers may have more money in their pockets, but they could opt to save it instead of spend it.

Experts have issued rosy forecasts for the season. Shoppers seem to be in the mood as unemployment is at 17-year low and consumer sentiment has reached its highest level since 2000.

"I feel confident and optimistic about spending this year," said Jorge Nova of Miami as the shopping began on Thanksgiving weekend, when he lined up at Best Buy and bought a 65-inch TV. "I don't really have a clear budget. It's been a good year for me."

Shoppers are spending at a pace not seen since the Great Recession, says Craig Johnson, president of retail consulting group Customer Growth Partners. Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation, predicts retail sales will meet or exceed the trade group's holiday forecast. That could mark the best performance since 2014. And Tom McGee, CEO of the International Council of Shopping Centers, believes mall traffic and sales were higher than last year as shoppers bought electronics, clothing and toys.

The week leading up to Christmas is critical for stores, accounting for more than 20 percent of traffic for the overall season, says ShopperTrak, which monitors foot traffic. Because of the calendar this year, with a full weekend leading into Christmas, retailers also may see more late shoppers.

"I procrastinate ever year," said Rick Daigneault of Warwick, Rhode Island, who was just starting his shopping last Sunday at his local mall. "It never fails. Christmas Eve, I'm always at CVS looking for stocking stuffers."

First Data, a payment technology firm, puts online sales growth at about double the level at stores. Some analysts have said they expect a large portion of the holiday growth to go toward Amazon, which has been expanding into new areas and putting more kinds of retailers on alert. Amazon had said that Cyber Monday was the biggest shopping day in its history, but didn't provide figures. Estimates suggest the online behemoth accounted for more than 60 percent of all U.S. online sales that day, compared to just under 40 percent on average for the year to date, according to Bain & Co.

LouAnn Vega did all of her shopping online this year, and was finished with more than a week to go before Christmas. She says she discovered a cookware set and clothes online that she couldn't find in the store, and saved money shopping online.

Her family exchanged wish lists that consist of web link after web link. "You can't miss," she said at a suburban Atlanta mall where she came to walk and drink coffee.

Stores are working to adapt. Target increased weekend deals that started in mid-November, and Macy's revamped its loyalty program for its best customers.

But plenty of stores are struggling. Fifty retailers have filed for bankruptcy this year, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Many of them very small companies but some are well-known brands like Payless ShoeSource and Toys R Us. There have been nearly 7,000 announced store closures this year, according to Fung Global Retail & Technology, which exceeds the 2008 peak of 6,200.

But most department stores, which have been struggling over the past three years, seem to have held their own. Macy's Inc. announced in early December it was adding an extra 7,000 holiday temporary workers because of strong traffic. And some specialty clothing chains like Urban Outfitters and American Eagle Outfitters have said that holiday sales have been strong.

While a good season gives stores a boost in confidence and shows their investments are working, they need to keep up with shoppers. Ken Perkins, president of research firm Retail Metrics LLC, is skeptical about whether the momentum will continue through 2018 and wonders if retailers will be able to drive enough foot traffic to make each store profitable.

Plus, McGee and other analysts say it's still unclear how exactly the tax changes will affect consumer spending. But McGee does expect shoppers will feel comfortable about spending with more money available.

Bethany Baker, The World 

Visitors walked around the 31st annual Holiday Lights displays at Shore Acres State Park on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017. The holiday tradition with at least 325, 000 lights is open through Dec. 31, 2017. However, traffic to get into the "community tradition" on Saturday evening spanned over a half a mile from the entrance on Cape Arago Highway.

Bethany Baker, The World 

Visitors walked around the 31st annual Holiday Lights displays at Shore Acres State Park on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017. The holiday tradition with at least 325, 000 lights is open through Dec. 31, 2017. However, traffic to get into the "community tradition" on Saturday evening spanned over a half a mile from the entrance on Cape Arago Highway.

Whale Watching Week starts Wednesday
Best time to watch whales from the Oregon coast is Dec. 27 through Dec. 31

COOS COUNTY — The five best days to watch whales from the Oregon coast is this week.

The days running from Dec. 27 to Dec. 31 are known as Whale Watch Week.

Jan Hodder, senior instructor with the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, told The World last year what people can look for in Coos County.

The most common whale species to look for are the gray whales because of their distinct migration pattern from Baja, Mexico to the frigid waters of Alaska. The migration from Alaska to Mexico, where they will breed and give birth, can be seen off the coast here in December and January. Their migration back to Alaska is from February to May.

“There are some who stay here in the summer because a few of them have learned through time that this is a good place, or have had good experiences off our coast that have encouraged them to stay and feed,” Hodder said.

This group of resident whales are called the Pacific Coast Feeding Aggregation, and there are roughly 200 of them that don't go back to Alaska but instead stay off the Oregon, Washington, and Northern California coast

Harder to see from shore are the largest of them all: the blue whale. There is a population off the West Coast, and if there are big schools of invertebrates, or shrimp-like animals, off the coast then the whales come closer.

Humpback whales are also common here when they go up to Alaska from  Southern California and Mexico waters, but are often miles away from shore. The most likely to see them are fishermen, or recreational boats.

Betty Kay Charters often has whale watching tours in the summer, but not for the winter.

“The fishing is what supports the major part of our income, so to pay the insurance bill to operate this time of year would mean I wouldn’t have adequate income with whale watching right now,” said Bill Whitmer, owner of Betty Kay Charters.

After March 1 is when the charter will take up the insurance payments again and offer whale watching tours.

“There are whales we can get to that take up residence here in the summer,” Whitmer said. “Often we can have a pretty good whale zone even in the non-migration times. We see the California gray whales feeding off shore. They are a common resident.”

According to Whitmer, it’s the humpback whales that offer the best show.

“They jump, flap the water with their tail, and roll,” he said. “They aren’t part of the migration of the gray whales but they often surprise us when we see humpbacks. I don’t know what their schedule is and they could care less about ours.”

Whitmer said the best places to watch the whales from shore during this time of year is at the end of the Cape Arago Highway.

“There are great viewpoints for people to stand on the bluffs,” he said. “Usually there is someone there to help you spot the whales.”

Whitmer added that orcas are also very common in the area and very reliable for a great show.

“We’ve seen them even inside our bay,” he said. “They’ll often come in and see if they can scare up a meal in here. People are fascinated by whales in general because they are the largest animal to ever live on this earth, so how can we not be fascinated?”