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Coos Bay Council approves Bay Area First Step's appeal for new rehab facility

COOS BAY — At a special meeting Tuesday night, the Coos Bay City Council held a public hearing where it approved Bay Area First Step’s request to turn the old Empire Motel into transitional housing and rehab facility. 

Last night’s hearing was the result of an appeal made by Bay Area First Step, after a May 8 meeting where the Coos Bay Planning Commission decided to deny the rehab center’s Conditional Use Permit. The commission found that the proposal to turn the old motel into a rehab center met almost all of the city’s criteria. However, city staff felt that some verbiage in criteria four was not suitable and they did not approve the request.

Criteria four states the establishment, maintenance and operation of the purpose use will not significantly detrimental to the health, safety and general welfare of persons residing or working in the area.

Unhappy with the decision of the planning commission, BAFS sought out the counsel of a land-use lawyer to prove that its intended use would not have a detrimental effect on the Empire community. An appeal was filed, and it was decided a public hearing would be held for city council to make a decision on the issue.

BAFS lawyer Jennifer Bragar argued that the wording in criteria four was against Oregon state law.

“There are significant legal restraints that govern how the city council must assess a land use application to serve as housing for its population. Under ORS 197.397 subsection four, only clear and objective standards can be applied to housing,” Bragar said.

Additionally, Bragar cited the Fair Housing Act which prevents the council from making land use decisions based on the character of the people who will be residing on the property.

“That error by the planning commission to rely on public testimony that drew stereotypical conclusions about the character of BAFS tenants, and the use of that testimony as a basis for denial is what brings us to this appeal tonight,” Bragar said.   

Several citizens came out to give testimony both for and against the approval of the appeal.

Many success stories from the BAFS program attended to share with the council how BAFS’s similar facilities in the area helped them reclaim their lives.

Local citizen and recovering addict Paul Gonzalez said, “What BAFS has given me is since I’ve been in recovery is priceless. There’s no way I can pay back what they’ve given to me. They’ve given me a life I never knew I wanted. There are so many resources out there available to those seeking recovery we just don’t know they are out there.”

While not everyone was in support of this facility, every person who testified spoke fondly of the BAFS’s program. Many who were opposed simply felt that the location was not right for the facility, as the Empire area is an area with significant drug use.

“It’s just a bad place for it. It’s not a good place. It was built in 1946, it’s ready to fall down. Even if you went in and rebuilt the whole thing, I don’t think it would be safe. It’s not like a setting in the country where if these people wander off they have nowhere to go. Down there they can walk a block and go buy drugs,” local citizen Rodger Wilson said.

The final citizen to offer pubic testimony was Tom Osborne, a local pastor. Osborne argued neither for nor against the facility, but rather stated that BAFS has met the criteria for land use, and should not be judged by the opinions of either side.

After hearing from the public, council entered into a discussion about the facility. Council began its discussion by asking the opinion of City Attorney Nathan McClintock.

“Having reviewed the statutes that are available, and the case law available, in my opinion the appeal is well taken,” McClintock said.

Based on the arguments given the city council decided unanimously to reverse the decision made by the planning commission and grant approval for the Conditional Use Permit requested by BAFS

Senator Merkley secures funding for small ports

COOS COUNTY — U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley announced Tuesday that provisions to support small port communities on the Oregon Coast have been secured in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill.

Ed Glazar, The World 

A machine operator stacks logs Tuesday at K2 Imports in Coos Bay. Senator Jeff Merkley recently secured threatened federal funds for small ports that were under threat of being cut.

The program, which Oregon ports rely on to help pay for dredging and other necessary infrastructure projects, received almost $600 million, including $50 million for inland waterways, $25 million for navigation maintenance, and $50 million for small ports, which supports the small ports that are the lifeblood of Oregon’s coastal economy.

For a second consecutive year, the Oregon Democrat was successful in baring the transfer or sale of power marketing assets, including the Bonneville Power Administration.

 “Fighting for Oregon’s priorities is my top responsibility as a member of the Appropriations Committee,” Merkley, who serves on the committee said. “From preventing the sale of Bonneville Power Administration and other public assets, to investing in innovative renewable energy like solar and wave, to supporting the coast’s small ports, this bill contains provisions that improve Oregon’s economies, quality of life, and future.”

It’s uncertain how much the International Port of Coos Bay will receive this year, but in 2017 the port received $7.7 million from the same federal funding. According to Merkley's office, this year’s cut of the port funding will likely be similar.

Merkley was able to secure new funding with the support of fellow Oregon senator Ron Wyden.

“This bill achieves key wins for Oregon, including Donald Trump’s belated recognition that his misguided scheme to privatize BPA would have hurt ratepayers in the Northwest,” Wyden said. “In addition to being glad the White House has abandoned this BPA privatization madness, I am also gratified that Oregonians will benefit in this legislation from vital resources for small ports along the coast and smart investments in solar and wave energy.”

This legislation also allows Coos County the opportunity to apply for some competitive grants to that could go toward a myriad of energy and water projects.

“The grant program opens more opportunities for Coos County to apply to these grants, but it’s really the small ports portion that directly benefits Coos Bay,” Sara Hottman with senator Merkley’s office said.   

The next step is a full Senate vote, and eventually merging with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Sen. Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013.

States, immigrant supporters demand family reunifications

LOS ANGELES — Seventeen states, including New York and California, sued the Trump administration Tuesday to force it to reunite the thousands of immigrant children and parents it separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, as the legal and political pressure on the White House to reconnect families more quickly escalated.

The states, all led by Democratic attorneys general, joined Washington, D.C., in filing the lawsuit in federal court in Seattle, arguing that they are being forced to shoulder increased child welfare, education and social services costs.

"The administration's practice of separating families is cruel, plain and simple," New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement. "Every day, it seems like the administration is issuing new, contradictory policies and relying on new, contradictory justifications. But we can't forget: The lives of real people hang in the balance."

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego has ordered U.S. border authorities to reunite separated families within 30 days. If the children are younger than 5, they must be reunified within 14 days of the order, issued Tuesday. Sabraw issued the order in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. The lawsuit involves a 7-year-old girl who was separated from her Congolese mother and a 14-year-old boy who was separated from his Brazilian mother.

Separately, immigration-rights activists asked a federal judge in Los Angeles to order that parents be released and immediately reunited with their children.

In a speech before the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Los Angeles, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the administration for taking a hardline stand on illegal immigration and said the voters elected President Donald Trump to do just that.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are set to vote today on a hard-fought immigration compromise between conservative and moderate GOP flanks, but the bill has lost any real chance for passage despite a public outcry over the crisis at the border.

Instead, lawmakers are expected to turn toward a narrow bill to prevent immigrant family separations in hopes of addressing that issue before leaving town for the Fourth of July recess.

GOP leaders set out to pass the sweeping immigration measure on their own, without Democratic input, after some members agitated for action. Now they are facing almost certain defeat, stung by their own divisions and Trump's wavering support.

More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents in recent weeks and placed in government-contracted shelters under a now-abandoned policy toward families caught illegally entering the U.S.

Amid an international outcry, Trump last week issued an executive order to stop the separation of families and said parents and children will instead be detained together.

But precious few families have been reunited, and the Trump administration has disclosed next to nothing on how the process will be carried out or how long it will take.

Juan Sanchez, chief executive of the nation's largest shelters for migrant children, said he fears a lack of urgency by the U.S. government could mean it will take months to reunite families.

Sanchez with the nonprofit Southwest Key Programs said the government has no process in place to speed the return of children to their parents.

"It could take days," he said. "Or it could take a month, two months, six or even nine. I just don't know."

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Congress on Tuesday that his department still has custody of 2,047 immigrant children separated from their parents at the border. That is only six fewer children than the number in HHS custody as of last Wednesday.

Democratic senators said that wasn't nearly enough progress.

"HHS, Homeland Security, and the Justice Department seem to be doing a lot more to add to the bedlam and deflect blame than they're doing to tell parents where their kids are," Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said.

Under questioning, Azar refused to be pinned down on how long it will take to reunite families. He said his department does extensive vetting of parents to make sure they are not traffickers masquerading as parents.

At a Texas detention facility, immigrant advocates complained that parents have gotten busy signals or no answers from a 1-800 number provided by federal authorities to get information about their children.

Attorneys have spoken to about 200 immigrants at the Port Isabel detention facility near Los Fresnos, Texas, since last week, and only a few knew where their children were being held, said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia.

"The U.S. government never had any plan to reunite these families that were separated," Sandoval-Moshenberg said, and now it is "scrambling to undo this terrible thing that they have done."

A message left for HHS, which runs the hotline, was not immediately returned.

In Los Angeles, police arrested 25 demonstrators at rally Tuesday ahead of Sessions' address.

Outside the U.S. attorney's office, protesters carried signs reading, "Free the children!" and "Stop caging families." Clergy members blocked the street by forming a human chain. Police handcuffed them and led them away.

North Bend City Council passes increase to public safety fee

NORTH BEND — In an emotionally-charged city council meeting, North Bend councilors voted 4-1 to approve the adoption of a $15 public safety fee set to begin July 1. The fee, which will be collected each month, will help cover operation costs for the city’s police and fire departments as well as restore cuts made to their budgets.

The $10 increase, which was added on top of the existing $5 fee, will allow for public safety departments to continue providing optimal services throughout the city. With the increased fee, the North Bend Police Department will be able to afford and retain their four newly-hired officers.

North Bend Police Chief Robert Kappelman spoke at Tuesday’s meeting and gave an emotional overview of how the increase in officers has impacted his department in a positive way. Kappleman provided councilors with a list of statistics on how his department was functioning before and after the new hires.

Among those included the decrease of pending cold cases, which reduced from 15 to 1, a decrease in investigative delays, which fell from 28 days to 24 hours and an increase in officers per shift.

Kappelman said after moving to North Bend five years ago, he sat in front of community leaders and asked what they wanted to see from their police department in the next 5-10 years and what goal’s did they have in mind?

“The overwhelming and consistent answer is we want to see community policing at the next level,” said Kappelman. “It was because of the research I had already done of the people who were working in this department as well as the answer to that question that made me realize for me this was a perfect fit. I still feel that way.”

At the end of his presentation, Kappelman once again pleaded with councilors to pass the resolution as a way to continue on providing critical services to the community.  

North Bend City Administrator Terence O’Conner reminded city council members that the city has not been able to cover the costs of providing public safety service with property taxes alone since 2002. Over the past 16 years, with inflation and service adjusted the deficit has grown to $1.3 million.

“We think this is a reasonable approach,” said O’Conner. “I submit to the council that no one likes fees, no one likes to raise fees, but in the same token it’s a reality of how we’ll survive.”

The increased fee is estimated to generate an additional $540,900 to the operations of public safety departments. According to O’Conner, the total monthly public safety fee of $15 can be broken down to costing each household and business in North Bend an estimated 49 cents a day. The fee will be collected through each resident’s water and sewer utility bill and will appear on its own line.