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An Interview with Bend, Oregon's New Mayor, Sally Russell

Submitted by Nest Bend on


Karen Malanga: Hi! Welcome to House Talk. This week, I’m so excited to have our new mayor. Sally Russell here is my guest. Sally, welcome to the program.

Sally Russell: Thank you Karen. It’s great to be here.

Karen: And the first elected mayor…

Sally: …the first elected mayor since the 1920s. And yeah, the first elected woman mayor I think ever in the history of Bend.

Karen: You and I have known each other 30 years…

Sally: Thirty years…

Karen: But maybe our listeners don’t. Do you want to just tell a little bit about yourself before we get into the program?

Sally: Well, yeah. So, my family actually discovered this area way back in the 1920s. And they camped in canvas tents at the south end of Elk Lake before even cabin were built. So, my roots go way, way back.

Karen: That’s very cool. You weren’t there then.

Sally: No, no. I wasn’t there then. No, I’m not that old. My grandfather actually discovered the area. He just loved the outside and the fishermen. And he sold saw blades to the mills here.

And then, fast forward, I moved here in 1984. I ended up on the Planning Commission. And I made—together with my colleagues on the Bend Planning Commission—the new plan for the Old Mill.

Karen: Oh, that’s very cool.

Sally: That was really cool. I’ve always been invested in this community and in planning and trying to figure out really the backbone of what it will take to move our community forward through time.

Karen: Yeah. And you have two daughters…

Sally: I raise my two daughters here in Bend. They went to public schools. And yes, I did the Central Oregon Trail Alliance way back when mountain biking was fresh, working with the Forest Service. Now I chair the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project which has been really focused on working in our forest to help manage wildfires that come out of the forest to our community—which of course these days is a really important issue for our community as we watch the tragedies that are taking place down in California.

Karen: Yeah. And as you look around and you see how dry our forest can get and all the trees that we have, yeah, it’s super important.

Sally: Yeah. Yeah…

Karen: So anyway, this is House Talk. And I know that you have a couple of topics that do pertain to housing here in Central Oregon. So, do you want to start out with—I think you were going to talk about the septic to sewer situation that’s going on. I think that’s pretty relevant right now.

Sally: It’s very relevant. And I know 2800 households in our community are still on septic…

Karen: Twenty eight hundred, wow…

Sally: Yeah, it’s a lot of households. Most of them—not all of them, but most of them—actually were in the area in southeast Bend that was annexed back in the late ‘90s. And even though I served on the Planning Commission then, I didn’t see any of that. That was all put in place—it was sent out to the electorate by the Bend City Council at that time. And by the voters, they voted to bring that area now. But there was no sewer at that time in that area of Bend.

And so, finally, last year, we completed the Southeast Interceptor. And then, all of those households will eventually be closed—either are or will soon. In the next 20 years, we close the sewer. And so the question really was when their system began to fail, what should the process be to bring them on to sewer, when, how much it would be, what would be most cost-effective, what should the process be.

And it’s been really [contentious] because, like any of the rest of us, we don’t really pay attention to something until it’s right in front of us and we’re busy raising our families and working on our jobs and…

Karen: …and it’s expensive.

Sally: Yes, it can be very expensive. And depending on where you live, then how far away you are from the street, and whether or not there’s a lateral already down your street or not, the cost will vary anywhere from $20,000 to $130,000.

So, we were looking for a way to really work with all these neighbors to make it be fair and equitable for anybody in this situation. And like any other good conversation, there was a lot of different information traveling around. So we’ve tried to true-up the information and then put a policy in place. And we’ll be bringing that in front of council on December 5th.

And the plan at this point looks as if the council will put an initial investment of $10 million that come from the rate payers, the sewer rate payers, to put some additional sewer backbone in. And then, beyond that, we’ll have a set of criteria. And then, as a neighborhood gets together and meets those criteria, then we can move into those areas. And so they’ll have to do the private side, and we’ll underwrite most of the public costs.

Karen: Okay, I kind of understand that process. So, just from being a realtor and from a real estate angle, say I sold homes down there—which I have—those clients and mine (and friends of mine now), do they have to have their septic system evaluated yearly? When do you know when a system is failing unless someone is checking it every year or having it inspected?

Sally: What I do know is that if your septic system is failing, and if you’re within a certain distance from an existing sewer line, then according to the county and state laws, originally, you couldn’t get the work approved to go replace your septic. You had to then, at that point, go on sewer.

We’ve worked with the Department of Environmental Quality and the county now to extend that timeframe so that we will then work with all those neighbors incrementally to be able to bring that sewer in the program that’s associated with it to their neighborhoods.

Karen: Okay! Let’s take a quick break, and then we’ll come right back because I have some more sewer questions.

Sally: I bet you do!

Karen: Thanks Sally.

[commercial break]: Stay with us! More House Talk is straight ahead on 104.5 FM, 1340 AM and

♪ [music] ♪

This is House Talk. Now, once again, here’s your host, Karen Malanga.

Karen: Welcome back to House Talk. I am visiting with Sally Russell, our first ever elected mayor.

So, back to the sewer that we discussed—mostly the southeast part of town that is now going to have to attach themselves to the city sewer when their septic system fails, correct?

Sally: Yes.

Karen: I wanted to make sure…

Sally: But now we’ve extended the timeframe within which that can happen. We’ve put a funding stream in place using a little bit of money from the existing rate payers. And we’ve allowed neighborhoods to opt in when they’ve decided it’s time.

Karen: So it’s a little gentler.

Sally: Yes, exactly. It’s not just the hammer. I mean with the state rules and the way it was supposed to be implemented with the county, it was a hammer coming down. And as a city, we looked and said for our constituents we recognize, especially for those in specific neighborhoods in the southeast, it’s a really heavy financial lift. And so, to be really sensitive to their economic needs—a lot of them are fixed income, they’re retired, they don’t have that type of financial capacity, being really sensitive to that.

Karen: I think we’ve gone through similar changes in the neighborhood. It’s not the sewer or the septic, but when we did some changes with water down in some of the areas like [unclear 08:23] village and people were assessed to make those changes when it came to their water systems as well.

Well, that’s super interesting. Now, let’s go on to another topic that everyone talks about every day. And every day, when I pick up the paper, you can see one more project or the need for affordable housing. I know you’ve worked diligently on this throughout the past and even when you were on the Planning Commission.

Sally: Yes, I have. And I think the best example that I use is I sat in a room two years ago and this group, all of us together, threw 50 different ideas on the wall to basically move forward and make it possible to build less expensive housing in Bend. And so it’s not just a flip-the-switch. It’s really small, incremental changes in many different ways.

I think I’ve implemented something over time—like 15 different policy strategies on the city level. But what’s really been fun or exciting recently that maybe you’ve read in the newspapers is there was a bill passed in the state legislature in the last session. We applied for some affordable housing project funds and the city of Bend was awarded those.

Karen: It’s so phenomenal, isn’t it?

Sally: It’s really phenomenal. And I have to give my staff really huge kudos in walking through that application and we are awarded these dollars.

And what it means is we’ll be able to put over close to 400 homes just on the edge of the urban growth boundary. And it will be mostly for people who are under the area medium income, so between 30% and 60% of the area median income and between 80% and 120%.

So, really important for our community. Those are workforce homes. Those are people who are teachers. Those are people who are nurses. They’re firefighters. They’re policemen. And it’s those types of families or people who are out of college or at their first jobs. This is the kind of housing that we’re building that our community needs now. So we’re going to work hard to accelerate this and bring it up from the ground. And it’s a public/private…

Karen: And on this particular project, it’s not only homes for purchase. There’s also going to be units available to rent, correct?

Sally: Yeah, the larger percentage will be rental in this particular project.

Karen: Do you have a guesstimate on how many units do you think are going to be rentals at this time?

Sally: You know, if I could put on my glasses…

Karen: Let me see, let me see…

Sally: Can you read that? A hundred eighty-nine in the—I think it was 40 to 60.

Karen: Yeah, 189 multifamily rental units, and then 142 multifamily rental units in a different part of the area with 38 single family attached units that will be for sale, and then 25 single family attached units that will be for sale.

So it’s a really nice mix.

Sally: It is…

Karen: People can purchase or they can rent. And now that I’m looking at Sally’s notebook here, it is on that corner of Highway 20 and kind of where Bear Creek hits it sort of—yeah, where Bear Creek runs into Highway 20. So it is just east of town.

Sally: It is… and it’s adjacent to a natural area. And what was really important is it’s close to a transportation quarter and to services so you people don’t have to go very far to get their groceries, get a bus to get to work.

And that was one of the important components in why we had a successful application. It’s not so far away from services that people have to pay to travel further to get the services or get to work that they need.

Karen: It’s only like 10 minutes or less than that from Costco it looks like…

Sally: Yes, it’s very close.

Karen: Yeah, it’s super close.

Sally: And to sort of [riff] on that for a moment, in the extension of the urban growth boundaries, we had all these expansion areas and opportunity areas, and it’s the same type of idea which is you create these neighborhood centers and hubs throughout the community so that, wherever you live, you actually have the possibility of getting your pizza, going to the grocery store, getting your milk, or getting a haircut or having a job that’s relatively close to where you live.

So, that’s the type of community expansion that we’re looking at throughout Bend as well as rebuilding the Bend Central District which was the old Highway 97 quarter.

Karen: Yeah. And I do appreciate those hubs. I’m always conscious of those. And I really appreciate the fact of developing things like that are close to communities.

But let’s chat after the break. We’ve got to take another break. We’ll be right back with Sally Russell, our new mayor for Bend.

Sally: Let’s have another sip of coffee.

Karen: Okay, yeah, let’s have some coffee.

[commercial break]: Stay with us! More House Talk is straight ahead on 104.5 FM, 1340 AM and

♪ [music] ♪

This is House Talk. Now, once again, here’s your host, Karen Malanga.

Karen: Hi, welcome back to House Talk. You’re listening to me, Karen Malanga, principal broker at RE/MAX Key Properties. And I’m visiting with Sally Russell, our new mayor. And I think you start on January 2nd, right, Sally?

Sally: I do, yes.

Karen: So first, we discussed the sewer-to-septic changes going on in Southeast Bend. And now we’re discussing affordable housing in this wonderful new project that is going to be going up out of Bear Creek and Highway 20.

And Sally, you were talking about how—and I love this concept—as the city grows, it’s almost like pods where you can go get that pizza, go get your conveniences very close so that people don’t have to drive long distances.

Sally: Yeah. And Bend started out with this wonderful center around downtown—the park and the inner west side. And that concept of neighborhood centers, the more we can replicate that model throughout Bend as it begins to grow—even some of the neighborhoods on the east side are saying, “Why can’t we have a park next to where we live? Why can’t we have a convenience center next to where we live? Why can’t we go to school closer to where we live?”

And so, going forward then, we’re putting the planning in place—and we have put the planning in place—the backbone to be able to build out those neighborhood centers. And people are going, “Yeah, I want that for me too.”

Karen: Well, I know even in southwest when that whole complex went up with CJ, Lovejoy, at first, it was very quiet in there. And then, all of a sudden—because I show homes down there all the time—it’s vibrant.

Sally: Yes, that’s exactly it.

Karen: …which is great, vibrant and convenient.

Sally: Yeah, you’ve got a Mexican place. You’ve got a drug store.

Karen: [unclear 15:19]

So anyway, what other topics do you think are pretty relevant at this point in time?

Sally: You know, a lot of people are talking about traffic and transportation and sort of the future of how we’re going to move through our town. Part of it is, instead of having to drive across town for every gallon of milk, being able to drive or walk a fourth of a mile or an eighth of a mile to that—that sort of takes people out of making those cross-city trips and allows them to make shorter trips.

So, we’re building a city that will be more like that in the future which helps decrease the number of trips that you have to make daily living across town—which doesn’t mean that you won’t be doing that. I mean, clearly, you may be driving your kids to a soccer match or going to a meeting or taking your mom to the hospital or to the doctor’s, whatever it is. But every car you allow to take a short trip, then it means they don’t have to take that longer trip.

Karen: …which helps people like me that have to get around all day. And sometimes, I do sit in traffic, and I know exactly which intersections to avoid.

Sally: It’s all about timing. And also, I’ve said a lot during the campaign trail we really want to move around town according to our watch, how much time we have, and according to our wallets, how much money you have on your wallet. Some people who are on a really tight budget, they want to be able to move safely throughout town on their bike or by foot or on transit. And so we want to allow all of those possibilities too because that will help those people who don’t have as much money in their pocket to still have healthy lifestyles and get to where they need to go on time—to get to their job, to get to school, wherever they need to be.

Karen: Sure. And I also think too—I know we don’t have time to discuss mass transit or public transit. But because we are so seasonal here, when that snow falls, you’re not riding your bike, and you’re not walking as much. And so, it is nice that, in these hubs that you’re developing, that you are being up close to some public transit because that’s probably going to be used more heavily in the winter.

Sally: We simply have less people visiting our community most of the off-season. And we have a certain number of people who simply don’t live here during the winter either. So our high seasons are during the summer which is why I’ve implemented this free ride Bend shuttle through some of those heavily traffic impacted areas in Bend just to give people, residents and visitors alike, just a free option of moving around some of these really congested areas.

Karen: Yeah, that’s great.

Sally: Yeah. I mean it’s free, it’s quick. What the heck?! So, we’re looking at doing more of that in the future.

Karen: Jump on and jump off…

Sally: As a matter of fact, I’m a big fan for really rethinking how transit works in our community because I feel like we’re using an older model that’s no longer relevant especially because time is such value. So I’ve been working with the Mobility Lab at OSU Cascades campus through my role as chairman on the Metropolitan Planning Organization to really do some experimental work with moving people around Bend that’s cost-effective, time-effective—and easy! Easy, easy, easy…

Karen: Easy for the user…  easy for people to figure out.

Sally: Exactly.

Karen: Oh, my gosh! We’re out of time. Sally, I think I could talk to you all day.

Sally: Okay. Let’s go get a glass of wine, and we’ll finish this conversation.

Karen: Anyway, thanks so much for listening to House Talk. And Sally, how can some of our listeners reach you if they wanted to.

Sally: You know, you can always go out to the City of Bend website. The city counselors are there. You can click on my name, send me an email. You can send any of us an email any time on any subject. And there’s a wealth of knowledge there. But sometimes if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you have a specific question, I’m always available.

I mean, I’m an office of one. So I do my best to get back to constituents who email me as quickly as I can.

Karen: Alright. Now, thank you again. Thanks for being on House Talk.

Sally: Well, I just want to say I really feel honored to have been elected as the next mayor of Bend. And I really appreciate everything that this community is. And I think we have a wonderful group of people living here and some really vibrant businesses and a wonderful community. So thank you so much for having me here.

Karen: You’re welcome. Any time…

Closing: Join us again this time next week for more great information on the buying and selling of your home.

House Talk with Karen Malanga is not a solicitation if your property is already listed. All information on House Talk is deemed reliable but is not guaranteed. The preceding was a paid commercial advertisement for Karen Malanga. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff and management of Horizon Broadcasting Group.