Talent and Ashland Pass the Hat to Bolster Developer Profits

Written by Jimmy MacLeod, President of Rogue Advocates

We are all keenly aware of the ongoing housing crisis in the Rogue Valley. With that in mind, residents and community members will undoubtedly be happy to learn that Talent will be permitting a new subdivision within its city limits for 49 houses. Or will they? This low-density, single-family luxury home subdivision will put an incredible burden on the residents of Talent at the worst possible time, if the developers have their way and the city plays the willing lap dog. 

At issue is sufficient and safe access to the property. To satisfy this condition, the developer needs to build a new railroad crossing and widen a city street. This infrastructure could cost millions of dollars, and while the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) has given the go-ahead, that pesky multimillion-dollar question remains. Who will pay the cost?  

It appears Talent may want taxpayers to pick up some of the tab. This is a direct subsidy to the developer. They receive increased profits by depleting public coffers. This comes at a time when every tax dollar is needed for rebuilding after the Almeda fire, and for providing affordable housing to a workforce our community depends on.  

Stripped of its sales pitch gloss, this development will not serve those who need housing most—the farm and service industry workers displaced by the Almeda fire. Instead, it will serve the few that can afford a “fiscally-gated” community paid for in part by the many who can never afford to live there. Is this the new redlining? While it may not be intentional, the result is social and racial housing inequality underwritten with scarce public funds. 

To add insult to injury, there is also embedded environmental injustice. This land is within city limits. If used for relatively low-density luxury homes, the city will quickly need to expand on to scarce farmland to accommodate new growth. Significantly increasing density in this next ring of growth is the “planning equivalent” of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. High density development must occur closest to a city center to be most effective for auto independence. It is a huge planning failure to gobble up more farmland to compensate for highly subsidized low-density housing within city limits. What we need is more high density, affordable housing as close to services as possible. Not trophy homes. 

This same servile tendency to please developers at the public’s expense is playing out just down the road on the outskirts of Ashland, but in this case, there’s a twist. The City of Ashland has plans for annexing land along Hwy. 99 for an apartment complex without requiring a traffic signal on this very dangerous section of road. This unnecessarily puts the community at grave risk. 

Here’s the city’s traffic plan: Almost 2,000 new trips per day will get dumped from two driveways onto a hilly, high speed section of highway with poor visibility. Their safety plan: No stop sign, no signal, no nothing. The message: Growth first, safety last – just to cut the developer’s costs. This amounts to a subsidy, not in money, but in blood, when, not if, an accident occurs. This is the absolute antithesis of planning for livability. After sufficient death and destruction, will ODOT then put in a light? At its ugly core, this is a simple protection racket with our government collecting tax dollars for the developer’s benefit. When the community has had enough of the carnage it will pay for a light. Rogue Advocates is currently appealing this grossly ill-conceived development to LUBA.

Of these two different forms of subsidies to growth, the second is the most egregious. It showcases how community leaders will disregard even the basic safety of their community when development comes courting.Martin Luther King Jr., once said, “… we all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free enterprise capitalism for the poor.” Clearly, safe streets and abundant affordable housing will not be happening anytime soon, if left up to our current “leadership.” The former, however, is alive and well in the Rogue Valley thanks to their short-sighted vision. Now more than ever with a multitude of crises confronting us, we need to put people over profits and build a sustainable community that takes care of everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected.