Prineville plans to sink $1M more into wells

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: February 28. 2007 5:00AM PST

The Prineville City Council unanimously decided Tuesday night to go ahead with plans for two new municipal wells, a month after announcing that three wells dug last year did not produce adequate water.

The city lost about $970,000 on last year’s project, and City Manager Robb Corbett told the council Tuesday that the two new wells will cost just over $1 million.

Councilors grilled a new project consultant, Jeff Barry of Groundwater Solutions, about the plans for the new wells, which would be located near another city well at the Prineville Airport and near the Woodgrain Millwork site on North Main Street.

“Obviously, we’re all a bit nervous after what happened (with the first three wells),” Councilor Gordon Gillespie said.

Corbett said that the new wells should pump between 1,100 and 1,300 more gallons per minute for the city. Prineville currently has eight other working wells.

“Like other infrastructure issues we have with growth, it’s a challenge to keep up (with the water needs),” Corbett said.

Barry said that at its current population, Prineville is already “in the hole” at least 600 gallons per minute in terms of water demand. He added that both wells need to be ready by summer in order to meet peak water needs at that time.

“This is, in my view, only the beginning – this gets you caught up to where you should be,” he said. “We’re looking at a whole number of options for the future water supply.”

Two of the wells the city dug last year did not hit water, while a third brought up some that was not of high enough quality. The city has said it is pursuing legal action to try to recoup some of the costs of that project and is using a different consultant than the one who oversaw the failed wells.

Barry said he has “a high degree of confidence” that the new wells will produce drinking water. The plans include a test well at the North Main Street site and a well to be dug at the airport about 75 feet from a current operating well. One of the three failed wells last year was also located at the airport, but it was about 1,500 feet away from the existing well.

“We’ve been able to get additional information at the existing airport well to determine that that aquifer can support significantly more pumping,” he said.

Councilors expressed some trepidation about not digging a test well at the airport, but Barry said it would cost about $100,000 and he believes that locating the well fairly near the current well improves the chances of success.

“It seems a little foolish to me to not drill a test well when we got burned so badly by not digging test wells (last time),” Councilor Steve Uffelman said.

The council voted unanimously to direct the city manager to move forward with work on the new wells. The project will now go out to a competitive bid process for contractors to drill the wells.

Barry said with the two wells, the city should meet its current level of demand, but as the population continues to grow, the council will have to revisit the water problems.

“It’s not a good idea to rely on all your wells going full tilt with no redundancy,” he said. “At some point we’ll have to come back to that issue.”


Finding a fix for highway curves

Crook County has found a solution for one corner on Powell Butte Highway, but work is stalled on another

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: February 27. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – In November 2005, after a long community debate, the Crook County Court decided to shave some of the more dangerous corners off Powell Butte Highway rather than realign the road.

Now, almost 1 1/2 years later, the sharp turns at the intersections of Alfalfa and Shumway roads and Powell Butte Highway remain unchanged. The county has not been able to secure right-of-way access for the bordering properties that would be affected.

With plans for hundreds of housing units at nearby destination resorts in the works, county officials, Brasada Ranch resort developers and a local landowner have come to an agreement to fix the Alfalfa Road intersection. But the fate of Shumway Road is still unclear, even as planners are anticipating thousands more car trips per day from the resorts’ visitors and homeowners.

The highway, which starts east of Bend and runs to Alfalfa and Powell Butte, has long been the subject of concern over its winding curves, particularly two 90-degree turns at Alfalfa and Shumway roads.

The two-lane highway cuts through a juniper-covered landscape framed by the dramatic Powell Butte to the east, as well as several cattle ranches.

In the past, some local residents wanted to straighten and move the highway, but others feared an increase in the volume and speed of traffic. The two intersections lie a few miles south of where the Powell Butte Highway ends at state Highway 126.

The county has now agreed with a landowner to pay $15,000 toward acquiring right-of-way access on about 7 acres of land at the corner of Alfalfa Road and the Powell Butte Highway, County Counsel Dave Gordon said at last week’s Crook County Court meeting. Gordon added that Brasada Ranch will pay the rest of the $152,000 price tag for the right of way and cover the cost of rebuilding the corner to make the curve wider and turning easier.

The new intersection will comply with federal engineering standards and improve the sight distance on the roads, Brasada Ranch Project Manager Brett Hudson said. It will cost at least $500,000, he said.

“It’s been a two-year deal for the county and Brasada Ranch just to find a place that we actually could make some impact toward safety,” Hudson said.

Changing responsibilities

Brasada Ranch’s role in constructing the corner is part of a new agreement between it and the county that will allow Brasada to reroute the section of Shumway Road within the resort’s borders: Instead of having the road border the golf course, the developer wants to move it to add more premium home sites and improve safety. The resort will also be required to repave about a two-mile section of Alfalfa Road and add signs directing visitors to use Alfalfa as its main entrance point.

But the new agreement releases Brasada from responsibility for the Shumway corner, which was part of its original plan approval. Previously, the resort paid the county $425,000 to cover its projected traffic impact on both intersections. That money will now be returned to the resort’s developers to use on the Alfalfa intersection, which planners and developers said will cost more than Brasada was originally supposed to pay to cover its share of both intersection improvements.

The holdup on both corners has been an inability so far to acquire the right-of-way access needed to broaden the curves. Crook County Court Judge Scott Cooper said he is not willing to use eminent domain against landowners in order to fix Shumway Road.

“Right now the (Alfalfa) curve doesn’t meet any engineering standards — at high speeds the corner can throw you to one side or the other, especially in slick weather, and it just doesn’t work very well,” Cooper said. “The new corner will be designed for a 55 mph, regular-volume movement on the highway with good sight distance, but to do that we have to have a lot of land and that’s always been the challenge.”

Cooper added that he voted to go ahead with the project despite the lack of plans for Shumway Road because the deal with Brasada Ranch means the county has “95 percent of the funding in hand from a third party.”

“The need for the Alfalfa corner is going to be intensified over time, so we should go forward and do what we have the opportunity to do with somebody else’s money, and we would continue to look for what to do with Shumway as opportunity presented itself for willing sellers,” he said.

County Commissioner Lynn Lundquist voted against accepting the new agreement with Brasada Ranch. He said he would prefer that the Alfalfa corner be constructed to a less exacting standard in order to save money for Shumway Road.

Lundquist lives on Shumway Road and was part of the committee that examined the options for fixing the Powell Butte Highway curves before he was elected to the County Court in November. At the time, he supported shaving the banks of the corners rather than realigning the highway.

“I’m just looking at the total fiscal capacity of the county, and I think we’re buying a Cadillac corner that is a good corner, but I think you could get something less than that, and so we would have resources to fix Shumway corner as well,” Lundquist said. “I’m trying to look at the more macro picture than I am just one corner at a time.”

Tony Dorsch, who owns a farm at the corner of Shumway Road and the Powell Butte Highway, said he is in favor of moving the highway about 30 feet to the east, which he said will improve drivers’ ability to see around the bend. But he added that county engineers have rejected that plan, telling him it would further sharpen the turns.

“It would slow the traffic down a little bit, but so what? There’s some reticence about slowing the traffic down on that curve, but to me, it would be really nice if they’d slow it down,” Dorsch said, adding that a driver going too fast on the road two weeks ago knocked down his mailbox. “I’m concerned about it, the school buses are concerned about it, the public is concerned about it — it’s a dadgum dangerous curve.”

Dorsch said that the work on the Alfalfa corner is “mutually exclusive” with efforts to improve Shumway. He also thinks that plans to shave the banks of the corners are “second best,” he said.

“They haven’t done a blessed thing with it the four years I’ve owned that place except sit on it and hope to heck something would come along like a miracle and solve their problem,” he said. “(One) idea was to push my topsoil back toward my barn and then reduce the subsoil to get the line of sight and then put it back, but to me that’s just like a Band-Aid on an ulcer.”

The ‘social cost’ of growth

Crook County Roadmaster Penny Keller estimated at the last County Court meeting that putting in a new corner at Shumway Road will cost at least several hundred thousand dollars. As the county planning commission moves ahead with negotiations over new destination resort proposals, such as Hidden Canyon, the Pahlisch development, it may look to include requirements about rebuilding Shum-way Road in the resorts’ development approvals, Cooper said. Hidden Canyon recently applied to build 3,675 total units on 3,250 acres east of Brasada Ranch.

“As different developments add traffic to that area, they have to do their share to fix the problem, but no more than their share,” Cooper said. “The planning commission has been really gearing up on attempting to do a better job on learning how to impose exactions that get dollars out of developers to pay for the impacts of their development.”

Keller said that there are currently about 6,200 car trips per day on the Powell Butte Highway, and the county estimates that Brasada Ranch’s 600 single-family houses alone would add another 2,400 trips each day. Brasada is also building 300 overnight units.

Lundquist described the extra traffic as part of the “social cost” of allowing destination resort development in the area, which the County Court did about four years ago. Lundquist and Cooper said that the County Court will continue discussing options for acquiring right of way at the Shumway corner or starting work to lower the corner 2 or 3 feet, improving drivers’ ability to see around the corner.

“I’m going to work hard on trying to come to some resolution on the Shumway corner, because as far as I’m concerned removing a little dirt some time ago would have solved a lot of the problems, but for some reason we can’t seem to get there,” Lundquist said. “I hope we can do it without having any right-of-way change.”

Hudson, of Brasada Ranch, said that work on the Alfalfa Road construction will start as soon as possible, once the county has signed a deal with the landowners and discussions with local farmers about the timing of the irrigation season are complete.

“A lot of it’s for our benefit, so that’s why we’re not really balking at it. We’ll gain a nice entry for our owners and the county’s getting a nice new road — it’s a mutually beneficial thing,” Hudson said. “It will be nice to finally be able to get something done out here, get that project off the ground. It’s been a long time.”

Crook County voters to see pool measure for third time

New proposal cuts cost of facility by $1.3M

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: February 26. 2007 5:00AM PST

Supporters of a new aquatic center in Prineville are hoping a modified, cheaper plan will sway voters who have rejected it at the polls twice already.

After the latest defeat in November, the Crook County Parks and Recreation District Board has decided to float another ballot measure in the May election this year. Officials said the proposed measure would lower the cost of building the pool to 62 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, meaning that a homeowner with a house valued at $200,000 would pay $124 a year.

That rate is down 11 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $22 a year for a house valued at $200,000, from last year’s proposed rate. A second levy to fund the operations of the facility would tax residents an additional 37 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value.

The reduction in price is due to the elimination of a multipurpose room that could have housed a skating rink or gymnasium, said Maureen Crawford, director of the parks and recreation district. She added that removing the multipurpose room from the plans will lower the projected cost of the facility by $1.3 million, from $12 million to $10.7 million.

The plans for the new center still include two indoor pools, an outdoor pool and locker rooms. “Will that be enough for the voters? I hope so,” Crawford said. “What we heard was that it was too much money and too big, so listening to what the voters said, we eliminated the multipurpose room.”

Last November, the district proposed two measures to build and operate a new swim center that would have taxed voters at a combined rate of $1.11 for every $1,000 of assessed value – or about $222 a year for a house worth $200,000. The construction bond failed by a narrow margin, 2,936-2,774, according to the Crook County Clerk’s Office, and the operations bond also did not pass.

A similar measure in 2002 to build a $7.5 million center failed by a vote of 3,452-1,647.

A similar measure in 2002 to build a $7.5 million center failed by a vote of 3,452 to 1,647.

Crawford said Volunteers in Action, the political action committee that campaigned for the new pool last year, brought the idea of going out for another bond to the parks and recreation district board. Members of the group also suggested eliminating the multipurpose room to save money.

“We have this momentum built and the price of steel and fuel continues to soar,” said Donna White, chairwoman of Volunteers in Action. “We had to increase the cost substantially from where it was four years ago already, so imagine four more years – it would be really expensive.”

Before the last election, Volunteers in Action raised more than $120,000 in pledges toward the operation of the center. A feasibility study done for the 2006 proposal also showed that a user fee of about $2.50 for swimming would bring in about $200,000 a year, out of an operating cost of between $500,000 and $600,000 annually.

This year, officials decided not to tie the two measures together, as they did previously when the operating levy was contingent on the construction bond passing.

White said Volunteers in Action did not recommend removing the center’s proposed outdoor pool to save money on construction costs because the pool should generate revenue.

“Outdoor pools make money; stand-alone indoor pools statewide lose money – they’re very expensive to operate,” she said. “We need the year-round pool. We need it for seniors, we need it for swim lessons, we need it for students and lap swim, and the public.”

The committee and parks and recreation officials are continuing to propose the use of Davidson Field, on Southeast Court Street in downtown Prineville, despite some community concerns about displacing a baseball field there. The parks and recreation district owns the field and has picked a location for a new baseball diamond near the Crook County Fairgrounds.

Crawford said that the county’s current pool, a 54-year-old outdoor facility that is open 2 1/2 months out of the year, should open this summer after some repairs based on inspections done by the state Department of Environmental Quality and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“We’re making corrections that need to be made to get it open,” Crawford said. “We can’t guarantee that it will stay open all year, but we’re hoping to get it open and get those kids in swimming lessons.”

The pool also has larger problems like leaks, an old septic system and a rough bottom that leaves swimmers with cuts.

One concern for pool supporters this May is that the election falls under the double majority rule, which means that more than 50 percent of the almost 8,000 registered voters in the Crook County Parks and Recreation District would have to turn out to vote, and a majority of those people would have to vote “yes,” for the measure to pass.

“Even if the ballot measure passed and 50 percent of the voters didn’t vote, then we would not be able to build it,” Crawford said. “Past history shows that we don’t usually get that (turnout in May elections) in Crook County, but we’re hoping that this sparks enough interest that the people in our community would want this bad enough that they’ll vote it in.”

Report: Odor in courthouse not hazardous

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: February 21.2007 5:00AM PST

A report on the odor that has shut down the Deschutes County Courthouse and sickened some employees says that the levels of oil and chemicals found in the building should not cause health damage.

The odor was the result of overheated hydraulic oil for a transport elevator in the building’s basement, according to the report from Wise Steps Inc., an industrial hygiene and safety consulting firm hired by the state. Hydraulic oil breaks down into formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, which have a strong odor and can irritate the eyes, nose and respiratory tract, the report says.

Air tests and wipe samples performed by Wise Steps showed that, while the odor moved from the basement to the first and second floors of the courthouse, `there was not emission of hydraulic oil mist into the building or the ventilation system.`

Deschutes County Circuit Court Trial Administrator Ernest Mazorol said that if a mist had permeated the courthouse there “would be oil everywhere.”

“All we’re dealing with, although it’s really noxious, is an odor that it will take some time to rid it out of that building, but that’s probably the best alternative that we could have,” Mazorol said.

Cleaning of the building will continue through Thursday and some staff could start moving back in on Friday, Mazorol said. The courthouse should be open to the public again on Monday, he said.

Temporary courtrooms have been set up in the Deschutes Services Building and Juvenile Justice Building. People who need to file court papers or pay fines can do so in the gray building to the north of the courthouse at 1164 N.W. Bond St.

“We’ve got so many people displaced it’s going to take us time to get back to where we need to be,” Mazorol said. “Our plan is to open up on the 26th with the full range of services.”

In keeping with the report’s recommendations, cleaning of the courthouse’s carpets and all horizontal surfaces like desks and chairs will continue this week. The basement, where the odor was strongest, has also been sealed off and is being ventilated separately.

“The building is not a safety hazard,” Mazorol said, pointing out that the consultants found that levels of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde were below what is required by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“There shouldn’t really be any health issues, prolonged health issues, that people have to be concerned about,” he said.

Courthouse employees first began complaining of the odor and symptoms such as headaches and burning eyes on Feb. 4 . All jury trials were canceled that week, and judges then decided to close the courthouse on Feb. 12, although county staffers said they believed it to be safe.

Even with the cleanup effort, some people may continue to detect the odor for an indefinite period of time, Mazorol said.

“To most everyone that comes thorough that building, they’re not going to smell anything, but then there’s that hypersensitive person that no matter what you do they’re going to smell it,” he said, adding that it “could take a couple of months or longer” for the smell to be completely gone.

It will also take some time for the courts to get back on schedule after this delay, he said.

“These type of disruptions are just really difficult on the community and us as well – I can’t tell you how many cases we’ve had to reschedule,” Mazorol said. “It’s going to take us several months, probably, to dig out from under this.”

Schools focus on problem of teen suicide

Crook County student’s death highlights importance of mental health resources

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: February 20.2007 5:00AM PST

The Crook County School Response Team reacted immediately to the news earlier this month of a student’s death at Crook County High School.

Team members – who include school counselors, teachers, health department workers and law enforcement officials – went to the school on the afternoon of Feb. 8, when a student died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in the school’s parking lot.

The group and school administrators helped grieving students that day and set up a “safe room” with extra counselors in the library for students to stop in throughout the following day. They arranged for additional counselors to be at the school throughout the next week, and followed up with the friends and family of the deceased student.

“We become a true family bound by love and compassion in a challenging time,” said Doug Bristow, the team leader and a counselor at Crook County Middle School. “Community leaders and department heads in our community are all willing to give everything they’ve got, stop their normal process, and do everything in a dramatic experience like this.”

The Crook County crisis response team also received assistance from Jefferson County’s team. Bristow said about 13 Crook County team members responded and five people came from Jefferson County.

“Normally a response isn’t quite that heavily staffed, but it was a unique situation,” he said.

In the wake of the student’s death, local school administrators and mental health officials say the event should raise awareness about the problem of suicidal thoughts among high school students. They add that there is a variety of resources in Central Oregon for parents and teenagers who want to seek help, but the best place to start is often with teachers and guidance counselors.

“We tell kids that the school is only as safe as we make it, and so everyone has a responsibility to bring information to us, let us know about people they’re worried about, because we care and basically the more we know the more we can help,” Crook County High School Principal Jim Golden said. “Kids will give the best kid advice they can, but they only have 15, 17, 18 years of living.”

Colleen Stover, a school psychologist with Bend-La Pine Schools, said she has encountered many students considering suicide in her 18 years of work in different states and school districts.

“It’s very prevalent, unfortunately,” Stover said. “It’s so hard being a teenager and our kids just feel like they have no control, because they don’t have any control in their lives right now, and they’re depressed.”

The school’s role

Golden and Crook County Superintendent Steve Swisher said that extra counseling is still in place for Crook County students who want to talk about the shooting. Local businesses and residents have contributed more than $1,000 to support the counseling efforts, Golden said.

“This event won’t be over in a day in terms of the feelings and that kind of stuff, so there will be ongoing support,” Swisher said.

Data from last year’s Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, conducted by the state Department of Human Services, shows that suicide and suicidal thoughts affect a significant number of local high schoolers. According to the survey, 16 percent of the roughly 290 11th-graders surveyed in Crook County reported that they had “seriously consider(ed) attempting suicide” in the past year, and almost 9 percent said they had attempted suicide, the highest proportion in the region.

Almost 13 percent of Deschutes County 11th-graders, or 72 out of 546 students, said they considered suicide and 7.5 percent said they attempted.

In Jefferson County, the numbers were 11 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively, with a survey size of 140 students. By comparison, about 12 percent of students statewide reported seriously considering suicide, while about 5 percent said they had attempted suicide in the past year.

In all three counties, the number of female students reporting that they had considered or attempted suicide in the past year was higher than the number of male students.

Golden said the most important first step in students getting help is to talk to an adult at school, whether it be a guidance counselor, teacher, coach or administrator. After that, he said, school counselors often refer students to the Crook County Mental Health Department or private therapists.

“Generally, our counselors don’t do ongoing therapy,” Golden said. “Our counselors serve as a gateway to get people the help that they need, so they do assessments based on their training and then get kids where they need to go, whether it’s drug and alcohol counseling; whether it’s mental health; whether it’s grief.”

Bristow said that the members of the crisis response team undergo a rigorous training process. The Crook County Team is part of the Tricounty School Response Team and members of the individual county teams help with situations in schools around Central Oregon.

“It’s very crucial to returning to homeostasis that we have this kind of response, a collaborative, unified, compassionate response,” Bristow said. “It’s something that you’re glad you’re good at it, but wish you never had to do it.”

Gary Carlton, the principal of Madras High School, said that if administrators are worried a student could be a danger to himself or others, they may contact agencies such as child protective services or the county health department. He added that counselors may do a risk assessment with a student if she is suspended for problems such as drugs and alcohol or violence.

“I think just like any school, I don’t think we have any more or any less situations where students will find themselves depressed or in a position where they could do harm to themselves or there’s a threat of that,” Carlton said. “It does happen and that’s where your connections are really, really important; that’s where teacher relationships to students become the real critical kind of thing.”

Several administrators said that one of the most frequent ways a troubled student comes to the attention of school officials is through a concerned friend.

“We have four counselors here at Mountain View High School for 1,800 kids, and (High Desert) Middle School has one counselor for over 700 kids, so we really rely on their friends,” Stover said, adding that sometimes pieces of writing from students’ language arts or health classes will alert teachers to a possible problem. “They have services that they can access, but lots of times they just talk to their friends and the friends don’t know to come to an adult.”

Local mental health resources

Stover said that one of the most important first steps for students in getting help is connecting with an adult at school. If parents are concerned about their children, she said, a school guidance counselor or psychologist is a good person to talk to because they are familiar with the different resources in the area. Stover does not see students on an ongoing basis, but she said she often “checks in” with those who are in therapy and have considered or attempted suicide in the past.

“One of the things we’re really trying to work on is to get rid of the stigma – to let parents know and let our students know that human beings are the only animals on Earth that can think about hurting themselves, so therefore it’s just not uncommon,” she said. “That has to stop being a taboo subject. It has to be something that we start getting out there so that people understand it’s a major problem.”

She added that the school district is hoping to implement training for staff in recognizing and helping student suicide problems. The school health classes cover the topic of suicide and discuss resources with students. The Deschutes County Mental Health Department also has a psychologist who rotates among the different schools during the week and can treat students who are covered by Oregon Health Plan.

Stover is a member of the Deschutes County Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition, which brings together mental health professionals, county human services agencies and community members to work on the problem. Elaine Severson, another member of the coalition who is a public health nurse with the Deschutes County Health Department, said that one of the group’s main goals is raising awareness in the community about the types of resources available to parents and teenagers.

“There aren’t a whole lot of resources for high school kids, and most of what is there that really makes a difference is what they can access in the school,” Severson said. “(The Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition) has found through experience and research that it’s really critical that kids who are high risk or actually have attempted (suicide) have someone in their school who has been identified as someone they can go talk to and kids need help making that link.”

One good resource, she said, is the Deschutes County Mental Health Department, which has a 24-hour phone hotline. Suzanne Smither, a social worker with the mental health department, said that the agency mainly treats clients covered by Oregon Health Plan, but can help anyone with an immediate crisis.

“Our crisis team will see anyone until the crisis resolves,” Smither said. “If they have insurance we’d refer them to someone, but we wouldn’t refer them until they’d resolved the crisis somewhat if they’re in imminent danger.”

Mike Conner, a psychologist who is also a member of the Suicide Prevention Coalition, said that many of the high school patients he treats go to the Internet first to seek information about their symptoms. Unfortunately, many of the Web sites dealing with suicide show different methods for committing suicide, he said. One good Web site, he said, is, which was developed by Bend-based Mentor Research Institute.

“The first step in actually getting help isn’t that there aren’t resources out there, it’s actually finding the right resource, so this is an online computer system that was created here in Deschutes County and it is the only thing like it on the planet in which you can actually go and screen your child based on the information and
concerns and behaviors you have and get a very sophisticated report about what is potentially going on with your child,” Conner said. He added that parents can then take that report to their doctor for further referrals.

“That is the biggest problem right now with suicide prevention is actually being able to find help in a timely manner and get the kid there,” he said.

Despite the region’s relatively high rates of high schoolers considering or attempting suicide, officials said that the combination of school counselors and county mental health departments can usually make appropriate referrals for students with ongoing problems and help them get into long-term therapy.

“The network for helping families and kids is pretty strong – I mean, there are a lot of resources, the key is just getting to the point where you can connect those resources (and) having the issue come to the forefront where you can begin dealing with it,” Madras High School Principal Carlton said. “There’s generally a place to turn to and somewhere to get help for families and kids once everybody’s willing to go for that help.”

Hispanic businesses move into mainstream

Prineville sees growth in ethnic enterprises

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: February 19.2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – Behind the counter at Mi Tiendita Mini Mart on Prineville’s Main Street, Silvia Vargas moved between the grill, cash register and telephone.

She served one customer, speaking in English and wrapping up some taquitos. Then she switched to Spanish as a woman asked for papel de aluminio, tin foil.

The mart, whose name translates as “my little store,” offers a variety of Mexican goods, from bags of chiles to foreign brands of instant coffee and soap. Signs on the door advertise local English classes. Customers there can also buy phone cards to call Mexico, or sit at one of the small tables to eat tacos and drink Mexican soda.

Mi Tiendita, which has been in Prineville for about five years and under its current ownership for almost two, is part of a small group of Hispanic-owned businesses in Crook County. Local residents and entrepreneurs say the area has several stores and restaurants that cater to the growing Hispanic community, but the market is not as mature as in nearby cities with larger Hispanic populations.

“There aren’t many (stores) here,” Vargas said in Spanish. “It’s necessary to go to Bend and Redmond to buy some products.”

Geraldo Martinez, whose brother owns Mi Tiendita, added that the customer base for these businesses is smaller in Prineville than in Madras, Bend or Redmond. He said the people who shop at the store are evenly split between Hispanic and non-Hispanic. The store offers cooked food as well as groceries, and Martinez said that all customers are familiar with snacks like quesadillas, chimichangas and flautas, which Spanish-speakers call antojitos – “little cravings.”

Carmen Valdez, who lives in Madras and was eating at Mi Tiendita recently, said that the Mexican markets often act as clearinghouses for different types of services in the Hispanic community.

“A lot of Spanish people get information from them – some put jobs, some put food, places to go, dances or everything,” Valdez said. “Pretty much all of it is covered.”

Martinez added that the stores offer a place for Prineville’s Hispanic residents to mingle.

“People have their places here to get together and interact,” he said in Spanish.

The nearby Ranchero restaurant on Third Street in Prineville offers a different picture of Mexican entrepreneurship in the county, which had a Hispanic population of 1,082 in 2000, up from 388 in 1990, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Joel Carrillo, the owner of the two Ranchero locations in Prineville and Bend, estimated that only about 1 percent of his customers are Hispanic.

Carrillo started his business in Prineville 13 years ago after working at restaurants owned by his wife’s family in Washington state. Now he is planning to open a third location in Redmond, move to a larger building in Prineville and partner with an employee on a new market in Prineville – all in the coming year.

“We want to do a more American-style (store), but the food (Fabiola) wants to make is fresh corn tortillas and fresh Mexican bread for breakfast,” Carrillo said of Fabiola Ruiz, who has worked at Ranchero for 10 years and will run the new market, Monarca. “I’m helping her because I’m sure the community in this area, they need that kind … We want to do that place because it’s something different – something more like a fast food.”

Carrillo said he moved to Prineville because he was “looking for a quiet place to raise my kids, because we believe in the family.”

“We try to work more with the American community because we are so happy,” he said. “Like when people go to a restaurant and they say, ‘Good choice,’ I made a good choice picking Prineville.”

While most of the Hispanic-owned businesses in Prineville are restaurants or grocery stores with Mexican products, those in Madras, Bend and Redmond offer a variety of services for Spanish-speaking customers. Jose Rubio, the owner of Martina’s Market in Madras, said that “there is almost everything here in Madras.”

At 17.7 percent, Jefferson County had by far the highest proportion of Hispanic residents in Central Oregon in 2000, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Rubio said it seems the Hispanic population is continuing to grow quickly.

In addition to restaurants like Rubio’s where customers can call and send money to Mexico, Madras features stores like Los Amigos Clothing & Gift, which carries Mexican styles. Redmond has a variety of Mexican restaurants and minimarts, as well as companies like Michoacan Tires, which advertises over its entrance, “Se habla español.”

Rossy Gomez, assistant director of the Latino Community Association in Bend, said she has seen more clients recently asking for help in obtaining contractors’ licenses. Gomez’ organization, which was formerly know as El Programa de Ayuda, mainly serves Deschutes County’s Hispanic population.

“I have been living here for eight years, and obviously I see the growth,” Gomez said. “I can see that more Hispanics have their own business now.”

Crook County-Prineville Chamber of Commerce Director Diane Bohle described Central Oregon as having a “burgeoning population of Hispanic entrepreneurs.” Oregon’s Hispanic residents represent $5 billion in buying power, according to the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce in Portland, of which the Crook County Chamber is a member.

Gomez said these businesses offer people the ease and security of speaking in Spanish, as well as a connection to home.

“I think one of the best businesses we have here is the radio, Radio la Bronca in Redmond,” Gomez said. “It’s a great opportunity for the Hispanics to get informed and, of course, a lot of Hispanic businesses are using the radio, so I think that pulls everything together for these businesses and for the consumers.”

For Martinez, whose family owns La Tiendita, and Ruiz, who will open Monarca in a few months, owning a market allows them to tap into a growing population – both Mexican and not – in Prineville.

“We were always merchants, and when we saw the opportunity here we wanted to do it,” Martinez said.

Prineville city official steps down

Assistant City Manager Jerry Gillham quits amid flap over public works director’s job

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: February 14. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – The Prineville City Council decided Tuesday night to accept the resignation of Assistant City Manager Jerry Gillham, effective Feb. 15.

Residents and councilors were critical of Gillham after his role in the elimination of Public Works Director Jim Mole’s position. During what officials have termed an overall restructuring of city government last month, Gillham suggested removing Mole’s job.

The city plans to offer Gillham, who is currently in South Carolina for Oregon National Guard training, a severance package of 90 days pay and 15 days military pay. He makes about $87,000 a year and has worked for the city for about five months.

The City Council saw a packed audience for the second meeting in a row Tuesday night as residents continued to raise questions about last month’s decision to restructure the public works department.

Don Porfily, the manager of Ochoco Feed Co., presented Mayor Mike Wendel with a petition asking the mayor to resign. Several local businesses have featured similar petitions that have garnered hundreds of signatures.

Wendel said he believes he has “done a lot of good for the community” as mayor.

“I spend a lot of time doing this job; I spend a lot of time away from my family doing this job,” Wendel said. “The reason I stepped up to do this job is because I love Prineville and I’m willing to do everything I can to make it the great city it is and to make it better. That said, I will not resign at this time.”

Councilor Tim Harris said he hopes Tuesday night’s decision to accept Gillham’s resignation will raise support for the mayor. The vote on Gillham’s employment occurred after an executive session, so no members of the public were present.

“Hopefully with the decisions that were made tonight, (the public) will realize that he does have the city’s best interest at heart,” Harris said.

Several speakers at the meeting reiterated their criticism – first expressed at the council’s Jan. 23 meeting – of City Manager Robb Corbett and Gillham for their role in restructuring the city government and eliminating Public Works Director Jim Mole’s job. They also restated support for Mole and his performance with the public works department.

Gillham informed Mole on Jan. 18 that he no longer had a job with the city after nearly four years of work. Officials later said that the decision stemmed from a reorganization of city government that was meant to streamline operations as the city continues to grow.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Corbett said the reorganization will allow the city to coordinate planning and public works, and he distributed copies of a document showing a new city structure. Previously, Mole reported directly to Corbett. Now, a position described as a “lead supervisor” for public works will report to the assistant city manager.

Scott Smith, an employee in public works, said at Tuesday’s meeting that he feels he can no longer work with Corbett because the city manager has lost his “trust and respect.” He added that he worried that speaking at the council meeting would be “jeopardizing my 19-year, seven-month employment with the city of Prineville.”

“I feel I need to voice my opinion when I question the direction my community is going,” Smith said. “We’re all confused (in the public works department); we’re all here to do the best job we can, but we have no leadership, and Robb, you can question my attitude, but attitude is a question of leadership.”

Smith said that Gillham had subjected public works employees to “intimidation, harassment (and) a hostile work environment,” citing examples such as accessing individuals’ personnel files.

“The people of this town don’t know half the stuff that’s happened – when they do find out, things are going to get really bad,” he said. “I hope you guys won’t allow Mr. Corbett to fire me – he’s been known to do that – but as a citizen I can voice my opinion.”

Council members agreed that they would like a policy to include the City Council in discussions of future plans to restructure city positions, which they will vote on at a later meeting.

“I believe the council would like to have more input whenever we do major structural changes inside the city,” Wendel said.

While some speakers referred to a possible attempt to recall Wendel – who was the only City Council member to know beforehand about the decision to eliminate Mole’s job – others said they think that step would further divide the community.

“I don’t want to see the turmoil in Prineville,” said Larry Smith. “You (councilors) need to work together as a group; you need to consider the history of some of the people involved.”

In other business at the meeting, Deborah McMahon, a planning consultant for the city, asked the council to defer discussion on the city’s first comprehensive plan until the first meeting in March. Wendel expressed frustration with the delay – the City Council had hoped to pass its comprehensive plan by the end of 2006 – but McMahon said the process has been relatively quick and a plan should be ready for the council’s consideration by early March.