22 Jul A few questions for City of Bend Manager Eric King
Eric King has been the Bend City Manager since 2008. Cascade Journal sat down with this local leader to hear his thoughts about growth, livability and summer vacation.
What do you love most about your job?
It’s a privilege to help shape Bend in a productive way that is guided by our community’s values and priorities. At the end of the day, I’m a pragmatic midwesterner, so I get this weird satisfaction from synthesizing an array of diverse opinions and making something tangible out of it—such as a growth plan. Bend has struggled to come up with a plan that has broad community support. But I’m really excited about how this in-progress UGB (Urban Growth Boundary) plan is coming together. I may be an optimist, but I strongly feel that a solid plan will remove much of the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with being a high-growth community.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Bend today?
Since the early 1990s we’ve been growing by more than six people a day. Over the last two decades we’ve gone from 52,000 to about 81,000 people. Population forecasts show Bend reaching a population of around 109,000 by the year 2025, and around 120,000 by 2030.
Not only are we constantly trying to keep up with added demands, from increased public safety to road maintenance needs, we also face high expectation regarding what services local government should provide. We have to prioritize, and that means there are winners and losers. Many people want the city to take a leadership role in solving issues that are beyond basic operational services. The bottom line is that we have an involved community that is passionate about their interests, and a tax structure dictated by the state, which makes it difficult to match citizen expectations with available revenue.
If you had a magic lamp, what would be your three wishes for Bend?
1) I wish we could revise our tax structure. Most folks don’t know that just 20 percent of Bend residents’ local property taxes go to city services. In Redmond, for example, nearly 40 percent of property taxes go to city services. Cities have very little latitude to change the distribution of property tax revenue, so it puts us in a difficult position to meet the demands of our residents.
2) I wish we could provide a more reliable transportation system for people who would like to ride a bus instead of driving. The missing connections in our current system make it less reliable.
3) I also really wish the city had the ability to provide a better social service safety net for our community. Bend has a real community health and housing affordability problem. The city doesn’t have solutions to chronic homelessness and mental health issues. Our police are doing a lot of this front-line social service work, which is not an efficient or effective response to this growing problem in Bend.
What is the most interesting question that has come across your desk lately?
During a winter storm when there was a broad power outage a gentleman called to ask how to get his car out of his garage because the power to his garage door opener was shutdown. This is not really something I’m an expert in.
Where do you see this city in five years? 20? 50?
5 years: Bend’s population should be closing in on 98,000. A four-year university will be up and running. The central area east of downtown will be redeveloped, urban and hip; the Makers District could be a vibrant retail and entertainment destination. There will be more types of housing and much more multi-family housing to accommodate our changing demographics. We will have seen measured improvement in transit services.
20 years: The population could be around 132,000, and highway connections in and out of Bend will be better. Highway 97 will function more like a freeway. The city’s boundaries will be bigger, and new developments will be complete, modeled after older, core neighborhoods that are a mix of housing, retail needs, schools and other services.
50 years: The population will be close to 195,000. I’ll be 91. Eeesh.
What can we learn from other communities that have grown rapidly?
There are always lessons to be learned everywhere, but Bend is truly amongst the leaders in setting the bar for rapid growth. The US Census Bureau once reported that Bend was among the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas. Despite that, we have maintained our livability and desirability. But I went to New Zealand on an International City Management Association exchange program once, and saw how some communities there were thinking more globally about how to manage growth. It made me think that Bend could benefit from more planning on a regional scale. Reforming the state’s land-use system to allow more regional planning would help integrate transportation, land use planning, natural resource preservation and so much more.
What does livability mean to you and your family?
It means we have a lot of time to be with each other, mostly because we spend less time in the car going from work to school to soccer practice to the grocery store and so on. As our children get older they are involved in more activities, and I don’t want their time and ours to be filled with getting from here to there. I also want them to be able to manage their own transportation needs, by ensuring that Bend is a safe place for kids to walk and bike. It also means we have choices in our community—we can choose between urban and rural recreational experiences.
What is your favorite Bend event?
I’d have to choose the kid’s Pole Pedal Paddle. It’s active, healthy and kid-focused, and it represents our community in so many ways. It’s also a small time commitment, and at work I don’t hear much criticism about its effect on traffic or neighborhoods.
Where do you go on vacation?
For three days in the summer, we go camping in the high lakes or to Portland for a nice getaway to expose our kids to a more urban environment. For a week in the winter we go to Hawaii, where it’s warm and tropical and easy for the whole family. It’s one of the few places I can completely unwind.