Guest opinion by Rivers Brown: Here’s my take on the SOU 2020 Master Plan that comes to the Planning Commission this Tuesday.
Hello Ashland, is anyone there? I wonder at this sometimes when the only issues gaining any traction here are things like nudity and dog park issues, while some very profound changes for our town that virtually no one knows about are stealthily headed our way. So, here's my take on the SOU 2020 Master Plan that comes to the Planning Commission this Tuesday.
This plan is a giant privatization scheme that pushes the envelope on fantasized urban molding, as if what is right for the Bay Area, Portland or Seattle is what we as a community need arising in our midst. In the last three years the financial services and the food services on campus have been privatized, much to the chagrin of many students (the voiceless). This plan would now privatize the campus student housing and even invent a privatized "faculty housing" as a "next step" toward ever-greater privatization of staff and faculty functions here.
The two housing projects, student housing and faculty housing, would turn over large blocks of state land to private (possibly out of state) developers to finance, build and manage these formerly state-run services, impacting the neighborhoods and retail community they border and project into.
With the student housing, all of the fee-paying students will be transferred to below the boulevard while the subsidized faculty housing will be installed above the boulevard, a glaring example of institutional elitism just on the face of it. The megalithic concrete and steel dorms students now use will be bulldozed and the land "land banked" for some future grand and glorious academic expansion.
On July 14 last year, our Neighborhood and Community Garden Working Group had the Bastille Day insurrection at the Planning Commission meeting, where 26 city residents signed in and spoke out against this proposed plan. The university then withdrew the plan and had a SOU Master Plan Open House in October because they had had so little public input in this outsourced plan development process. Attendees were all given "clickers" to vote on a number of issues that had questions very skewed toward their plan. We would all vote first, then discuss the question. It would have been interesting with a second vote after each discussion. More than 20 percent of "clickers" indicated that they worked for the university. Still, with this, it didn't go well for the university.
Yes, it's true, our university system is in sad financial shape, and this campus especially, through mismanagement over the years, has some large infrastructure problems. The question is: Does this mean that privatization is the only answer now?
Maybe some among you readers out there can add some creativity to this. To view the plan you can go to either the SOU Web site, http://www.sou.edu/master-plan/index.html, or the City of Ashland Web site, http://www.ashland.or.us/sou.
The Planning Commission is holding a public hearing on this Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers. Maybe you'd like to put your 2 cents worth into what little public discussion we may be having on this issue before it's a done deal.
There are some good and some bad, even very bad, ideas in this plan. It's not just the two mega-sized and privatized housing projects that need more public input and rethinking. Others, such as replacing the central campus open space of "woodland and meadows" theme with a square, paved plaza, and building a whole new roadway diagonally crossing the open grassy slope behind the library and Suzanne Homes dorm, should be severely questioned, if not outright objected to.
Many of us "neighbors" are not happy about the university's abandoning the "town & gowns" philosophy with the faculty housing scheme. And many are appalled at the step down the students will take being corralled below the boulevard in the commercial district, and with all the traffic and safety problems this plan entails. Maybe you should check it out and have your say so, too.
Rivers Brown is a 10-year resident of Ashland who lives near the Southern Oregon University campus.