By Richard Jones
El Hispanic News
Eugene, OR — What characteristics should a Eugene City Council member have? If you ask Juan Carlos Valle, the answer would be a forward looking attitude with concern for the environment, civil rights, experience, support for small businesses, and the ability to create new jobs.
And one more thing. Valle, a candidate for Eugene’s Ward 2 City Council seat, believes that council members should be in touch with the people they represent.
In the May 15 primary election, Valle will challenge incumbent Betty Taylor and another challenger, Jim Ray.
Over a cup of coffee in mid-April, Valle detailed his view of the many challenges that Eugene faces. A short list of its needs would include jobs, more small businesses, and big businesses offering green jobs, civil rights, housing for University of Oregon students, and helping police officers resolve conflicts without the use of weapons.
The boy from D.F.
So who is Juan Carlos Valle and how did he happen to run for public office in a city of 138,000?
Valle was born in a city — a city with more than 20 million people — the third largest city in the world — México, Distrito Federal, also known as Mexico City.
His occupation? Shoe shine boy and other low-paying chores. Education? Minimal.
His odyssey took him to the northwestern United States where he picked fruit and wrestled heavy pipes. Eventually he earned an opportunity for residency and, finally, citizenship.
The change of residence also included learning English, earning a high school GED, a two-year degree at Lane Community College, and a B.A. at the University of Oregon. He is now working on a master’s degree in a public policy and administration at the University of Oregon graduate school.
He has been homeless in Oregon. He now lives in a nice home. He has worked at difficult physical labor. He now holds in jobs requiring education and brain power. In short, Valle believes he has a broader perspective — and can relate to more groups — than most Americans could imagine.
The Capstone Project
The three candidates — Ray, Taylor, and Valle — have sparred on the Capstone project as well as how much slack to give Occupy Eugene protesters.
The proposed Capstone project aims to build three five-story buildings to house 1,200 college students.
Capstone Collegiate Communities is an Alabama firm that builds and manages student housing. The rub comes from this company’s request for approximately $10 million in tax breaks over a 10-year period.
At an early April forum staged by the Eugene City Club, Valle’s opponents — Taylor and Ray — opposed this tax break.
Valle saw it as a chance to generate local jobs and generate some leverage — to induce Capstone to set aside 5 percent of the cost for social services, road repairs, and public safety projects as well as the Eugene Public Library.
“This is a great way for Capstone or any similar projects to have an immediate positive community presence,” Valle reasoned.
The other hot button issue currently in Eugene is the Occupy Eugene movement. In the late 2011 action, “occupiers” set up operations at a Eugene park for a long-term stay.
The essential question is when does freedom of speech stop and when does living in public parks begin?
“Our community should be grateful to the Occupy Eugene,” he said, because it brought issues such as social services, particularly the un-housed needs, to the forefront.
Valle called Eugene a city in which diversity is respected and welcomed. However, he notes, there is work to do.
“What’s important is not just saying you support diversity or that you protect civil rights,” Valle said. “You have to be willing to actually engage those behind the actions of hate speech. When families are being attacked or there are civil rights issues, we have to be willing to act on them and work directly with others to remedy situations.”
Valle chairs the Police Commission’s 12-member advisory board.
Over the last decade, the economy across country, across Oregon, and in Eugene has been shabby.
Valle is not content to just wait for politicians in Washington, D.C., to create jobs. He thinks Eugene should participate actively in the recovery.
“We have to bring jobs to the local community,” he says, “jobs that will match with the community.”
Valle does more than talk a good game. “I get directly involved with projects,” he said. “I have personally helped several small businesses get started.”
Valle also believes that large corporations can have a place in Eugene — within limits. He has a few questions for outside businesses. “If you want to come into our community, what changes will you make? What other benefits can you bring?” He said the community should know what public benefits the city will gain when it grants concessions to companies.
Some big businesses, he noted, have already come to Eugene lured by significant tax breaks. He urges caution when considering which businesses to invite. Some have taken the tax breaks, he said, and then left to another state offering more lucrative tax breaks.
“They bring in highly paid specialists, then they move, but small businesses stay,” Valle noted.
Therefore, he reasoned, “We have to find ways to give small businesses incentives.”
Too often, he believes, government fees imposed on new small businesses are “very significant.”
Valle suggests that Eugene should review fees and make sure they are reasonable. Moreover, he said, getting a business permit can take six months.
“It happens all the time,” he pointed out.” That means that an entrepreneur cannot earn money during that period. [Hungry] kids can’t wait for six months.”
On the employee’s side of the coin, Valle reminds businesses, “The people you employ should have a good quality of life.” That should include safe working conditions, an adequate salary, and a healthy environment.
As chair of the Eugene Police Commission, Valle calls for ongoing training for officers to help them protect the public.
Instead of brandishing pistols or tasers, he suggested using “verbal judo” on unarmed offenders to de-escalate situations.
“We need some tweaking and to learn from mistakes for a more robust and adequate public safety plan,” he said.
Most of all, Valle believes that elected officials should maintain contact with the people in their district. To demonstrate that he knows the city and its concerns, Valle’s campaign flyer carries a list of 17 civic organizations he works with.
The first test will come with the primary election on May 15. From there, who knows what might happen to change Eugene?