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Ongoing Patterns of Abuse in Government
What is a Man’s Life Worth?
Paving the Way for Urban Development by Paving Right Over Life, Liberty, and Property
By Scott Rohter, April 2012

Urban growth is the reason that Jack and Betty Neely lost their house in 1995 in the un-incorporated are of River Road just west of Eugene. Urban growth is the reason why the City of Eugene ordered the foreclosure on their little house on Horn Lane for the exact amount of an unpaid sewer assessment, a $7411 lien which was later determined by the Oregon Appeals Court to be completely illegal. Urban growth is why two fine people like Jack and Betty Neely were reduced to poverty, homelessness, and charity. The City of Eugene literally made an example of the Neelys in order to pave the way for urban development. Today you can drive through a neighborhood in transition, where older homes on acre or half acre lots share the same streets with newer tract homes on virtually no land, in tiny subdivisions. That is the reason that Jack Neely died.  He had to die before these subdivisions could be built!

Jack Neely died because he bravely stood up to Eugene’s illegal plans for urban development and forced annexation! His untimely death due to a heart attack which was induced by the stress of his five year long legal battle with the City of Eugene and Lane County, and which came only one month after they foreclosed on his house and put both he and his sister out on the streets for non-payment of an illegal sewer assessment was a tragedy! I have always thought that it was the real cost of development in terms of human life, for Eugene’s expansion of its urban growth boundary.

The City’s hostile action against the Neely’s served as a powerful reminder to others, and a strong inducement to comply with their illegal city ordinances! Eugene literally scared all of the other residents of River Road and Santa Clara into compliance, and into paying the $5,000 sewer assessment.  Well everybody that is except for Jack and Betty Neely! And the City of Eugene made an example of the Neelys in order to get the rest of the residents of River Road-Santa Clara off of their individual septic systems and onto the Eugene Municipal Sewer System. This was the first step that was necessary before they could begin to build on those smaller sized lots that the City’s planners had created in these neighborhoods, and before they could increase the urban density in the previously un-incorporated area just west of River Road and north of Beltline.

Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of residential construction contracts were also waiting, and smaller and more expensive properties for the City tax rolls as well. That was what was really at stake in the River Road and Santa Clara neighborhoods! It was never about the quality of the ground water! The ground water was just fine.  But soon it wouldn’t be, not at least with what the City was planning for the area.  And besides, you can’t put a septic tank and 300 feet of drain lines on a 4,000 square foot lot, or even on an 8,000 square foot lot! There is just not enough room. And that was exactly what the City of Eugene was planning for these two neighborhoods, without a vote, and all because of Oregon’s top down, one size fits all, central land planning goals which are handed down from Salem. This is all because of Oregon Senate Bill 100, and the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC).

Eugene’s aggressive expansion strategy was completely illegal. But that was only to be determined later. It was also very successful in getting people to hook up to the Eugene Municipal Sewer System. They achieved over a 90% compliance rate by scaring people into submission. In other words 90% of the residents of River Road and Santa Clara abandoned their individual septic tanks and hooked up to the Eugene Municipal Sewer System just to avoid having happen to them what happened to the Neelys. Jack and Betty Neely who couldn’t and wouldn’t be scared, were just standing in the way of what the City of Eugene called “progress”. Never mind that a majority of the people living in River Road and Santa Clara were opposed to the City’s plan, and it was completely illegal. It was still “progress” nevertheless.  And it didn’t matter whether the folks in River Road –Santa Clara actually wanted sewers or not, smaller lot sizes or not, or higher density and annexation or not. They were going to get it all anyway, whether they wanted it or not!

The City thought that it knew what was best for the residents of River Road and Santa Clara in the 1990s or they just plain didn’t care, just like the City thinks that it knows what is best for the residents of West Eugene today, who live or own property along 6th and 7th Streets, or west 11th Avenue. They are going to get the West Eugene EmX without a vote, and whether they want it or not, just the same way the residents of River Road –Santa Clara got what they didn’t want, without a vote!  Some things don’t change!  Some abusive patterns in government remain the same over the years. And unlike elsewhere, even some of the names and the faces of the principal players in Eugene remain the same. Some of the same people who were around in the 1990s and had a role in the forced annexation scheme, the illegal imposition of sewer assessments, the expropriation of the Neely house, Jack Neely’s death and the failure to pass Oregon House Bill 3453 in 1995 are still around today. I am specifically referring to Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, and Lane County Commissioner Peter Sorenson.

The expropriation of the Neely house and the untimely death of Jack Neely along with the successful legal challenge three years later by Barbara Nalven, who owned a house in the River Road area on Knoop Lane permitted the remaining 250 or so property owners who had not yet hooked up to the Eugene Municipal Sewer System, to avoid having to do so, and it gave them the legal basis to be able to resist having to comply with the illegal City ordinances. It also helped to keep their properties from being forcibly annexed into the city.

Jack’s untimely death caused by a stress related heart attack after he and his sister were forcibly evicted from their house by the Lane County Sheriff, plus the successful legal challenge by Barbara Nalven, protected the remaining 250 or so property owners from having to pay the $5,000 sewer assessment.

So what is the price of Freedom? Just what is one man’s life really worth? Well if you calculate it based upon the number of homes that were actually saved from having to pay the $5,000 sewer assessment it would be about 1.25 million dollars (250 homes @ $5,000 apiece). But that would be extremely low. If you actually take into consideration how much more money was at stake in terms of all the sewer assessments, and if you don’t even consider the many other fees to be made by issuing building permits, higher taxes, and the windfall of having more properties being placed on the tax rolls, then you are at a much higher figure of at least 12 million dollars. That number is based upon the fact that there was about a 90% compliance rate. There were about 2,250 homes that paid approximately $5,000 each for sewer assessments. That is about $12 million. So at a bare minimum that means that Jack Neely’s life was worth at least 12 million dollars!


"The truth, the political truth, and nothing but the political truth.
A journalist has no better friend than the truth."
- Scott Rohter

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