> By Tony Ahern
The Madras City Council last week took on a fullback-sized issue with the Migrant Head Start program. Unfortunately, they didn't make the tackle.
Make no mistake: it was a big and mean thing to try and tackle. The Migrant Head Start is a federal program, has nearly as many people getting paychecks as youth getting care and education, and the building would serve no kids a majority of the year. Fewer and fewer migrant workers are being employed by county farms, and the Oregon Child Development Coalition apparently inflated the number of eligible kids in their presentation.
Still, it's troubling that the council reversed the planning commission's approval on this request.
The fact that it's a bloated federal government program doesn't make it unique. The fact that the government was willing to build a nice structure in Jefferson County is, if not unique, at least a positive action.
It's debatable whether or not the facility fit under conditional use criteria. The planning commission concluded it did but the council determined it did not. Apparently it comes down to whether Head Start is a daycare or a school. Schools are OK, daycares are not, though they possibly could be if the local jurisdiction wanted them. The council did not. If the project is appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals, we may get yet another opinion.
Certainly the proposed location isn't perfect, but it does make sense: The land's being donated; it's contiguous to a park; there's another daycare facility directly across the street; there's a senior care facility in the vicinity; the middle school and hospital are short walks away. They weren't asking to build in the middle of a houses-only neighborhood. The senior care facility and the Juniper Junction youth facility were allowed in that zone. Why wouldn't another youth facility work there?
The city council would have liked for the Migrant Head Start vote to be just another land use decision. It wasn't. It's connected to a much larger issue that haunts our multi-cultural community: race relations. I don't think this council made its decision based on race, but rather after listening to the appellants' attorney, determining the project to be rife with overabundance and waste, and believing the majority of their constituents were against it. All valid reasons.
At the end of the day, though, the losers were the migrant kids and the Hispanic community. The local residents within that community took it as a slap in the face.
The beast continues to roll.