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Bye, bank. Hello home? Or a pub?

The news that Bank of America is closing its Baker City branch in October wasn’t exactly shocking.

Most of the nation’s major banks — B of A, based in Charlotte, N.C., ranks second in assets to JPMorgan Chase — have pared their operations since the financial meltdown four years ago.

But this inconvenience for the bank’s local customers also creates an opportunity for the community.

That’s because Bank of America’s Baker City branch is not the typical boring banking center, architecturally speaking.

It’s located in one of Baker City’s older — and to our eyes, one of the more interesting — Victorian homes.

The Ison House, at 1790 Washington Ave., was built in 1887. The Queen Anne-style home was built of brick brought from Portland. According to Historic Baker City Inc’s guide to local architecture, the home’s original owner, Luther B. Ison, deemed locally fired brick too soft for his tastes.

Not to disparage banks, and the potential loss of jobs from the bank’s closures is unfortunate, but we’d be pleased if the Ison House were sold and used for either of two purposes.

The most obvious would be that someone with a surfeit of money and patience buys the home and restores it for its original use: as a home.

The more intriguing idea, though, has to do with brew.

McMenamins of Portland is renowned for turning antique buildings into restaurants. Among the company’s locations is an old house in South Salem that’s not all that different from the Ison House.

Baker City already has two brewpubs, of course — Barley Brown’s and Bull Ridge. 

Adding a McMenamins could bolster our reputation as a destination for beer connoisseurs, and give a boost to the two existing businesses that serve a similar clientiele.

Studded tires get a reprieve

Your studded tires should be safe for at least one more winter.

A Portland man who wants to ban studded tires on Oregon roads failed to gather enough signatures to put a proposed ban on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Jeff Bernards didn’t even come close, in fact. He needed at least 80,000 signatures from registered voters. He collected about 10,000.

We’re happy about his failure.

City needs your ideas on streets

The news that Baker City is beginning work on updating its 16-year-old transportation plan might sound like one of those bureaucratic exercises that are as exciting as listening to a lecture delivered in a language you don’t understand.

We’re not going to try to convince you that the city’s finished product will pull you in like the latest from Stephen King or Craig Johnson.

But unlike famous authors, the city, along with the engineering firm it has hired to write the plan, will incorporate reader suggestions.

The city, in fact, is all but pleading for your help with what amounts to the plot.

Even if you didn’t attend this afternoon’s kickoff meeting at City Hall, and you can’t make the bicycle tour that starts Thursday morning at 10 o’clock (meet at City Hall, 1655 First St.), you’ll have ample chances over the next year or so to tell the city what you think its transportation system lacks.

One thing that isn’t exactly in abundance here, of course, is traffic.

Considering our version of rush hour resembles a tranquil Sunday in a Portland suburb, you might wonder why Baker City even needs a transportation plan.

Well, for one thing the state thinks we ought to have a plan if we intend to keep applying for grants and loans that make major projects financially feasible for a small town.

But it’s also valuable for city officials — including the seven elected city councilors, who have the final say on such things — to have an idea of what their constituents think is important.

In Baker City we needn’t fret over such things as billion-dollar light rail extensions or even more expensive bridges over the Columbia River.

And our street system is pretty much in place.

We’d wager, though, that most locals could come up with a list of improvements, such as adding bicycle lanes or sidewalks, that make it easier, and safer, to get around town.

The sooner city officials learn about those needs, the more likely it is they’ll end up in the final plan, and the more likely they’ll actually get built.

A family endures a nightmare

Baker City Herald Editorial Board

What happened to one of Stacy and Jason Bingham’s five children would cause any parent to shudder.

That the same medical malady — in essence, a failed heart — could befall two of their daughters, and possibly one of their two sons, well, that seems the stuff of fiction.

Six years ago the Binghams, who live near Haines, watched as their eldest daughter Sierra, then 6, underwent heart transplant surgery at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.

Today the Binghams are there again.


Freedom signs near the Fourth

Baker City Herald Editorial board

It seems to us fitting that the United States of America, within a week of our Independence Day, lurched through one of those raucuous public episodes that are a hallmark of our republic.

The cacophony attending the Supreme Court’s ruling on President Obama’s signature legislation — the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare — was the sort of spectacle that can happen only in an exceedingly free society.

A great option for higher ed

Baker City lacks the archetypal university campus with its tree-lined walkways and imposing, ivy-bearded buildings.

But for many local residents who want to further their education, what we do have is, well, better.

Blue Mountain Community College gives the so-called “non-traditional” student (as though there’s anything unconventional about a person wanting to learn) flexible options in pursuing a degree that aren’t always available at four-year universities.

It’s no real surprise, then, that the college, which is based in Pendleton but has a satellite campus in Baker City, is becoming a more popular choice for Baker County students.

Enrollment locally has increased almost three-fold in the past five years.

In addition to convenient schedules — including online classes available for students who need them — Blue Mountain’s tuition is a bargain, at about $45 less per credit than its closest competitor.

Students can choose to earn an associate’s degree, or transfer their credits to a four-year university where they can go on to earn a bachelor’s degree.

The bottom line is that Baker County residents needn’t leave home to acquire a higher education.

Which roads to sacrifice?

Local Forest Service officials want to hear what you have to say about the plan to ban motor vehicles on some roads on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

We recommend you take them up on the offer.

Although we doubt many people will need much prodding to make themselves heard on this matter.

Schools are doing just fine

The various disputes that have dominated our coverage of the Baker School Board the past several months do not, as the saying goes, constitute a good thing.

But neither is it a terrible thing.

This dysfunction has resulted in board member Kyle Knight being censured by three of his colleagues, in Knight considering filing a civil lawsuit, and in a campaign to recall board members Lynne Burroughs and Mark Henderson.

But what hasn’t happened is more important than any of those things: The core purpose of the Baker School District, which is to give every student the chance to attain a quality education, has not been diminished.

Whatever else transpires this summer, we’re confident that come late August, when classes reconvene, teachers will be in their rooms.

Buses will deliver students to their schools.

Kids will scamper outside at the recess bell, and eat their lunches (or not, as the case may be).

These scenes of utter normalcy shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Who's footing the bills?

We weren’t especially bothered when the U.S. Supreme Court, in its Citizens United decision in 2010, allowed corporations and labor unions to spend as much money as they want on political advertising.

Our equanimity was based on two main factors.

First, the budgets for high-level campaigns were measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars before Citizens United. It’s not as if the high court’s ruling suddenly changed the American electoral system from a purely grassroots undertaking into a corporate-controlled echo chamber.

Second, even the justices among the 5-4 majority in Citizens United — and in particular Anthony Kennedy — emphasized that they intended that voters would be able to track which corporation or union was funneling money into campaigning.

So much for intentions.

In the 2 years since Citizens United, it’s become clear that creative accounting can in some cases obscure from voters’ eyes the dollars behind the messages that bombard us with each election cycle.

(And you can imagine the barrage which awaits us as Nov. 6 nears.)

A bill languishing in Washington, D.C., aims to remove that veil from voters’ view. The DISCLOSE Act  (the acronym comes from “Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections”) would require organizations, including corporations, super PACs, unions and nonprofits (not including 501(c)(3) charitable groups) to disclose contributions of more than $10,000. They also would have to reveal the names of individuals who donate money to them for political purposes.

Some Republicans in the Senate, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, oppose DISCLOSE.

We wonder why these senators want to keep voters in the dark about who’s buying all those ads.

Rally around August

The thousands of motorcycle riders who congregate in Baker City for the annual Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally have pretty much everything the need here.

Except decent weather.

This dilemma is easily solved, though. We support the rally organizers’ plan to schedule the event, which has taken place in early June, for later in the summer.

Mid-August seems the most logical option. That doesn’t coincide with other local events, nor with the much larger motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., which is set this year for Aug. 6-12.

As for the weather, consider these numbers: average June rainfall: 1.33 inches; average in August: .85.

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