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Let voters decide on pot shops


We agree with Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner that the City Council should start discussing the regulation of marijuana stores, even though the city’s current ban on medical marijuana outlets continues until May 1, 2015.

But we also believe that in the end this matter has such significant potential ramifications that it should be decided by the city’s voters, not just its seven elected councilors.

Recent history in Oregon suggests that the public and the politicians don’t always agree on marijuana issues.

In 2010 the state’s voters rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized medical marijuana dispensaries.


Focus on forest, not just plans


Disdain for the U.S. Forest Service’s draft plan for managing the Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla and Malheur national forests is widespread.

Commissioners from 10 Eastern Oregon counties, including Baker, don’t much like it.

Local residents have expressed their concerns in letters to the editor and other forums.

Most recently U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, the Oregon Republican whose congressional district includes the three Blue Mountains national forests, summarized some of the most common complaints in a letter to Regional Forester Jim Peña. Walden wrote that the three national forests “are in poor condition and dire need of proper management that will restore forest health, reduce catastrophic wildfire, and sustain the economies in these rural communities. Unfortunately, it seems that this plan falls short of meeting these needs of the forest and the communities.”

We understand why people are worried.

We agree that the forest plan, which will replace management plans for the three national forests that date to 1990, should emphasize more strongly the need to do more logging and other work, including prescribed burning, to reduce the risk of large blazes.


Summer of reading


Summer vacation is perhaps the most hallowed and beloved of traditions for kids.

But it’s not all fun and games.

While they’re going to the beach and the swimming pool and the campground, students tend to forget some of what they learned during the previous school year.

We’re not suggesting summer vacation be canceled.

But we’re awfully glad Baker students have the option of REAL — the Read Everyday And Learn program.


Protecting the Elkhorns


The east face of the Elkhorn Mountains is one of the great natural settings in Baker County, forming the dramatic backdrop for Baker Valley, and it’s in danger.

The threat is fire.

Over the past quarter century, while lightning-sparked blazes charred more than 30,000 acres elsewhere in the Elkhorns, the east face has in the main escaped that fate.

A blaze burned about 1,000 acres on the east side of Red Mountain in September 2006, but before that the last major blaze on the east side of the Elkhorns was the Anthony Burn of 1960.

But you need only look a few miles to the west to see what an ill-timed lightning bolt can do.


Keep our crime lab operating


Baker County District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff said last week he’s worried about the possibility that Oregon State Police will close its Pendleton crime lab, the only such lab in Eastern Oregon.

We’re worried, too.

To that reaction we add another: disgust.

OSP officials said they have made no decision about the Pendleton lab.

The potential problem, they said, is money.

Specifically, there might not be enough of it for the state’s 2015-17 biennium to avoid cuts in State Police.

This problem has a simple solution.


Baseball a boost for Baker City


We don’t take many weeks off during the summer in Baker City.

A season that just 15 years or so ago featured but three main events — Miners Jubilee in July and the County Fair and Shrine football game in August — now scarcely pauses for a siesta between the solstice and the equinox.

The two-wheeled twins — the Baker City Cycling Classic and the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally — each bring crowds to town, the former in late June and the latter in July.

The latest addition to the hectic summer schedule happens next week when 10 Babe Ruth baseball teams converge on the Baker Sports Complex for a regional tournament.

In the world of 13- to 15-year-old baseball, this is a big deal.


Better able to deal with fires


You can watch them roll by, showroom-shiny, during local parades, but in our view the trucks from rural fire protection districts never look so good as when they’re coated with dust and pinstriped with scratches from sagebrush.

When they’re out doing what they were designed to do, in other words, which is protecting homes and valuable rangelands and crop fields from flames.

Fire will always pose a threat in our arid county.

But we’ve never been better equipped to deal with the danger.

The proliferation of volunteer-run rural fire districts over the past 15 or so years has added significant muscle to the county’s firefighting capabilities.


Obama off base with fire comment


President Obama’s visit this week to Washington state, where a massive wildfire has destroyed 150 homes, was predictable in every respect.

We didn’t mind most parts of the president’s choreographed trip.

Mr. Obama declared a federal emergency in Washington, which authorizes multiple federal agencies to work with state and local officials to fight fires and help displaced residents.

The president telephoned the widow of a man who died of a heart attack while trying to protect the couple’s home from the flames.

Appropriately presidential actions, to be sure.


Lots of people, but little trouble


Alcohol and summer festivals.

The combination can be a volatile one.

But this summer, in Baker City, it wasn’t.

On successive weekends we welcomed thousands of visitors, first for the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally, then for Miners Jubilee.

A larger-than-usual contingent of local police patrolled during both events but the officers spent more time talking to people than putting on handcuffs.

The police presence is partly responsible for the relative tranquility, of course.

And in the case of the beer garden that’s part of the festivities surrounding the annual bull and bronc riding events, a series of protocols agreed upon by the organizers and Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner — including requiring a minimum number “alcohol monitors,” who try to ensure people don’t overindulge — no doubt helped to curb problems.

Ultimately, though, we give the lion’s share of the credit to people who imbibed, but not to excess.

Moreover, almost everyone who drank alcohol chose not to drive a vehicle. Baker City Police arrested only one person for drunken driving during Miners Jubilee weekend, and Lohner said there was no evidence that person had attended any events related to the Jubilee.

We don’t mean to imply that people shouldn’t always be thoughtful, law-abiding citizens.

Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see that major events, which inevitably involve alcohol, needn’t devolve into ugly, and potentially dangerous, scenes.


No rubber stamps


A couple days after four of his colleagues on the Baker City Council stripped him of his title, former Mayor Richard Langrell told Herald reporter Pat Caldwell that he would “sit there and be quiet with my hands folded and be a rubber stamp like the other four.”

We hope Langrell’s tongue was stuck in his cheek.

We’re pretty sure it was in the vicinity, anyway.

His constituents didn’t elect him to represent them as a rubber stamp, a metaphor for an elected official who never questions the majority opinion.

And a year and a half into his four-year term, Langrell hasn’t exactly been a malleable councilor.

Twice in this space earlier this year we urged Langrell to resign as mayor because we don’t think it’s appropriate that he remain, in effect, the face of the city while he’s suing the city trying to reclaim water and sewer fees he paid. But we also want him to stay on as councilor because he’s an effective representative for a significant percentage of city residents.

Langrell has been a vocal and consistent questioner of the city’s spending priorities — especially related to employees’ wages and benefits, the largest chunk of the city’s budget.

He also has been a persistent critic of the city’s somewhat sluggish response in repairing a fence designed to keep cattle from getting into the watershed that supplies drinking water to the city’s 10,000 residents.

Both are vital issues that deserve a vigorous debate among councilors, not a mild consensus.


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