Chuck Bennett, Salem’s mayor-elect spoke at the recent Rotary Club of Keizer luncheon. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Salem’s mayor-elect, Chuck Bennett, stopped by the weekly Rotary Club of Keizer luncheon Thursday, Dec. 22, to talk about the ways Salem and Keizer can work together.

Topics ranged from the future of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) to transit and homelessness.

Bennett reserved his harshest critique for the Salem-Keizer Transit District.

“I’m convinced that we need to sit down and figure out where we want to go from this slow, unrealistic service with buses traveling around town mostly empty on odd routes that don’t seem to be serving our residents well,” Bennett said.

Recent attempts to add funding to the district through ballot measures have largely gone down in flames, and Bennett said it is indicative of a lack of conviction to have a transit district in the Salem-Keizer area at all.

In January, Bennett is hoping the Salem City Council acts on approving ride-sharing services, like Uber and Lyft, within Salem and Keizer to follow suit shortly thereafter.

“Right now, the average wait for a taxi is 45 minutes. (Ride sharing) will be one more transportation option for the area,” Bennett said.

He also touched on recent talks about a possible third bridge over the Willamette River.

“Right now, we’ve progressed farther than we have in 40 years of talks. Salem, Keizer, and Marion and Polk counties have all approved UGB expansions to accommodate the bridge at Pine Street and that paves the way for an environmental impact statement,” he said.

Keizer and Salem officials are interested in expanding the UGB beyond accommodating a new bridge. Keizer needs industrial commercial land and Salem needs more space for multi-family and single family housing.

He lamented the lack of
affordable housing in the Salem core, which has contributed to growing homelessness in the mid-Willamette Valley.

“We have a very complicated homeless problem and we have a large number statistically listed as homeless,” he said.

Currently, Salem and Keizer officials along with representatives from Marion County have convened a task force to explore options for tackling the homelessness problem, but the group’s time is waning and plans for what comes next are still hazy.

Bennett said about 500 of the area’s homeless residents are dealing with late-stage addiction issues or mental health problems that make them the hardest to find alternative housing for.

On a more positive note, Bennett credited the work of the Salem-Keizer School District and specifically the Career and Technical Education Center (CTEC), a public-private partnership, as a model for similar projects to follow around the state and the nation.

“There are opportunities ahead of us and I think good times are ahead, if we keep our heads on straight,” he said.