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In nearly half a century at the Douglas County Planning Department, Keith Cubic helped lay the foundation for the future

Forty-seven-and-a-half years ago, when Keith Cubic joined Douglas County as a planner, Oregon’s planning law was in its infancy.

Cubic would go on to help create the county’s first comprehensive plan. But first, he’d have to convince the locals that planners weren’t “pinko” communists.

Without the comprehensive plans and zoning regulations we take for granted today, the county would look very different. Urban areas would be sprawling rather than compact, quiet suburban neighborhoods would be replaced by a mixture of business and residential properties, and there would be more rural conflicts over residential and forestry land uses.

Oregon’s Senate Bill 10, passed in 1969, mandated planning and zoning in all Oregon counties. In 1971, when Cubic joined up, the Douglas County Planning Department had seven employees. A year later, half the county was zoned. And by 1973, the whole county was zoned, and a not-so-detailed comprehensive plan was created.

“It was a concept plan. It was globs of color on maps that meant something, that didn’t have any property lines attached to them,” Cubic said.

Cubic said one of his first tasks was to convince county residents that zoning would help them achieve their goals — that a planned future was a better future.

He particularly recalled an early zoning meeting in Tiller.

“It was a hotbed of conservatism. We were worried about being tarred and feathered. That’s an exaggeration, but we were worried,” Cubic said.

A second meeting went better, because the citizens understood the planners were there to ask them what they wanted.

“At the third meeting that we went out to Tiller, we had a potluck,” Cubic said.

Over the next seven years, a more detailed comprehensive plan, and a land use and development ordinance would follow.

The state adopted statewide planning goals, too, and it was an exciting time, Cubic said.

“It was cutting edge. It was a model for the whole United States, and we got to help carry it out,” he said.

Throughout his long career at the county, Cubic said his primary goal has been to help people.

“The most important thing I did is work with the people, work with our citizens, work with our elected officials, and develop quality staff who are still contributing around the state,” Cubic said.

Cubic’s work included persuading state officials in the Willamette Valley of the importance of planning regulations that matched rural residents’ needs.

Douglas County had seven urban unincorporated areas and 25 rural communities, and none of those areas were adequately accounted for in state rules.

“Under my watch, we had a huge influence on the development of the state’s rural residential lands rules and policies. We didn’t write them all, but we did some things that made them come about,” he said.

Cubic was hired as planning director in 1976. He recalled he was summoned to the office of Al Flegel, who was then the chairman of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, and told he’d been promoted. Cubic was elated.

“I kind of walked out of there about 3 inches off the ground,” he said.

He worked for more than 20 commissioners over the years. Most of them are good people with good hearts, he said, and he got along well with them because he always demonstrated he was willing to work hard and help them achieve their goals.

He did hit a snag once, though, with a commissioner who came in with a hit list of people he wanted to eliminate, including the planning director.

But the commissioner, who Cubic declined to name, learned that planning director is one of a handful of department heads whose position the county is mandated to fill under state law.

“Four years later, when he left office, he gave me a commendation for quality service to the board,” Cubic said.

Tiller residents’ initial skepticism wouldn’t be the last time Cubic was embroiled in controversy over his work. Most notably, he’s been under fire recently for decisions that have helped keep a controversial proposed natural gas pipeline project afloat. Several times, he’s been named as a defendant in lawsuits over county planning decisions. One of those times, he said, he was attempting to refinance his house and the bank balked at giving him a loan because he was being sued. The county’s attorney was able to convince the plaintiff to remove Cubic’s name and the loan was eventually granted.

But Cubic said for him the toughest part of the job has been laying off employees. In recent decades, with changing economic fortunes, the department’s staff has fluctuated between 20 and 30 people. Right now, it’s closer to 20.

“I try to bring high-quality rising stars to the county. And to lay them off, to send them away, really gave me a stomach ache,” Cubic said.

Cubic said he’s naturally a busy person and doesn’t like to sit still. His contributions to the community have extended beyond his work to include volunteering for the Boy Scouts, soccer and 18 years on the Roseburg School Board.

Cubic said he’s guided in his work, volunteering and parenting by the belief that the greatest gift you can give someone is a foundation for the future.

“All the things I’ve been involved in have been about making a foundation for the future,” he said.

Incoming Planning Director Joshua Shaklee said Cubic created great morale among his staff and has also impacted planners all over Oregon.

“It’s such a great tradition and great legacy. I’ve been in meetings with other directors from across the state, and Keith has mentored a lot of people. He’s very well respected across the state. So I know that I have a lot to live up to,” Shaklee said.

The county commissioners summed up his contribution on a plaque extolling his “unwavering dedication, exemplary leadership and great spirit” of service.

“Your legacy is a landscape you helped shape and the people you guided to success,” it said.

The Association of Oregon Counties planning directors also honored him with a plaque that includes one of his favorite quotes, from Abraham Lincoln: “The better part of one’s life consists of friendships.”

Climate kids ask for stay to be lifted

Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the youth climate lawsuit filed a motion in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, asking a judge to reconsider her decision to put a stay on the proceedings.

The 30-page motion asks for the stay to be lifted in Juliana v. United States so that the trial can begin as early as next month.

For the trial to begin, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals would also need to lift the stay it ordered on Nov. 8.

In the motion, attorneys referenced the latest National Climate Assessment released last month by the government, which warns that global warming could pose a threat to American’s well-being.

The plaintiffs say government reports such as the climate assessment show the dire emergency facing them and argue that it should weigh against any stay the government requests.

Julia Olson, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said this is the fourth time the case has been stayed and the fourth time she’s been to the court of appeals before trial.

“And there is not a shred of evidence that defendants have been harmed by anything plaintiffs have done or anything the District Court has done in this case. It’s simply a miscarriage of justice and causing gross inefficiencies for the parties and the judiciary. The courts owe these youth a proper analysis of the stay request so that the harms can be thoroughly evaluated. The only rational course is for the courts to lift the stay. If they don’t, we’ll be forced to move for injunctive relief,” Olson said in a news release.

Tribute to President George Bush given at county meeting Wednesday

Shortly before President George H.W. Bush’s state funeral, Douglas County Human Resources Director and Army veteran Michael Kurtz offered a personal tribute to his former commander in chief.

Kurtz delivered his remarks at the Douglas County Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting Wednesday morning at the Douglas County Courthouse.

Kurtz was part of a logistical headquarters unit, the 593rd Area Support Group, that served in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

Four days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the 82nd Airborne was deployed “to draw a line in the sand, as the president so eloquently stated in his speech to Saddam Hussein,” Kurtz said. “Within days after, my unit was put on alert and within a week I was loading up into the belly of a C-5 military cargo plane on a flight to Saudi Arabia.”

Kurtz served as a military photojournalist. He said he slept easy at night, despite being in a war zone. He had confidence in his chain of command, including President Bush, who was a combat Navy bomber pilot in World War II.

“I had a special affinity for the president’s military background, as my grandfather and two great uncles were also World War II pilots,” he said.

Kurtz had the chance to see Bush speak to the troops once, while stationed in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. He felt the president appreciated their work and sacrifice.

“As a combat veteran, President Bush understood sacrifice and the human cost of war, and as commander in chief he went to great lengths to look after the livelihood of every soldier, including mine, that served in his chain of command,” Kurtz said.

Bush’s leadership led to victory with minimal casualties, and Kurtz returned safely home with a “renewed appreciation for all of the things that make our country the greatest nation in the world.”

There have been presidents since, but there’s only one Kurtz has called commander in chief.

“Thank you President George Herbert Walker Bush for your tremendous service to our country, the honor and dignity that you brought to the office of the presidency, and for being a commander in chief that was, as we say in the Army, a soldier’s soldier. However, being that you were a naval officer, it wouldn’t be appropriate to end with an Army sentiment. So as they say in the Navy, fair winds and following seas, Mr. President, we have the watch.”

Navy veteran Jim Little, the former president of the Douglas County Veterans Forum, also served under Bush. Little was a project officer of the deployment of the ground launch cruise missile in Europe during Bush’s tenure, which he said has been signaled as one of the factors that caused the downfall of the communist Soviet Union. Little said the date of that downfall coincided with his birthday in 1991. It was the best birthday present ever, he said.

He treasured Bush as a member of the greatest generation.

“It’s a sad occasion, but is was a pleasure for me to see the flag of the United States Navy follow his casket. He was a brother Naval officer. May he rest in peace,” Little said.

Missing Roseburg woman found

A Roseburg woman was found safe at a Roseburg women’s shelter Thursday morning after being reported missing near Green on Wednesday afternoon.

Michelle Reyes, 57, was last seen leaving a residence in the Green District around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said she checked into the Samaritan Inn on West Umpqua Street on Wednesday night. Thursday morning, one of the employees recognized her and called authorities.

Before the woman was found, Sgt. Brad O’Dell, a spokesman with the sheriff’s office, said search crews didn’t have a good starting point when looking for Reyes.

“We’re hoping that someone sees her, that they will call in and report that,” O’Dell said.

At the time, the sheriff’s office said that she may have been hitchhiking to an unknown destination.