Monthly Updates

My goal as a mayor is to continue to improve the two way communication with the public about the issues before us.  My first step in taking office was to initiate the Mayor’s monthly update.  This includes a spreadsheet about council’s ongoing projects with information about the most recent council decisions, staff contacts, and next steps.

In addition, I publish a regular guest viewpoint in the Register-Guard summarizing the issues of the past month and framing the work ahead. They are catalogued here.

April 14.2017

April is Fair Housing Month, a theme that guided my steps as mayor as well as our City Council agenda.  It is not news to most readers that our community faces a housing crisis at all levels. There is a shortage at the upper end of single family homes, which adds downward pressure on the housing market. As people scramble in a seller’s market, the moderately priced homes become more valuable, and folks at the low end of the market are squeezed out.  Added to this is our severe shortage of affordable rentals as well as subsidized housing, and we see unrelenting stress on tenants.

Addressing a newly available affordable housing tool in Oregon, Council held its first work session on Inclusionary Zoning. Thanks to 2016 state legislation, municipalities can impose a requirement for affordable housing in new apartments with 20 or more units. Council asked City staff to develop more detailed information about how inclusionary zoning has been used in other jurisdictions and analyze the market conditions and policy options for council to consider in a follow up session. This discussion also included the potential for creating an affordable housing trust fund by implementing a Construction Excise Tax of 1% on new construction, giving the City needed revenue to help support future affordable housing development.

Governor Kate Brown visited Eugene last week and announced that the legislature has committed $13 million to fund the renovation of Ya Po Ah Terrace.  This 1960s tall apartment building at the edge of Skinner Butte provides subsidized housing to 223 senior tenants.  It is a key asset in Eugene’s supply of affordable housing, and investment in this renovation assures that it will continue to house low income tenants into the future. The City has also committed almost $1.5 million for the rehab.  

At the State level, the City has added our voice in support of increased budget commitments to the Emergency Housing Account and the State Homeless Assistance Program, both of which support our homelessness prevention and shelter programs. It’s not clear if or how much these programs might increase.

On April 11th and 12th, I joined over 100 community members at the Livability Solutions Forum to learn more about “Missing Middle Housing” from Daniel Parolek, the planner who coined the phrase.  I am committed to championing this model to help our city expand the supply of housing at a range of levels.  Missing Middle refers to duplexes, fourplexes, bungalow courts, secondary dwelling units, and small apartment buildings that are tucked into neighborhoods where they match the scale of existing buildings. I plan to continue to work with conference organizers – including AARP and Better Eugene Springfield Transportation (BEST)—and attendees to work on applying these concepts. Cataloging the middle housing we currently have and noting the buildings that work best in our community is the first step in taking us out of the theoretical and moving us toward planning with a concrete understanding of where and what style of housing would work well in different neighborhoods.  

Early April also saw the first meeting of the Mayor’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Climate Recovery Ordinance.  This too is connected to the concept of housing – progress in meeting our climate recovery goals is directly related to where and how we build housing and transit. Missing middle housing can increase our housing stock in areas where we already have infrastructure.  Our approach to climate recovery is not a conversation about what we forego, it’s a conversation about how we build better housing and provide better transportation choices that assure a high quality of life for everyone. Do we hope that more Eugeneans will ride bikes?  Yes.  But we also intend to make it increasingly easy for Eugeneans to take the bus, to live in houses heated and cooled with electricity or solar, and to benefit from the cooling and cleaning attributes of trees.  

I celebrated the many benefits of trees during an April 8th Arbor Day ceremony – joining the City of Eugene arborists and volunteers at Golden Gardens Park, where they were mulching newly planted trees.  This is the 38th consecutive year that the City of Eugene has been recognized as a Tree City because of our commitment to sound urban forestry management.

And for some fun, I read stories to children at both the Bethel branch and the main Library. City staff used these story times as an opportunity to provide families, including Spanish speaking families, with information about their housing rights and to communicate the message that everyone deserves to have a safe, healthy, and welcoming place to call home.

If you’ve ever wondered why some issues take a long time for City Council to resolve, think about this.  I tallied over 40 issues in my initial work to create a Mayor’s monthly report for the public on the issues council is addressing.  My first month of reviewing the agenda calendar has been illuminating — so little time, so many important issues!

No wonder we, the public, struggle with impatience or confusion about where the council and staff are currently focused.  My intention with this report is to shed light on the process and status of ongoing work.  The first monthly report is now posted on the city’s website: www.eugene-or.gov/mayor.

Here’s what you will find: a working list of ongoing projects and issues, a date and link to the most recent council meeting, the staff contact and current focus, and the date of the next public meeting if it has been set. Each item will have a link to more in-depth information.  The report is a quick snapshot of the current status, not an historical review.

I will let you know when the report is available in my regular blog on the City’s website and on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/mayorlucyvinis/. Look for this at the end of the first week of every month. When something particularly newsworthy is included, it may rise to the level of news or a guest viewpoint in the Register-Guard or Eugene Weekly.  Otherwise, it may appear as a public notice or sidebar. It’s a work in progress and your feedback will be valuable.

Here are the highlights from my first month in office:

  • Rental Housing Code: Council voted to adopt the amended code that expanded some habitability criteria. They removed the sunset clause making the program permanent due to the program’s positive impact on tenants, but required periodic oversight and financial analysis of the annual fee from landlords.
  • Resolution banning oil trains: Council voted to adopt this resolution because of the profound safety concerns about explosive oil that is transported through the middle of our city. It joins our voice with those of other West Coast cities in demanding attention and action on railroad safety.
  • Downtown safety: At January’s public forum, almost half of the 74 people who testified voiced their concerns about safety on downtown streets. The council work session is scheduled for February 8.
  • Sanctuary City: Council directed staff in November to develop an ordinance; and former Mayor Piercy established a task force to help frame the hoped-for outcomes.  The work of that task force will come to council on February 21. If the council chooses to proceed, they will direct staff to craft the ordinance language, schedule a public hearing and then a vote.

Key topics in February will be a review of the rest stop program, the report from the Project for Public Spaces, the planning process for the South Willamette area, and the Transportation System Plan.

Councilors and I have received a great deal of email regarding the Sanctuary City proposal. Most have been in favor, but a number of folks are concerned about the potential negative consequences.

Let me say this.  The goal of this proposed ordinance is to clarify our responsibilities as a municipality with respect to national policy. The Federal government is mandated to design and implement immigration policy. Not only is this not a mandate of city government, it is a violation of state statute that prohibits local law enforcement agencies from enforcing civil immigration law. One outcome of the City’s ordinance would be to protect local tax dollars — we will continue to fulfill our mandate as a city to do the work of supporting infrastructure, protecting our natural resources, building our economy, and ensuring public safety from criminal activity. . Everyone should feel safe; no one should be targeted or discriminated against based on their ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual preference, or country of origin.

The implications of the new administration’s threat to withhold federal funds are not clear.  There are constitutional protections that support states and cities, but City staff are researching and watching this closely.

These are charged times, and it is important to remember that we have civic work to do to make this city the best it can be.  I encourage you to engage in this constructive work.  We seek applicants for seven different boards and commissions. Information and applications are on the City’s website, www.eugene-or.gov/bcc. People of color, of a range of socio-economic levels, political views and geographic diversity across the city are needed to balance and broaden our perspective. We will feel more united if we combine our skills and talents to do this work together.

May 26. 2017

This month was packed with budget deliberations, my first United Front trip to Washington, DC, council interviews of applicants for boards and commissions, review of transportation plans, railroad quiet zones, and progress on the potential land swap with the county for our respective public buildings.

Many numbers fly around these discussions, some are preliminary or uncertain, but all call for transparency to anchor our public decision making. I am going to focus here on the budget committee deliberations.

The budget committee , comprised of councilors and eight community members worked through long weekly meetings to grapple with the status and challenges in city departments and understand the city manager’s recommendations for the FY 18 budget.  By far the gnarliest and longest discussion focused on the designation of funds for the Fire Department. The Firefighters Union is lobbying hard for an increase in funding to increase the number of Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulances; the Manager’s budget reflected the Fire Chief’s plan for a more modest and gradual increase in service because of projected budget shortfalls. Ultimately, the committee supported an extra $500,000 boost to the budget to enable the department to acquire and staff two additional Basic Life Support (BLS) ambulances.  This is one more BLS ambulance than originally budgeted, but much less than the $2 million investment some committee members sought for one additional ALS ambulance .This decision could well change when the council holds final budget deliberations.

The committee also recommended that the manager reserve $1 million to support expanded shelter options, reflecting our continuing commitment to address homelessness in the community.  It’s important to note the difference between these  choices.  Money to purchase and staff a new ambulance comes from the city’s general funds; whereas the funds designated for a permanent shelter would come from the one-time settlement with Comcast.  Sustainability is the question. As stewards of tax dollars, budget committee members and staff are cognizant of the danger of spending funds for services in FY18 that might not be available to sustain those programs in the future.  An additional ambulance depends on sustained operational funding; the shelter proposal is seen as one-time seed money to leverage partnerships and perhaps support the purchase of a building.

This brings to the fore a third recommendation of the budget committee: to direct the manager to dedicate a one-time investment up to $40,000 to build a more user-friendly online tool to explain the city’s budget to the public. The expectation is that a more easily accessed and understood format will foster better understanding and public engagement in these tough decisions

Coming up for council approval, in addition to the budget, will be adoption of the Transportation System Plan (TSP) and final approval for Envision Eugene and the Urban Growth Boundary.  The TSP is a long list of projects, most of which do not yet have committed dollars.  When council adopts that plan, they are approving the list and the basic framework, but the decision about which projects are built will be determined through the 20 year timeline of the plan.  One focus of discussion in council has been on the correlation and accountability of the proposed projects in the plan with our Climate Recovery Goals.

Envision Eugene and the Urban Growth Boundary decisions are overdue, and council will vote on this plan to satisfy our state requirement to have a 20-year land inventory for housing, schools, parks and industrial use.  Once this is approved, planning will begin immediately on the next stage, which will include a study of Urban Reserves – areas designated for growth in the coming 50 years that will be a guide toward our gradual expansion of the UGB.  Much information about this is available on the city’s website.

And finally, in June the council will appoint a new councilor to complete George Poling’s Ward 4 term. We look forward to having a full roster of councilors for the decisions ahead.