Mayor Lucy Vinis
WelcomeBelow you will find links to my weekly blog, monthly recaps, and the Mayor’s Report, a dynamic list of projects that council and staff are working on – a real-time living tool to track our work and progress online, providing consistent updates of where we are on important issues. I hope everyone finds these tools useful.
At our public forum in early March, one citizen reminded council, “If you do the same things, things that are the same will happen.” We are facing tectonic shifts in our community as we emerge from a large town into a small city. And those shifts which appear in slow motion today may surprise you when they suddenly transform our landscape.
We are turning a corner. In this future growth, our downtown will connect to a vastly expanded Fifth Street Market district and turn right along two avenues -- a great street along 8th Avenue, and a new pedestrian path along an extended 5th Avenue --both leading to the riverfront development on the EWEB property.
In the first months of 2018, Council entered into pivotal decisions to guide that emergence: funding for a railroad quiet zone including 10 improved crossings; and reviewing the plans and setting the stage for the decisions later this year about both the riverfront and Fifth Street developments.
At the same time, Council has committed to increasing their focus on housing, homelessness and public safety, all of which present profound social and economic challenges to our community. We are exploring a construction excise tax of one percent on all new building permits. Depending on your perspective, this is either “doing the same thing” or trying something new. For the building industry, it feels like one more unsupportable burden; for advocates for more affordable housing, it promises a new, dedicated revenue stream. I’m convinced that there is a path forward that is responsive to all concerns. Diverse stakeholders are engaged in a positive, constructive and inclusive conversation that is bridging our usual divides.
That said, the implications of these changes on the landscape -- where and how we meet our need for housing at a range of affordability, how we retain trees and open space, how we ensure that the public benefits from public investment – these will always be the pressure points.
The pace and scale of development is hard for some to reconcile with the level of poverty, homelessness, and inadequate public safety that we witness on a daily basis. The challenge for our community is clear: we will not be able to fund the services and amenities we all want in our community if we fail to create the economic foundation and tax revenue to support it.
At a neighborhood meeting in February I heard the accusation that the city should not have invested in the high speed fiber downtown because it only benefits the downtown property owners. This could not be farther from the truth. That high speed cable has drawn a continuing investment in new tech and tech-dependent industries. At a job fair last month, those industries sought employees for 200 positions. Those industries are paying taxes, providing good wages, and supporting our downtown local businesses. The improved fiber system was immediately extended to the school district which now has internet service that is 10 times faster at half the price.
Earlier this month I met with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and with Marc Jolin, Director of the Joint Office of Homeless Services. Portland has some advantages in scale and scope to support their work for the homeless; but our efforts in some ways are stronger because they are so effectively operated by private nonprofits. Here is the sobering statistic: Portland is now committing $21 million annually to address homelessness -- and they still have people sleeping in their parks and on their streets.
We are painfully aware as city leaders that we return again and again to the public to dig deeper to pay for services. The May ballot brings you two important requests: a tax levy to upgrade the condition of our parks, and a bond measure to enable us to make capital improvements to recreation facilities. Included in the levy is support for two bike patrol officers and park ambassadors, as well as more funds to manage the impact of campers.
Also on the ballot are two measures proposing very different options for a city auditor: one calls for an elected auditor who would form a third branch of city government; the other an appointed auditor, hired by council and overseen by a citizen committee. Both are efforts to assure the taxpayers that public resources are well spent to produce desired outcomes. The question for you as voters is which is the better fit for our community and what are we trying to accomplish? Are we creating an auditor to investigate past mistakes or to review current practices as a path to improvement?
As we experience tectonic shifts, let’s not do the same things. Let’s not look back; let’s not assume the worst intentions of those with whom we disagree. I read an article by a researcher who was exploring the human tendency to always see the era in which we live as pivotal in human history. If you, like me, feel that way about our era, then recognize that your role is pivotal. The choices before us are hard. Our progress in some areas is promising, our challenges in others are worrisome. We will make better decisions if we make them together.