2021 State of the City - Year in Review
2020 was a year like no other in our living history. Through it all, our City and community came together to support each other and creatively adapt to all 2020 brought our way.
- Maintaining essential services
- community Safety
- Holiday Farm Fire
- Going Forward
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Eugene, Springfield and Lane County all declared a state of emergency in mid-March.
Eugene swiftly launched its Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, to respond to the community’s needs and work with our lead agency Lane County Health and Human Services to “flatten the curve.”
Hundreds of City employees were redeployed to the EOC. The quick and capable work of the City’s Information Services Division allowed the EOC to promptly become virtual to improve safety and maintain communications and operations.
The EOC focused on reducing the spread of COVID-19, supporting vulnerable populations and maintaining essential services for the community. To maintain sanitation, dozens of portable handwashing stations and restrooms deployed throughout city.
Staff worked with social service providers to help unhoused community members shelter in place. Outreach teams ensured basic needs were met, and designated temporary shelter sites gave community members a safe place to stay.
The City formed a Business Help Team to support local businesses navigating COVID-19 restrictions by identifying resources and creative ways to keep businesses operating, including distributing masks to local businesses, designating curbside parking spaces for carry-out , launching the “Streatery” program to expand outdoor seating, and opening the Kesey Square Food Hall.
A team of Public Information Officers took the lead in keeping the community up to date on the latest guidelines, connecting people with resources and sharing critical public health messages.
In addition, Eugene’s Recreation Division partnered with the local YMCA to offer safe childcare for essential workers.
Maintaining essential services, community connections
In addition to supporting the public’s health, it was critical to maintain essential city services the community relies on. City teams found new ways to deliver much needed services.
Emergency medical, fire and public safety services instituted new safety protocols to ensure the safety of the public and employees.
The City’s Building and Permit Services team continued issuing permits, keeping local projects moving forward, offering virtual building inspections, and never missing a day due to the pandemic.
Eugene Public Library pivoted to meet community needs and expand access - issuing more than 7,000 new library cards, growing the online collection, and offering curbside pick-up of items to provide education and entertainment for all ages.
Eugene Airport staff implemented award winning health and safety regulations.
A Library, Recreation and Cultural Services Social Connectivity Team coordinated outreach phone calls to check on seniors and frequent program visitors.
Cultural Services launched Sunday Slow Roll, bringing live DJ parades to neighborhoods throughout Eugene to share uplifting music and inspire physically-distanced front yard dancing.
Visual Arts Week went virtual and was a great success including a virtual Mayor’s Art Show, virtual studio tours, demonstrations, and artist talks. And the Hult Center's Stay Home Talent Show brought people together through incredible performances and displays of artistic ingenuity.
With fewer people driving, the Transportation Team kick-started Open Streets, a new program designed to create safe spaces for physically distanced walking, biking and rolling on neighborhood streets, and increased access to neighborhood restaurants, shops, and parks.
Construction on city roads and other public infrastructure continued at a rapid pace. Public Works awarded more than 30 million dollars in contracts, mostly to local companies, keeping money in the community while improving our roads, sewers, and parks.
In a year like no other, the park system saw a tremendous increase in usage as more people sought activities supporting physical and mental health. That increase wasn’t only in usage – new volunteers showed up in mass to help improve our parks by picking up trash, working on trails, and planting trees.
As it became clear that our new routine was sticking around longer than anticipated, public meetings moved to all-virtual settings to keep people safe.
The City Council quickly adapted to the online meeting format and provided new ways for the public to participate via Zoom and phone-in public forums.
In June, the Council unanimously appointed Sarah Medary as the City Manager, noting her decisive and steady leadership in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts.
In July the Council approved the Climate Action Plan 2.0. Hundreds of community members participated in the CAP 2.0 planning process, resulting in a plan focused on data and actions to reach our climate goals and create a more resilient city.
Supporting active transportation is a key element to reducing fossil fuel emissions and the newly completed 13th Avenue Bikeway does just that – connecting campus to downtown with a two-way protected bike lane that supports and promotes more bike riding.
With an eye towards the City’s Vision Zero Ordinance, which aims to eliminate major traffic injuries and fatalities, the Council authorized speed limit reductions from 25 miles per hour to 20 on most neighborhood residential streets.
Slowing down and building up rather than out supports local climate efforts. The City’s Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption, or MUPTE, program helped create more housing in the city’s core - adding 177 units of housing in two new downtown buildings.
The City’s investment in creating affordable housing made progress in 2020 with more than 200 units under construction or completed, including 51 permanent supportive housing units at the Commons on MLK.
Fifty-three units at Iris Place on River Road and forty-nine units at Sarang on Taney Street will be completed in 2021.
The Council also approved extending the Low-Income Rental Housing Property Tax program through 2030. Over the past 30 years, this program has kept rent affordable for over 1,400 local rental homes.
As a result of the pandemic, space at local homeless shelters became even more limited – adding considerable strain on a system that was already stretched thin.
The City responded by adding alternative shelter options including a new microsite program. Managed by social service providers, microsites provide a safe space for smaller numbers of people to stay in tents or Conestoga Huts.
In September, Council also approved the establishment of five new Rest Stops distributed across the city, adding 75 beds upon opening and up to 100 beds after six months of operation.
Eugene and Lane County continued their partnership to address homelessness, including progress towards establishing a shelter and navigation center and the creation of more permanent supportive housing.
Safety was top of mind all year, not only as a response to COVID-19, but as the killing of George Floyd sparked protest, reflection, and many conversations about policing and racial justice.
Across the country and in Eugene, people took to the streets to voice the need for change and an end to systemic racism.
The City and our Police Department worked to support and facilitate many peaceful protests while fulfilling the responsibility to protect life, safety and property within our community.
The City Council committed to engaging communities of color in reviewing police policies and the city’s investments in community safety to address police reform and structural racism.
The work of the Community Safety Initiative continued through 2020 in anticipation of the Community Safety payroll tax. Services were added to support at-risk youth and reduce youth homelessness; create a city-wide Street Crimes Unit; fund the year-round Dusk to Dawn safe-sleeping program; and provide on-going support to the Eugene Service Center, the Overnight Parking Program, and city Rest Stops.
A long running community safety partnership gained well-deserved national attention in 2020. For nearly 30 years, CAHOOTS, or Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, has partnered with the police to respond to incidents that require skilled social workers. This alternative response has become a sought-after model for cities across the country.
Eugene’s Hate and Bias Report, which was published for the 8th straight year, stood out as another model for many communities. The results indicate race and ethnicity continue to be the leading factor for reported hate and bias activity in 2019, illustrating the need for continued work to ensure a safe and welcoming community for everyone.
Holiday Farm Fire
A different kind of safety took center stage in September when rare weather conditions fueled wildfires across the state. What started as a fire near Rainbow in the McKenzie Valley exploded west – threatening the Eugene-Springfield metro area.
The fire – named the Holiday Farm Fire – destroyed more than 400 homes and buildings. Eugene Police helped to evacuate residents and provide security. Crews from Eugene Springfield Fire worked with regional partners to help contain the fire and save as many homes as possible.
City staff helped provide communication assistance and satellite connectivity for responders.
As the air cleared, it was clear that while the treasured McKenzie Valley would never be the same, community generosity and compassion for our neighbors remains as strong as ever.
While still working to recover, Eugene has seen many important projects continue to move forward.
The City’s website, which reached a record number of more than 1.1 million users, got a major update to make information easier to find and reflect the spirit of our city.
Funded by the 2018 Parks and Rec System Plan Bond, Echo Hollow Pool and Campbell Community Center made significant progress and the renovated facilities will be open with even more services this year.
The transformation of Eugene’s Downtown Riverfront continues, fulfilling the community’s long-held goal of turning a vacant, inaccessible riverfront lot into a vibrant riverfront district. The much-anticipated Riverfront park will open this year.
Eugene’s Community Recovery team continues working with businesses and partners across the community and region.
Relief funding provided critical community support including medical and protective supplies, shelter and supplies for unhoused community members, utility assistance for low-income residents and essential nonprofits, food boxes to families in need, financial assistance to renters and homeowners, childcare for families, and small business loans and grants.
Despite the challenges of 2020, the compassion and creativity of Eugeneans was front and center. As a community we will continue moving forward together to restore and improve the health and prosperity of our city in 2021.