Council deliberated big issues this week, and were challenged at Tuesday night’s public forum by 32 speakers who were passionate about climate change and the rights of people who are homeless.
The top order of business, however, was a vote authorizing the city manager to engage in negotiations with EWEB to purchase their riverfront headquarters and property. The EWEB Board’s November 6th vote to sell the property as surplus triggered renewed public interest and passion for the purchase of the building as a new city hall. The Jefferson-Westside neighbors released an electronic survey asking people about their preference for EWEB or the butterfly lot locations, and the Register Guard continues to advocate for this move.
Other than advocacy by Councilor Clark, reconsideration of the council’s decision to move city hall to the EWEB building was not on the table. The city has interest in that property, with and without the building, and council wants to be sure to have time to explore the costs and options. Council had directed staff in December 2016 to work on two options for a new city hall: first, to build on the butterfly lot if the county can obtain a clear title to sell; and second, to rebuild on the former city hall lot. EWEB was not an option. If it had been, council would not have spent the past two years working with the county and waiting for a resolution of the deed restrictions. We would have been doing the financial and structural assessments for a potential rehab of EWEB. The choice not to renovate EWEB was based on robust analysis of the building -- people may disagree with the conclusions, but council has to rely on expertise, not opinions.
We don’t know how that building might be used. The first task is to know the cost. There are many ways the city could proceed and the public will have ample opportunity to weigh in.
This is also true for our emerging town square and city hall construction on the butterfly lot. Staff is preparing the cost estimates and some general design options and will begin a public engagement process in March. The goal is to build a dynamic town center that embraces a year-round farmer’s market and renovated park blocks that connect along 8th Avenue as a “great street” to the river.
On Wednesday, Council discussed our franchise agreement with Northwest Natural Gas. This is due for renewal and there is much public interest -- advocated by 350 Eugene and by the Sustainability Commission -- in attaching requirements to that agreement that forward our climate recovery goals. Staff clarified the two-pronged process: delineating the options within the franchise agreement, which might include fee adjustments that would work like a carbon tax; and other elements that might be incorporated as part of our Climate Action Plan. This next phase will come back to council in early 2019.
Finally, the tension and frustration about the needs of the unhoused in our community is high. The Poverty and Homelessness Board (PHB) on Thursday recommended that all jurisdictions, Eugene, Springfield, Lane County and Veneta, work to expand car camping options. This Monday, the Shelter and Supported Housing subcommittee of the PHB will hear a presentation about the management and status of the Highway 99 emergency shelter camp; the car camping program; and the continuing need to provide at least day options downtown. That meeting is open to the public, 2 pm at the Lane Health and Human Services Building at 7th and Charnelton.