Our first full week after the holidays began with a robust public forum and the advancement of a pair of key initiatives.
At Monday’s 5:30 worksession, council reviewed and deliberated the staff’s proposal for a Construction Excise Tax. Although crafted by staff, it is based on priorities gleaned primarily through the outreach of Better Housing Together, a consortium of 50 organizations representing affordable housing builders, developers, realtors, and a range of advocacy and membership organizations. In short, the proposal calls for phasing in over three years a tax on the value of building permits for residential and commercial construction. The funds raised through this tax would be designated to support affordable housing construction. The plan calls for the creation of an affordable housing committee to review funding requests. The city also committed to annual contributions of $500,000 for each of the first two years to help the fund get started and demonstrate the city’s commitment to supporting housing construction. As a historical note, affordable housing has been subsidized through federal grants from the Housing and Urban Development agency. Those funds are now pared to a fraction of their former amount; and the requirements and restrictions have grown. Creating our own local revenue stream will both help replace missing federal dollars and offer more flexibility. The proposed ordinance will go to a public hearing within the next two months before council votes.
Speaking of federal funds, the council also approved the application for $900,000 to support a Homes for Good housing first apartment building on MLK Boulevard, and $725,000 for a St. Vinnie’s affordable housing complex on River Road. All but $150,000 of these are federal HUD funds and will need final approval on Jan. 29th from the Eugene Springfield HOME Consortium, which is the oversight agency for HUD funds. Councilor Pryor and I sit on that Consortium Board. The remaining $150,000 will come out of the city’s Low Income Housing Fund.
On Wednesday, council reviewed the options for banning single use plastics. Councilor Semple requested this work session and prepared a specific ordinance listing which plastics would be banned. Council approved a motion for a second work session. In general, the council supports following Portland in banning all single use polystyrene, as well as eliminating the use of plastic straws. City staff presented an array of other items which many of us assumed were recyclable but are not -- like those cardboard takeout boxes. Turns out they’re lined with plastic. Stay tuned.
Councilor Clark also advanced a successful motion to direct staff to bring back an ordinance that would prohibit giving items or money to panhandlers from your car. A public hearing will be scheduled as soon as possible. We’re receiving a lot of emails about this proposal, which would mimic an ordinance adopted by Springfield last year. By chance, I spoke this week to the Springfield Police Chief who told me they have issued almost no citations for this -- that the signs posted on street corners have been enough to deter panhandling. That said, there is concern that this is a civil rights violation.
All of these issues and one more brought out many people to testify at the Monday forum. The final concern was the police shooting of a father in front of Cascade Middle School last week. People are upset, concerned that this is a case of racial profiling, and anxious for answers. It is painful and very difficult to wait for information. The process for investigating officer-related shootings is dictated by state statute, which calls for the creation of a deadly force investigation task force that reports to the District Attorney. That process is now underway. Once the district attorney releases her statement, the Eugene Police Department, independent auditor and Civilian Review Board will have a chance to review the information which will be public. This will take a couple of weeks. In the meantime, Chief Skinner has met with organizations representing communities of color to hear their concerns.