The week’s meetings included a number of “nuts and bolts” issues in the city in terms of fundamental choices about how we fund our work and other administrative decisions. But it also opened with a vote on a challenging civil rights and quality of life issue.
First, the nuts and bolts. At Monday’s work session, council returned for a conversation and vote regarding the source of funding for the new riverfront park development. Councilor Yeh, in particular, was concerned with the designation of System Development Charge (SDC) funds for the riverfront rather than Urban Renewal Funds -- her concern being the need for SDC funds for park development in other parts of the city. The manager returned with a shift of $3 million in SDC funds to be expensed instead from the Riverfront Urban Renewal District. Council approved the change.
Next, council heard a discussion of the potential for funding improvements in the Highway 99/Bethel neighborhood by creating a new Urban Renewal District. These districts use a mechanism called tax increment funding. Increasing tax value above the “frozen” baseline at the time the district is created is designated for specific improvements in the district. Not all councilors like this mechanism because it sequesters increased tax revenue and because our downtown urban renewal district has been repeatedly renewed rather than allowed to sunset. That said, it is a very efficient method for investing in infrastructure improvements that trigger private development; and does not require returning repeatedly to voters for levies or bond support. Bethel has a strong planning document “Building a Better Bethel” which recommended the creation of a district.
At the 7:30 meeting, council began with an exciting ceremonial moment to honor with the Women Ducks Basketball team for their tremendous season and outstanding model of sportsmanship. It was thrilling to meet them.
We had three public hearings: two of which were not controversial and without testimony -- modifications to the role of the municipal court judge and to the hazardous materials fee. The third was the vote on the “vehicular transfer” or panhandling ordinance. Council voted this down 6-2. I am encouraging a continued effort, as suggested by Councilor Yeh, that the city explore an educational rather than a punitive solution to panhandling in general. I recognize that the advocates for this ordinance are seeking solutions to the overall challenge of having people live in our parks and rights of way. The duel strategies for the city to address this are the implementation of the TAC report to improve and expand our services for the homeless, and the $8.6 million investment in community safety. We will see progress, but as the warm weather comes, the situation is becoming less and less tenable.
On Wednesday, council discussed inclusionary zoning. This is a tool for increasing the supply of affordable housing by mandating that new construction of 20 units or more include a percentage of affordable units. There are challenges with it -- by state statute, if the city requires IZ, then 50 percent of our newly enacted CET revenue on residential construction must be used to support housing construction that includes IZ. Council also has the option to make the IZ program voluntary, which would avoid the CET requirement. This will come back to council for further deliberation.
This week beginning on Earth Day, Council will conduct interviews for positions on an array of boards and commissions; and on Wednesday will get a look at the proposed redevelopment of the steam plant. I’m in Decatur, Georgia, with a team representing Eugene, Springfield, Lane County Public Health, Lane Transit District and Lane Council of Governments to develop a “Walkability” action plan.
Happy Earth Day!