Council took a couple of important steps this week. We began on Monday with a discussion of city hall; and moved to a conversation on Wednesday about possible incentives to increase construction of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU).
Regarding City Hall, staff returned to council for further discussion and votes on four design questions: whether to include underground parking, additional floors for either commercial or residential use, whether or not to build to LEED Silver standards for energy efficiency, and what level of seismic strength to require. Council voted against the first two options – underground parking and additional floors – because of cost, complexity and delays they would add to the timeline; and in favor of LEED Silver which is the standard certification that the city has incorporated in other public projects. Staff offered a compromise on seismic standards which is a middle ground they called “Life Safety Plus.” Life Safety standards simply mean that a building will save lives and not collapse in an earthquake. The next level up is “Intermediate” which means that not only will the building stand, but the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems will also work after an earthquake. That standard adds significantly to the cost and is used for Emergency Operations Centers. The middle ground that council approved, Life Safety Plus, allows the designers to selectively design for specific systems to survive and function after an earthquake – meaning that the building will be usable immediately. This is a critically important choice for council. Post-earthquake, the city government will have to function for months if not years to direct the reconstruction and continuation of city services when many buildings will have collapsed and much infrastructure is damaged. Staff will return this spring with a schematic design of the city hall that includes costs, so council can begin a focused conversation on their budget limit and priorities for the building.
On Wednesday, Council returned to a discussion of ADUs with an eye toward ways to encourage more to be built. They directed staff to explore a few options further: developing a library of ADU designs that builders could pull off the shelf, saving approximately $6000 in architectural costs. Council was also interested in ways the city might allow ADUs to quality for Low Income Rental Property Tax Exemptions that are currently primarily used by multi-unit housing; and finally, Council was interested in whether the city could create a property tax exemption for ADUs in addition to the exemptions currently offered. Staff will return to council later this spring with more specifics about these options.
On my mayoral schedule this week, I hosted the Ad Hoc Committee on the Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2.0. This draft plan was released to the public and presented to council in December. There was significant concern that it did not hold the city accountable through measurable outcomes to ensure that we would actually make progress in reaching our climate recovery goals of reduced fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. In addition, organized and individual members of the public, specifically 350 Eugene and Sunrise, were critical of the lack of meaningful public engagement. In our first meeting, the circle of 22 diverse members voiced there fears and hopes for this process, and delineated the specific ways in which they wanted to see the CAP revised. We’ll return for our second meeting in about one month to begin to work through those specific, potential revisions.
Finally, the week has been fraught with tension about a disruptive, targeted and very threatening demonstration inside Elk Horn Brewery last Saturday night. Protesters unfurled a banner, overwhelmed the restaurant by speaking through a bullhorn, and stood in front of the door to keep people inside as a protest to the owner’s new organization, “Wake Up Eugene.” The business was vandalized twice and the owner has galvanized other business owners to demand better protection and measures to hold culprits accountable for trespass, burglary and harassment. Police are investigating and I expect arrests to be made. The event was an unacceptable targeting of a responsible business owner working for a better community.
The tension is understandable and the frustration is palpable on both sides. Some advocates for the homeless criticize the city for criminalizing homelessness; while property owners blame the city for inaction and turning a blind eye. We are investing in better services in both directions – our implementation of the TAC report will result in better services for people who want and need housing and assistance; and our investment through the Community Safety Payroll tax will result in more responsive police services that benefit the whole community. Those improvements won’t happen immediately, and in the meantime, it is critical that we work together and not demonize each other. We will get more done, faster, and with greater success if we participate in these conversations with an eye toward solutions.