This was Council’s first full week of virtual meetings. Both Monday and
Wednesday featured COVID-19 response updates: a higher level organizational review by City Manager
Pro Tem, Sarah Medary; and a detailed operational overview by Fire Chief Heppel. These updates will
be regular agenda items every week to keep council and the public clear on the status of the city’s
ongoing operations as well as our emergency response. We will gradually move toward more discussion
of the recovery plan.
A few examples from these reports highlight the agility of the City staff under these circumstances. The
City has continued with ongoing projects, like the construction of protected bike lanes along 13th;
adjusted regular programs to fit the Stay Home order such as offering online story time for children;
and re-deployed staff to respond to COVID-related work like outreach to people who are camping in
parks and other public spaces. Our Stay Home response is working. Today, Friday, there are no new
cases of COVID patients in Lane County.
On Monday, Council engaged in a discussion about their priorities going forward. In general, Councilors
agreed that our ongoing commitments to climate change, housing, homelessness and public safety
continue to be critically important. They are now linked inextricably to our economic recovery. This
means that some issues that have been scheduled on the Tentative Agenda may be delayed to ensure
that more pressing concerns are addressed sooner. For example, in the public forum on Monday, two
people testified about Short Term Rentals. Prior to the COVID pandemic, this issue felt urgent. Now,
Short Terms rentals are not in high demand and the large events that draw visitors are not likely to
happen in the short term. This is still an important issue and work will continue with staff and the
advisory committee – but it will come to Council somewhat later than originally planned.
On Wednesday, Council also discussed the potential use of funds raised through the Construction Excise
Tax. These funds are raised through a tax on residential and commercial construction permits. The City
also contributes $500,000 annually to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. An advisory committee has
been meeting for six months to advise on the use of those funds. Staff presented a possible redirection
of this year’s funds in order to respond to the housing crisis many are facing who cannot afford their
rent because they are out of work. The proposals included funding rental and foreclosure counseling
and assistance, and operational support for affordable housing providers who are not receiving rent
from their tenants. No action will be taken by council until the Affordable Housing Trust Fund
Committee has a chance to review these and other options more fully.
Coming up next week will be interviews of candidates for city boards and commissions on Monday; and
a discussion of economic development strategies for the Bethel neighborhood.
It feels good to be back in session with Council and returning to our important policy discussions