Keeping in touch: Notes from the Mayor

Mayor Lucy VinisThis blog aims to nurture our conversation and understanding of the issues before us. Every week, I will provide a weekly update on the activities in the city government, my activities as mayor, and brief reflections on progress, opportunities and challenges. You are invited to respond with reactions, insights and questions. We do this work together.

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Apr 17

April 17, 2020

Posted on April 17, 2020 at 3:27 PM by Elena Domingo

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