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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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May 08

May 8, 2020

Posted on May 8, 2020 at 4:49 PM by Nicole Bernstein

This was a quiet week for council which doesn’t meet the first week of the month. A couple of the key issues on my calendar this week were my weekly meeting with downtown and Fifth Street business owners and my monthly meeting with the leadership of the 4J and Bethel Schools.

The focus of the conversation with business leaders was the Governor’s guidelines for re-opening. Since that meeting, the Governor has announced her intention to permit limited reopening of businesses beginning May 15th, in counties that have met the “Gateway” criteria – in particular, declining numbers of positive cases, adequate testing, and capacity for contact tracing. Lane County announced their intention of submitting an application for Phase 1 opening.  The Governor’s office has issued specific guidelines for different business sectors: some of which, like retail, will more easily meet requirements for physical distancing and will be able to open sooner.   There are many questions and concerns about how to assure safety for employees and customers, the considerations for employees who are receiving unemployment benefits, and the liability for businesses as they re-open. Information will continue to flow in both directions as local leadership, including the Chamber of Commerce, communicate with State leadership and the State releases drafts for comment.  There is an increase in anxiety and tension as we all grapple with the implications of any resumption of activity.  We’re taking it one cautious step at a time.

In our regular meeting with the superintendents and board leadership of the 4J and Bethel School Districts, Sarah Medary and I mostly listened to the concerns of the districts about lost teaching and connection to students.  The remote learning structure shines a bright light on the digital divide and the challenges of students growing up in poorer households without internet service.  We are delving into the options for better addressing this, particularly given the possibility of restrictions that might return in the fall if the virus infection rate rises for a second surge. Both districts and our police chief have expressed deep concerns about children living in abusive households who now have no safety net or protection at school.  All of this is top of mind for our community.

As we look at a gradual re-opening, we are also looking at a shift from our Emergency Response, particularly for our homeless population, into a more sustainable on-going set of programs. We are fortunate to have extraordinary providers in the community who have done incredible work – Whitebird, Carry it Forward, and St. Vinnie’s -- and to have a template for ongoing work in the TAC report. This will be a focus of work for the Shelter Subcommittee of the Poverty and Homelessness Board and will certainly be part of the City’s budget committee discussions that begin on May 13th.

And finally, we have received a powerful letter from the Oregon Asian Desi Pacific Islanders Group denouncing acts of xenophobia and racism against the Asian community that have increased in response to the pandemic.  They call on us t: Correct misrepresentations; Educate ourselves about the interconnectedness of racism in our society; Report incidents of hate and bias; Recognize the negative impact of these experiences on the targeted communities; and Resist attempts to divide the Asian communities from the rest of the community. Councilor Evans will bring a resolution to Council on Monday night to declare May as Asian Pacific American Month to strengthen our support for this community within our community.