Council stepped forward on two major issues this week: public safety/police reform; and missing middle housing.
On Monday, Council received a thorough review from Chief Skinner of the current demands on the police department, the context of ongoing reform efforts, and the purpose and scope of the community safety initiative. His candid, open, and clear expression of commitment to building a police department best suited to the needs of the community, and supporting a shift to enable other agencies – like Cahoots and our homeless providers – to do their best work will take us a long way in creating the trust and confidence we need.
Council passed three important motions. The first was a direction to the City Manager to convene workshops with organizations representing communities of color to specify ways in which the Community Safety Initiative could be changed or enhanced to best meet the needs of their community. These small and focused workshops are intended to review program changes and investments. Council will use this information in considering budget allocations within the Initiative.
The second motion identified the scope, membership and timeline for creating a Task Force to address police policies and procedures. The committee of 30 will have two representatives from each of these bodies: Civilian Review Board, Police Commission, Human Rights Commission, Black Unity, Centro Latino Americano, LULAC, NAACP, Blacks in Government, Transponder, the 15th Night Youth Advisory Committee, Asian/Pacific Islander Community Action Team, Eugene Islamic Center, and a community Indigenous Peoples group. Council added four positions to be chosen by the Mayor to offer opportunities for people not included in this list. Each organization is to submit their representatives by September 1st.
And finally, Council also directed the manager to develop compensation for the committee representatives at a rate of $15 per hour or an equivalent stipend.
Council also hosted a public hearing on Monday night regarding proposed investments in the Park Blocks and Farmers’ Market. These renovations and improvements have been the focus of several years of public engagement and design work. The pandemic and associated economic crisis shifts the landscape for this work, but council as a whole recognizes the importance of the Farmers’ Market in particular as an important economic driver that could play a key role in our COVID economic recovery. Both projects fall within the Downtown Urban Renewal District but revenue in that district is not sufficient to pay the full project costs of both. Council has the option of shifting funds within the district and could choose to defer work on the Park Blocks in favor of using some or all of those funds to complete the Farmers’ Market. The vote is scheduled for Monday the 27th.
On Wednesday, Council received an update on the planning work to align City policies with the requirements of HB2001. This state legislation requires the city to allow duplexes on all lots zoned for residential building; and to permit triplexes, quads, townhouses and cottage clusters in areas zoned for residential use where single family housing is allowed. There were two
powerful aspects to this presentation: Senior Planner Terri Harding opened with a frank history of racism in the structure of our community, describing the restrictions on Blacks to live in the city and to purchase housing; followed by the bank and lending restrictions known as redlining that identified low income areas likely to be more populated by people of color. Our neighborhoods reflect this legacy. It was powerful to hear staff shift from more neutral terms like “equity” in favor of this more blunt and accurate description.
Additionally, the presentation of the public engagement strategy offered insights into the impact of the pandemic and heightened responsiveness to racial injustice in planning this strategy. They are including an Equity Roundtable, modeled on the Equity Panel incorporated in the Climate Action Plan work; as well as engaging a facilitating organization called Healthy Democracy. Councilors expressed some concern about the digital divide preventing people from participating.
Finally, I want to close by saying that I issued a statement today supporting Mayor Wheeler, Governor Brown, Attorney General Rosenblum and our Oregon Congressional delegation in calling for the federal forces to withdraw from Portland. I see it as a violation of the 10th Amendment and state’s rights; and a frightening and unnecessary escalation of tension. In contrast, I have met several times with leaders of Black Unity and am hopeful and inspired by the peaceful steps we can take together to build a more equitable and safe community.