We are on high alert this week due to an increase in COVID cases. This
crisis compounds all of our other challenges – safely sheltering both our local
unhoused population as well as evacuees from the wildfire; jeopardizing a
gradual economic recovery for our local businesses; increasing uncertainty
about when students can return to school in person; and potentially
overwhelming our public health system.
The University of Oregon rolled
out an education campaign under the slogan “Let’s Choose Each Other” by wearing
masks, washing hands, maintaining physical distancing and reducing
gatherings. It’s the right message, and the only one that will help us
control the spread of the virus.
In the midst of this ongoing crisis, the Louisville, Kentucky grand jury’s
decision not to charge officers for killing Breonna Taylor has reignited
outrage and frustration. Locally, our Black Lives Matter movement is both
disruptive and peaceful. The first fruits of their activism emerged this
week. The Ad Hoc Committee on Police Policies is poised for their first
of ten meetings on September 30th at 6 pm. The committee will review
issues framed in both Campaign Zero and 21st Century policing. The meeting is
viewable via Zoom. Information will be on the City’s website.
On Monday night, the Council joined the Board of Commissioners for a joint
meeting to review the options for designating land as Urban Reserves.
This planning process has identified land outside the current Urban Growth
Boundary that could be included in the next cycle – 2032-2062 – if all other
density and land use options within the boundary are exhausted. Because
this involves county land, this is a joint decision between city and
county. The two planning commissions for each jurisdiction made different
recommendations: the county’s proposed a 30-year option that includes some
Class 1 agricultural soils in north Eugene; the city’s proposed 27-year option
excluded those soils. The Council will discuss this on October 12th; the Board
on the 20th. They will have to agree on the same option.
Later on Monday night, Council held four public hearings all of which are
due for council votes in October: proposed updates and changes to allow digital
signs and billboards; a land use designation change in north Eugene for
Sheppard Motors; proposed investment in redeveloping the old LCC property on
Willamette; and extension of the current franchise agreement with NW Natural to
allow more time for negotiations.
Wednesday’s session focused on fire. Chief Heppel reviewed the
firefighting efforts of our department to save lives and control the Holiday
Farms Fire. A couple of takeaways: the evacuation was a success and all people
are accounted for; 700 structures were lost; 820 people are in various
shelters. Our department’s ability to think fast and creatively was
key. When the fire raged and there were no more fire engines available,
our firefighters walked to the fire line with shovels and dug trenches by hand
to keep the fire from moving closer to Springfield.
As you know, Eugene and Springfield merged their two fire departments in
2010. The initial consolidation was a first step – but the subsequent
steps to merge budgets, payroll, purchasing and other aspects have been on
hold. Chief Heppel’s presentation focused on the benefits of the
merger to date, and the challenges posed by the continuing duplication of other
services between the two cities. This meeting was a first review of the
current status. There is clear interest in council to move this work forward,
which has both financial benefits and service delivery efficiencies.
Our immediate experience of a wildfire that could have ripped across the
south hills heightens the significance of Council’s discussions about
where and how we accommodate growth, and how we invest in our Fire Department.
Much of our urban land reserves ring the southern border of the city; climate
change makes those hills more vulnerable to fire and makes prime agricultural
land to the north even more important for our resilience.
Department initiated “fuels reduction” in the south hills last year to remove
vegetation that would fuel a forest fire, and that work will be increasingly
important in the future as we anticipate both the need for housing development
and the danger of fire.