On Monday, October 12th, we honored Indigenous Peoples’ Day with a proclamation that was crafted carefully with help from a Native Scholar at the University of Oregon whose work focuses on urban Indigenous people. We are committing as a city to build bridges, government to government, with tribal leadership; and are tasked as a community to explore and understand our colonial history in displacing Indigenous people, particularly the Kalapuya, from this valley. I’m proud to be a part of a city that approaches this hard work with self-reflection and commitment to actions that pursue a higher quality of life and well-being for our Indigenous communities. The full statement can be accessed through this link
The work of Council on Monday night included discussions and votes on a range of topics. Council resumed their discussion of Urban Reserve designations. This is a forward-looking assessment of land that could be eligible for inclusion in the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) in the next 20-year planning cycle, 2032-2052. Although not required by state law, identifying urban reserves now would clarify and create a known landscape for future development when we have maximized development within the existing UGB. This is a process the City and County undertake together, as it is County land that would become incorporated into the City of Eugene. Council and County Board must agree on the lands to be included. Council will vote next week -- most likely choosing between the lands identified to provide either a 27-year supply or a 30-year supply. The difference between the two options is 400 acres of Class 1 soils that are excluded in the 27-year plan but included in the 30-year option.
On Monday, the other topic that engendered the most discussion is a proposed amendment to our digital sign code. The new code would update signage that can be used by service stations and drive thrus to allow digital technology. The more controversial code change would allow digital billboards to replace existing vinyl billboards. At issue is driver distraction and road safety. Council approved the change based on a staff report about limited and inconclusive data about the impact of digital signs on crashes. The City will always have the option to review and amend this ordinance if safety data support a change.
On Wednesday, the Council and County Board met for a second joint session to review progress on implementation of the TAC recommendations and our winter strategies for sheltering the unhoused. Much progress is being made, and the report from Sarai Johnson highlighted four aspects: investments in permanent shelter and permanent supportive housing; financial projections; emergency shelter for the winter and beyond; and the ongoing partnership between the Council and Board. There’s a lot of good news: the former Veteran’s Clinic at River Avenue is now a county-owned building providing medical care for homeless patients who have COVID-19.
Ultimately, the expectation is that facility will become our permanent homeless shelter with navigations services, but the transition will not happen until we have come through the pandemic. Of our TAC goal to create 350 new units of Permanent Supportive Housing, the Commons at MLK offers 51 units; a new building at 11th & Charnelton will provide another 45; and another 50 will be completed at the Market Commons on 5th.
As always, the challenge is to fund the ongoing operations of these supportive units. Of the TAC recommended solutions, only the commitment to staff program management, including Sarai’s salary, is fully funded. Gaps include almost $6 million for permanent supportive housing and about $3 million for a navigation center.
Finally, on winter strategies, in addition to the sheltering options we currently have – Dawn to Dusk, the Mission, rest stops, car camping – the need is for 500-1,000 more beds. We have about 240 secured to date. This brings us back to the shelter beds we had last year, pre-COVID-19.
Finding locations continues to be the biggest challenge. This does not include the pressure to find support for our newly unhoused by the Holiday Farm fire. Both Councilors and Commissioners reflected a strong commitment to doing more and exploring with more robust solutions. As dire as the situation feels, we have more political and public will to meet this challenge than ever before.