With just a few days to go before the election, we are all feeling the tension – a combination of impatience and dread, worry and hope. I’ve heard from constituents worried about a violent reaction; and commitment by others to take to the streets peacefully. Our Police Department is preparing for all possibilities. I ask all of you to pay attention to your own stress level. If you feel the call to protest next week, please exercise your best judgement to ensure demonstrations are peaceful and safe. And wear your mask!
For many of us, voting is the only way we engage in civic life. But there are many in our community who show up and stand up week after week.
For Council, this week leading up to election day has been a week of investment in civic engagement. On Monday night, Councilors heard from both the Human Rights and Sustainability Commissions. Both Commissions invest in deep research and thoughtful recommendations for Council’s consideration; and both have set very ambitious goals for the coming year.
Council is particularly interested in hearing more from the Human Rights Commission about their recommendation that “housing status” be considered a protected class under our Human Rights ordinance. The conversation is challenging because of the likelihood that this designation would conflict with the City’s prohibition of camping in our parks and open spaces. This is an important and tough conversation as we face a burgeoning crisis of homelessness that outpaces our ability to respond.
The Sustainability Commission will continue to play a key role in the implementation of the CAP 2.0 to address climate change. They will focus on community outreach, expanding involvement of marginalized communities, and increasing the use of an equity lens in sustainability and climate change work.
On Tuesday night, I joined five councilors in listening to the third meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Police Policy. This committee of 30 representatives from minority communities is forging a process for deliberation through the challenging Zoom format. There is an adage “Go slow to go fast” that is embodied in this process.
The committee includes people with broad experience in civic engagement and public meetings, as well as people for whom the whole process is new, unfamiliar, and in some cases, in their second language. I am inspired by their devotion to getting it right. Not only will this committee help us determine the changes and improvements we need to make in police policies, they are also teaching us how to be more inclusive in civic conversations.
On Wednesday, after a briefing by Chief Skinner about his department’s preparations for protests that might unfold next week, Council reviewed their own operating agreements. Normally, I might not consider this newsworthy – but it follows the theme of civic engagement that characterized the week.
Last year, Council modified its procedures governing the Public Forum. In 2019, the forums were robust, sometimes unruly, and often very long. Council opted to shorten the time for individual speakers, and the overall length of the Forum itself. Since then, we shut down in response to COVID-19 and Council meetings and the Public Forum went virtual. Outside of two packed meetings in June related to defunding the police, attendance and public testimony has been limited. We are concerned that the virtual format is serving to dampen civic engagement at a time when it couldn’t be more important.
We will be constrained by the pandemic for many months still to come. The winter will be hard; our patience is running thin. At the same time, our community is engaged in legacy work:
- Today, I welcomed and thanked over 100 people who submitted applications to serve on a review panel to advise the City on priorities in implementing HB 2001. That legislation requires the City to allow more compact housing types, like duplexes, in all single-family residential neighborhoods.
- The first update on our CAP 2.0 is coming to Council in early December.
- The City and County are working furiously to develop a COVID-19-appropriate alternative Egan Warming Center this winter.
- Planning continues in the River Road/Santa Clara neighborhood that will be a model for other neighborhood planning efforts.
- The new Riverfront Park construction is well under way.
- There are four new major affordable housing projects in full swing in downtown and River Road.
- A two-way bike path on E. 13th is complete; and long-awaited improvements to Willamette are in progress.
- The City has invested Federal CARES Act funding in emergency housing, tenant support, and capacity building in our human services network, as well as technology, business loans, and unemployment services at the library.
You, your friends and neighbors are changing this community for the better. Have hope -- no matter what happens on election day.