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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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Jan 15

January15, 2021

Posted on January 15, 2021 at 6:13 PM by Niyah Ross

Coming on the heels of the violence in DC on the same night as our annual State of the City, this first week back after break offered Council an opportunity to welcome new members and re-engage in the constructive work that progressed through the challenges of 2020.  The meetings this week built on themes of equity and access – a welcome counterpoint to the Proud Boys and others whose goal is to disrupt this important focus.

Specifically, Monday’s work session reviewed the enormous range of efforts to increase equity in community engagement, policy development and delivery.  These include internal city programs in human resources, trainings in “belonging,” and intervention training to respond to incidents of race and bias.  Councilors noted the efforts to increase access for Spanish speakers, with more translations, more Spanish programming, and continued outreach on public safety by the Auditor’s office.  The list is broad and deep – including housing, police, climate and business opportunities.  I encourage you to review it in the council packet online.

That session was followed by the annual report from the Police Commission.  This volunteer committee has been well-positioned and responsive to the community demands expressed in Black Lives Matter protests and increased their membership in order to ensure broader representation of BIPOC and LGBTQ communities.  They play a vital role in our ability to build police policies that serve our entire community.

Following the work session, we hosted the largest public forum we’ve heard since last summer -- 48 people signed up.  Most of the testimony focused on the City’s negotiations with NW Natural Gas.  A large group of high school students urged Council to cease negotiations if NW Natural doesn’t include an agreement not to build more fossil fuel infrastructure and fees that can be applied toward helping lower income people transition from gas heating to electricity.  These are both pressure points in the ongoing negotiations between the City and NW Natural. 

Council will receive an update on the progress later this month and has made it clear in past discussions that alignment with our Climate Recovery Goals is an essential factor in those negotiations.  This commitment is embodied in the Climate Action Plan 2.0.  That said, these are not simple to negotiate, and Council has allowed time for staff try to land in a place that continues our climate action progress without creating unsustainable disruption to households and businesses that rely on this utility.

The passion of this testimony was matched by the passionate testimony of others seeking a strong statement from Council condemning the white supremacist actions in DC and in Oregon, and commitment to keep our BIPOC neighbors in our community safe. 

I released a statement last week and Councilor Syrett read a statement at the Monday meeting.  In response to the testimony, Council requested time to revisit their 2019 resolution condemning white supremacy. The review of the 2019 resolution has been scheduled for Wednesday, January 20th during the second half of the noon work session.

On Wednesday, the meeting opened with a briefing from Chief Skinner about the Police Department’s preparations in anticipation of Proud Boys and other groups planning to disrupt the inauguration.  The Chief forcefully made it clear that the Proud Boys and similar groups are not welcome in Eugene.  The EPD will remain politically neutral in their plans to allow free speech to take place yet will respond to behavior that is either intimidating or threatening.  The Chief is in contact with the local FBI and with some representatives from communities of color who are in danger and targeted by these violent groups.

This discussion was followed by an update of progress on our commitment to build a 75-bed permanent shelter for homeless people in our community.  As you will recall, this is one of 10 actions that the City and County adopted based on the Homeless System Analysis and Shelter Feasibility Study conducted in 2018.  The shelter is to be associated with navigation services, to ensure that guests, primarily chronically homeless adults, can move on to more stable transitional housing as a result of their stay at the shelter. 

Using coronavirus funds, the County purchased one of two proposed sites for the shelter, a former medical clinic for veterans on River Avenue.  This is currently being used to provide care to homeless adults with COVID.  The hope is the site will be able to convert to a shelter by the end of 2021. There is the potential of State funds that the City might be able to dedicate to supporting the new shelter’s operations.

Finally, I want to close by recognizing how tense and fearful we are all feeling in this very unstable time.  The message that came through strongly in Council meetings this week is one of constructive action and perseverance – to do better for more people in our community.  We look to our annual recognition on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday as an opportunity to recommit ourselves to do better for others in our community and “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.