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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 29

January 29, 2021

Posted on January 29, 2021 at 4:41 PM by Niyah Ross

This week Council dove deeply into two issues: housing and our negotiations with NW Natural.

Monday’s session was devoted to an update on the City’s public engagement efforts to both inform and be informed about the implications, opportunities and priorities related to our code amendments to comply with HB 2001. 

HB2001 was passed in 2019 and it requires the City to amend the zoning codes to allow more “middle housing” types including duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, cottage clusters and townhomes in residential areas.  The City must have an approved code in place by June 2022, or the state model code will be applied.  For Council and many neighborhoods, this has been a thorny issue – Councilors have objected to the loss of local authority; and some neighborhoods have objected to the premise that allowing these housing types will increase our supply of housing people can afford.  We face a housing shortage both in quantity and diversity.  Even without state requirements, the City of Eugene would need to be on this path to meet our growing needs. Neighborhoods will adapt; diversity will be healthy; and a thoughtful process is underway to be inclusive.

The staff implemented a multi-pronged program to engage the public.  This included: an Equity Roundtable to hear the concerns and priorities of underserved communities; a “Healthy Democracy” panel, facilitated by an organization of that name, which included 29 randomly selected Eugene residents; outreach by UO students to young adults; and roundtables of board and commissioner members and another of local partners.  Collectively, these groups recommended a set of principles to guide the City’s planning: Equity and Access to Housing; Broad Dispersal of Middle Housing, Housing Options of all Shapes and Sizes; Compact, Efficient Housing; Sense of Belonging; Opportunities to Build Wealth; Interconnectedness of Housing Solutions; and Vibrant Neighborhoods.

The next step will be a review of proposed code amendments to align with state administrative rules.  The City’s goal is to complete our process by June of this year, one year ahead of the state’s 2022 deadline.

Later, Monday night, the public forum again included a full night of testimony focused on the franchise agreement negotiations between the City and Northwest Natural Gas. 

We will hold a public work session on this pressing issue, tentatively scheduled for February 8th.  We recognize that this prolonged process behind closed doors adds to tension, doubt and anxiety as concerned members of the public wonder and worry about where we might be going.  It will be a relief to all of us to bring this into the open.  I will say for myself that I have two priorities in this process: that we protect and retain control of our taxpayer funded Right of Way infrastructure, and that we align and move forward on our Climate Recovery goals.

In addition to Council meetings, in the past week I attended the US Conference of Mayors virtual winter meeting; and the meeting of Mayors and CEOs for US Housing Investment.  In the first meeting, I attended sessions about Climate Change with feelings of deep relief to hear from the Biden Administration.  It is heartening to know that cities now have an advocate and the heft of the federal government supporting and strengthening our climate goals. 

The second meeting, of course, centered on housing.  A premise of this group is that housing is infrastructure.  Once again, we have the prospect of federal investment in our nation’s critical housing shortage and addressing the dire impact of homelessness in our communities.  

Finally, on Wednesday the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Board met for the second time.  This group of 20 high school students from every Eugene high school, every grade and a diversity of backgrounds is honing in on the issues they want to address as a board.  Their insights are powerful and penetrating; their discussions are respectful and broad.  I look forward to being able to share more about their work as they refine their priorities and process.  They are a reason to have hope in the future.