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
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.