This was a heavy week that began with a long
The headline topic was Council’s review of the status of negotiations with
NW Natural regarding the renewal of the franchise agreement. Public forum has
been full since November with impassioned testimony about this negotiation.
NW Natural is currently operating under the third six- month extension of
the 20-year agreement approved in 1999. The extensions have been approved
in order to allow enough time to reach an agreement on two separate but
linked agreements: the franchise itself which dictates the timeline, fees and
conditions associated with leasing the use of the public Right of Way to NW
Natural for their pipelines; and a second Carbon Reduction Agreement (CRA) with
associated fees to delineate the progress toward reducing greenhouse gas
emissions (GHG). The proceeds of that fee would be applied toward other
GHG reduction measures in the City.
While there is progress on the essentials of the franchise agreement –
notably a 10-year timeline, and a phased in increase in the fees to the city;
the negotiations have faltered over the CRA. Foremost among those challenges is
the question of linkage to the franchise agreement – the City regards the two
as linked; NW Natural sees them as separate agreements in which the CRA is
voluntary and can be terminated without impacting the franchise agreement.
While the City will continue to seek a resolution to the remaining issues,
we cannot resolve them before the current six-month extension expires in
May. This means there will be lapse for some unforeseeable amount of
time. There was no interest in Council to seek another six-month
extension. NW Natural can continue to serve their customers as
always. They are still under a franchise agreement, and even after it
lapses, will still provide gas to their customers and have access to their
infrastructure for maintenance. They will not, however, be formal partners
with the City in striving to respond to climate change unless or until we find
a pathway that we all agree.
Before this controversial session. Council heard a presentation about our
Urban Forestry program. The positive news is the strength of our Urban
Forestry team and the data and expertise they bring to the challenge of maintaining
and restoring our tree canopy. The hard news is that we have about 23%
tree canopy and should have 30%. We’ve been losing ground, partly due to
storms and development; and partially due to certain parts of town, notably
west and north, have dense clay soils that impede tree root growth. The
City is amending soils and redesigning stormwater and other features to improve
tree growth. They have also succeeded in finding homes for over 3,000 giant
sequoia saplings that are better adapted than Douglas firs to our warming
On Wednesday, Council met jointly with the County Board of Commissioners to
review progress in implementing the “TAC” report on improving our homeless
services. Despite the very real evidence across Eugene of the number of people
camping because they have nowhere safer or warmer to be, the City and County
have made a lot progress in building a better system of services. We are
still outpaced by the continuing stark number – 138 people newly falling into
homelessness every month.
A few things to remember: the ten strategies of the TAC report include some
visible investments like the construction of permanent supportive housing that
has continued throughout 2020; and the investment in the River Avenue clinic
that will most likely be renovated to serve as the 75 bed homeless shelter and
navigation center. Less visible to the public are streamlined services
and better outreach to the unhoused that are both underway and expanding.
Finally, it is important to remember that the City’s investment in rest stops
and microsites are separate programs that are related to our overall continuum
of services but are not included in the TAC report.
Councilors and Commissioners generally agreed that the ongoing work is promising
and still not enough. The goal of 350 units of housing is too
small. This is a pressing issue for all of us, and the next round of
conversations will discuss actual and potential revenue sources and the status
of the River Avenue Clinic conversion depending on how long it is needed for
unhoused COVID patients.