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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Feb 19

February 19th, 2021

Posted on February 19, 2021 at 1:31 PM by Niyah Ross

 Due to the Presidents Day holiday, Council only met on Wednesday this week.

The first work session focused on the 2020 Census and the process for adjusting Ward boundaries to reflect population changes.  The last time Council embarked on this process was in 2011 after the 2010 Census data was released.  Staff reviewed the criteria from 2011 which included delineating boundaries that would create wards of roughly the same size – within 3 percent; and to maintain relative compactness and consider geographic features to avoid boundaries that divide neighborhoods.  Council was comfortable retaining these criteria in the new process and voted to take responsibility for direct oversight of the process as Council had done in 2011.

The challenge this time around is that Census data is very delayed.  The City does not expect to receive the new numbers until September.  This is tricky because filing opens in the first week of September for four council seats that are on the May 2022 ballot.  People will be filing to run in Wards in which the new boundaries will not be decided until February – just before the March filing deadline. This may or may not be an issue depending on how big the adjustments are and how close to the boundaries the candidates live – but it is another unexpected complication as a result of the pandemic that we’ll have to take into consideration.

In a short second work session, Council appointed Leia Pitcher to serve as the Interim Police Auditor.  Mark Gissiner is retiring from that role on February 26th.   Deputy Police Auditor Pitcher offers a seamless transition currently when the Ad Hoc Committee is reviewing police policies.   Deputy Police Auditor Pitcher was responsible for reviewing all the video related to the racial protests last May.  Council will hold a discussion at a future date to discuss whether to conduct a search for a new auditor and, if so, how broad that search should be.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Police Policies also met this week, hosting community members who testified about their interactions with the Eugene Police.  These were all very hard stories to hear.  Two comments stood out to me.  First, the statement that “Eugene needs to embrace the mentally ill;” and the question, “Why don’t we treat people with mental illness the way we treat people with other disabilities?”  I am attending today, Friday, a press conference with Sen. Wyden to talk about his bill to fund programs like CAHOOTS in communities across the country. We know how valuable CAHOOTS continues to be in our community, and how far we must go to ensure that people in a mental health crisis receive the care they need.  This issue is bigger than our city, and I’m grateful to have our national leaders seeking broader and deeper investment.

In addition to the Council meeting this week, I also attended the bi-monthly meeting of the Poverty and Homelessness Board. This was a robust meeting with reports about rental assistance contained in both state and federal relief packages; and on progress on winter shelter strategies and ongoing work to provide shelter for the unhoused. The public can access information about rental assistance through the website: www.lanecount/rent.  The summary report of sheltering options is also on the website here.

Finally, we have received several emails about campers at Westmoreland Park.  This is the site of one of the new rest stops to house 15 people in Conestoga shelters.  In order to help the residents in the Rest Stops, the City restricts other campers from setting up tents closer than 300 feet to the Rest Stop.  As that Rest Stop prepares to accept new residents, the City is reaching out to those who are camping within that 300 ft area to let them know they will have to move.  We continue to struggle with this because we don’t have places for people to go. 

I will remind all of you who are reading this that the City allows any property owner to host a car camper on their property if they provide sanitation facilities.  Having more property owners and neighborhoods who were willing to work together to host car campers or Conestoga’s would expand our options.