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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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May 28

May 28, 2021

Posted on May 28, 2021 at 6:38 PM by Niyah Ross

This was a week of incremental steps on major, long-term City priorities. Land use, wildfire prevention, transit and budget – all issues in which we put our core values to work on equity, climate, and safety.

In Monday’s work session staff reviewed the goals, summarized the public engagement results, and presented the approach to revise the land use code to comply with House Bill 2001. As you recall, HB2001 requires the city to revise our land use code to remove barriers to the creation of “middle” housing that includes duplexes, triplexes, quads, townhouses and cottage clusters. The City has until June 2022 to revise our code; otherwise the model code created by the State will be applied to Eugene.

In brief, our goal is to comply with at least the minimum requirements of HB 2001; advance equity and long-term affordability and increase availability of diverse housing types. Perspectives shared through the public engagement process reflected broad interest in doing more than the minimum code adjustment and create code that would at least encourage and/or incentivize the construction of this housing. Council discussion focused on the question of affordability and incentives—wanting specifically to encourage diversification of neighborhoods and recognizing the financing and financial barriers of the current market. The Planning team is bringing code recommendations to the Planning Council through June, which will provide direction on the final code.

Wildfire preparedness was the second topic of the session. This session was to review the Fire Department’s work to reduce the potential for catastrophic fire, particularly in the South Hills where houses are built in wooded terrain. The Fire Marshal’s office does not have authority or enforcement capacity to address nuisance vegetation on private property. This means that education and outreach to private property owners is key to reducing the brushy vegetation that can fuel a fast-burning fire. This is supported by the Eugene Wildfire Preparedness Coalition that has offered three presentations to neighborhood associations. The City’s Parks and Open Spaces Division continues to improve resilience and preparedness by with clearing brush on public land.

Council ended this meeting with a vote to direct a public hearing on an ordinance to ban the use of fireworks in Eugene south of 18th Avenue starting this year; and ban on the sale of fireworks south of 18th. Avenue in 2022, in order to reduce the chance of starting a wildfire in that vulnerable part of town. That ordinance will go to a public hearing on June 21st.

On Wednesday, the Council met in joint session with the Lane Transit District Board to discuss the Moving Ahead process. In 2019, Council had reviewed five corridors for potential investment to increase safety, reduce congestion, and provide faster bus service. The pandemic put this conversation on hold, and City and LTD staff are looking for direction from Council about their priorities and concerns in order to take this work to the next phase of planning. Moving Ahead encompasses a ten-year concurrent planning period for all five corridors to position the City for funding opportunities as they arise. Previously, bus rapid transit planning has been conducted one route at a time. The Council supports investment in all of the corridors, but prioritized River Road for bus rapid transit because of the land use and neighborhood planning that is well underway and the support for improved bus service by the neighborhood. Highway 99 was also at the top of the list because of the safety challenges of infrequent and inadequate crossings and the lack of bike and pedestrian infrastructure. As we experienced with the West Eugene EmX, reconfiguration of the road for improved transit incorporates those other improvements. This is a restart of a long conversation. Stay tuned.

Finally, the Budget Committee met to vote on the FY 22 General Fund Budget and included a few amendments offered by members. The one that attracted the most public comment was a decision to increase funding for CAHOOTS. This program is essential to our public safety system and is struggling to meet the demand for services. They are currently operating two vans, one 24/7, the other for 11 hours per day. In July, at the beginning of the new fiscal year, they were slated to lose five hours of funding because of City-wide cuts due to the recession. The Budget Committee approved a recommendation of one-time funding of $125,000 to enable CAHOOTS to retain those five hours of daily service for one year. In the meantime, Council and the Budget Committee will review the allocations in the Community Safety Initiative with the intention that more money may be directed to CAHOOTS through that process in the fall.