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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Jun 28

June 25, 2021

Posted on June 28, 2021 at 8:14 AM by Niyah Ross

As we roll into record-breaking heat this weekend, I am relieved that Council approved an emergency ordinance to ban fireworks in south Eugene.  This early heat exacerbating already dry conditions is dangerous, and we will count on everyone in Eugene, whether they live in the south hills or elsewhere, to be respectful of the new rule and cautious in their use of fireworks elsewhere in the City.  

Also this weekend, the City and County are posting on their websites locations for cooling.  We are most concerned about people who are unsheltered and thankful that the Lane Events Center will be available all weekend; the Public Library is open on Saturday and the Hilyard Community Center will be open on Sunday.  Volunteers and service providers are also striving to deliver cold and/or frozen water to people at locations around the City.  I have been reminded by an astute constituent that even if you don’t have air conditioning, running kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans can push hot air out of your house.

In addition to the fireworks ban, Council also approved amendments to the Parking Code that require vehicles to be moved every 72 hours and that redefine a city block to include both sides.  A number of councilors voted reluctantly.  Code is a blunt instrument: it is designed to create a clear framework.  In this case, Councilors are really concerned about a more targeted approach, to ask people to move vehicles where there are sanitation, safety or nuisance issues; and not to penalize people whose vehicles aren’t creating any problem other than simply being parked for extended periods on the street.  Out of concern for unintended impacts, Council requested staff to bring back in the fall a review of how the new rules are working.

On Wednesday, the Council heard the first of two planned presentations on reparations that had been requested by Councilor Evans.  The presentation reviewed the work by a dozen other cities to provide better context for our own decisions.  In general, the sense of Council, which I share, is that our choices about reparations should be founded on our local history and experience.  For Providence, RI, this foundation was characterized as the “Truth” phase of their process.  From that history telling and accountability work, the next phase of “Reconciliation.”  Councilors prioritized a conversation with broad community engagement.  I will say that although the acronym “BIPOC” has come to be a shorthand for acknowledging the communities that have been marginalized in Eugene and elsewhere, I feel strongly that specific stories of Black American descendants of slavery, Indigenous people who were dispossessed of their land in North America; and immigrants from all parts of the world represented as “People of Color,” each have unique and distinctive stories and losses. I hope that our path from truth-telling to reconciliation to reparations will respect and respond to those different narratives and communities.  We have learned good lessons about how to better engage with communities that have been marginalized in Eugene, and we will build on that experience in a “go slow to go fast” engagement process to find a meaningful and impactful response to the call for reparations.

And finally, on Friday Councilors heard an update on the progress in honing in on safe sleeping tent and vehicle sites.  As you may recall, the team began with 300 possible sites that they narrowed down to 12 that could potentially meet the need.  Of those dozen, the first group of three was presented to Council:

· LTD property at 2nd and Garfield which the LTD board has enthusiastically endorsed as a location most likely for RVs and vehicles

· Chase Commons in Ward 4 which is an undeveloped piece of City property that could be developed like a rest stop with 20 tent sites, potentially operated by St. Vincent de Paul; and

· Square One Village property on Bethel and Roosevelt Blvd that could have 40 pallet shelters or conestogas.

All of these are tentative as staff reach out to neighborhoods and consult with the provider organizations.  We are hopeful about steady progress in setting up the first of these sites in the fall with more to follow.

In the Shelter Stakeholder Committee of the Poverty and Homelessness Board this week we discussed the reality that we need more than “winter warming strategies.”  The Holiday Farm Fire last September and this week’s heat wave add urgency to our pursuit of year-round programs and places to keep people safe.  I know that progress seems slow – we can’t move fast enough on this humanitarian crisis that has only deepened. This challenge is bigger than Eugene and the solutions will also have to be bigger and broader than what the City can do.  I am grateful to all of you who continue to contribute to our pursuit of humane and sensible responses to this crisis.