In our first meeting since July, Council appreciated an opening work session on proposed modest renovations to the public area between the Hult Center and The Graduate Hotel. This is an abiding priority for Councilor Semple; and Council had retained $400,000 of Downtown Urban Renewal funds for some public space improvements. With limited funds, this project rose to the top of the list where renovations are designed to improve the flow, accessibility and appeal of this passage that connects the downtown core with the expanded 5th Street area. Notably, the area includes the Japanese American Memorial, built near the site where Japanese Americans were assembled to be sent to internment camps during WWII. The proposed improvements would not alter the memorial, but would improve access and visibility. Council approved moving forward to a public hearing on this proposal.
This conversation was followed by an update on the City’s response to our unsheltered population, specifically the creation of 500 safe sleeping sites for tents and vehicles. My blog last week foreshadowed this conversation and there isn’t a lot for me to add this week. Our progress is slower than anyone would like and several councilors commented on the impatience and exhaustion in neighborhoods that are shouldering the impacts of the sanctioned temporary sites at Washington Jefferson Park and 13th and Chambers. Staff are hopeful that other sites under negotiation will be ready for council discussion in a few weeks. Our challenges are not limited to space and infrastructure, they are also limited by capacity. Staffing for the safe sleeping sites, as for most social service work in general – and in fact for employers across the spectrum – is hard to come by. We don’t have a quick fix, but it is clear to me that better salaries, access to training and education, mentorship and supervision are all needed to enable people to do this work effectively and avoid burnout. Recently this conversation has focused on CAHOOTS, but that is one among many critically important providers in our community. I continue to reach out to partners to highlight this essential component of our response to the unhoused.
This fall will be packed with consequential council discussions and action. This coming week, Monday’s work session will review the commitments, funding and status of the Community Safety Initiative. As you recall, Council approved a package of investments including police staffing, municipal court and responses to homelessness. The work was initiated in 2019 with bridge funding in anticipation of ongoing funds through the payroll tax. That tax has now been collected for two quarters and this is the first opportunity for council to discuss this initiative with actual revenue numbers. Since it was approved, the Council has heard robust calls for reallocation of funds away from police and toward mental health and other social services; and the City has conducted an additional round of public engagement sessions particularly with members of the BIPOC communities. No action is expected next week; this will the first of several conversations.
And finally, action is expected on amendments to our ordinance governing accessible dwelling units (ADU). Council was poised to approve the final ordinance in July but agreed to postpone a vote until September 15th to allow community members and councilors more time to consider five motions put forward by Councilor Syrett. In the intervening time, leadership of the Jefferson Westside neighborhood has drafted a significant re-working of the ordinance, beyond the five motions, that incorporates enough significant changes that, if moved forward by council, would require another round of public hearing(s) and delay this decision again. Delay is costly. It costs staff and council time and diverts work from other projects; it costs the city’s credibility that we can act on our commitments to address housing needs; it costs in our relationship with state legislators who expect the city to respond to state mandates in a timely manner: and it costs residents in Eugene who are waiting for this ordinance in order to be able to invest in ADUs. We have spent almost four years on ADUs with many opportunities for public engagement; and I am not supportive of taking this back to the drawing board.