In the face of so many on-going crises – the pandemic, climate, and homelessness, this week’s meetings were an opportunity to look forward – on economic development, human rights, and better ways to consider and manage the impact of big events.
On Monday, Council was briefed on the latest plans for the renovation of the steam plant. This iconic building whose oldest wing dates from the 1930s has been empty since 2012 when EWEB ended the production of energy at the site. Although badly run down and now abused by graffiti and theft, the structure’s elegant façade of soaring windows facing the river is a unique and tantalizing opportunity to create a destination for local folks and visitors alike to enjoy. A local private development team lead by architect Mark Miksis and entrepreneur Mark Frohnmayer have conceived a renovation that includes public gathering spaces, both for performance and enjoying the river on the ground floor, supported by private development of some office space and an independent hotel on the upper levels. The dedication of space for a hotel is a modification of plans presented earlier to Council in response to the impact of the pandemic which has reduced the potential for shared workspaces that was initially envisioned. The total cost of the project is projected to be $56 million; and the increasing cost exposes a $6.7 million gap that the developers are hoping can be supplied through public sources. Council will consider options to help fill this gap and the City will most likely pursue state funds as well. This is a one-time cost—once built, the property will generate income and not only be self-sustaining but provide jobs, property tax revenue, and the hotel will pay transient room tax. It will be an asset to the whole community and an important anchor to the Riverfront development. I am hopeful that we will find the funds to support this huge private investment in our urban core.
This discussion was followed by a presentation by the Human Rights Commission of their work in Fiscal Year 2021 and the proposed work for FY 2022. This committee has a legacy of deep, impactful work for the City and some of the esteemed members have now cycled off. In particular, Bonnie Souza served for six years during which time the commission produced a report “Marginalized Voices” whose recommendations continue to provide the framework for many of our policy discussions. Joel Iboa has also left his post as Chair after presiding over critical recommendations that initiated Council’s adoption of the “Sanctuary City” ordinance and resolutions condemning white supremacy. Last year, members of the HRC participated in the Ad Hoc Committee on Police Policies and in discussions about the Community Safety Initiative and served on six other city boards and commissions. Looking forward, the new leadership will continue to offer leadership in fostering respect for social equity, civil and human rights; maintain liaisons with other City advisory groups; and recommend actions to address human rights and social equity. They will add to this list a liaison to the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, which is also looking to address equity and human rights. Of particular discussion is the opportunity presented by Oregon 22 to recognize, honor, and celebrate the diverse communities within our communities during that huge international track and field event in July 22.
And speaking of huge events, Wednesday’s work session provided an overview of the issues and opportunities to improve management of waste at large gatherings. This question was brought to Council by the Sustainability Commission which has a menu of possible actions by the City. Eugene is active in this arena locally and nationally: we participate in the national Council for Responsible Sports, and have modelled the use of refillable water stations; offer a travel emissions calculator to event organizers, and have a 12 year history of promoting recycling and including event vendors in our city-wide ordinances, including plastic bag bans. Planning for OR 22 is targeting waste reduction and reuse and reviewing a sustainable travel policy. The Sustainability Commission is advocating for a return to a more robust plastics recycling. Council will hear from the Commission on November 8th and has already requested more information from staff about the recommendations from the commission.
Finally, Councilor Clark provided a link to Council and staff to an article in The Atlantic magazine about the impact of meth in triggering the spike in homelessness and profound mental illness that we are witnessing locally and across the country. It is both disturbing and informative. It reinforces the priority that many of us have advocated: we cannot solve homelessness without significant investment in addiction and mental health. Here's the link