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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Mar 04

March 4, 2022

Posted on March 4, 2022 at 7:46 PM by Niyah Ross

This week’s blog will catch up on two weeks which encompassed three major policy areas for Council: multiple unit property tax exemptions (MUPTE) for the first three housing complexes on the Riverfront; a detailed review and update of the City’s response to the unhoused; and a joint session to review the Moving Ahead project with Lane Transit District. Together they represent major initiatives either underway or poised for a Council vote reflecting our priority concerns of housing, homelessness, and transportation.

On Tuesday, February 22nd, Council devoted the entire 90-minute work session to review and discuss three applications for a 10-year property tax exemption (MUPTE) in the new riverfront neighborhood. Together, the three proposed apartment buildings will provide 381 units of housing. All of it will be market rate housing; differences in rental costs are related to the number of bedrooms and overall size of the units. To qualify for a MUPTE, a developer must dedicate either a minimum of 30% of the units to moderate income housing or pay a fee of 10% of the project’s total tax exemption cost that is used to support moderate-income housing development. The housing cannot be designed for students or transient uses. The development must also meet green building standards in design and materials, and contract with local professional and construction services.

Councilors posed a wide range of questions to clarify the public benefits, the financial analysis, and the design. The vote on these applications is scheduled for next Wednesday, March 9th. I am hopeful that these will be approved as they respond both to our needs for a range of housing and for compact development close to transportation to meet our climate goals.

On Wednesday, March 11th, the work session devoted the full 90-minutes to a review and update of the City’s work to address homelessness. A couple of highlights: in January 2020, the City had 877 shelter and alternative shelter beds. At that time, alternative shelter sites included Dawn to Dawn and rest stops. In April 2020, due to the pandemic, the number dropped to 665. Today we have 1023; and expect in six months to have 1138 – due to our increased investment in the microsites, rest stops and safe sleeping sites. It is still not enough given the monthly count of people seeking shelter and services. Last week, I represented Eugene in a successful coordinated request with other cities to the state legislature to allocate one-time funds to support our emergency shelter response – the legislature allocated $5 million to the City to support our shelters, outreach and sanitation; and an additional $750,000 to cover the cost of removing garbage and restoring areas impacted by temporary campsites. We are grateful especially to Rep. Julie Fahey, House Majority Leader and Chair of the Housing Committee who advocated for this investment.

This past Monday, the 28th, the Council met in a joint session with the Lane Transit District Board to review the proposed investments in five key transportation corridors contained in the Moving Ahead framework. This long-standing policy framework began in 2015, and just prior to the pandemic, Council reviewed the possible upgrades and enhancement of five key corridors: River Road, Highway 99, Coburg Road, MLK Jr. Boulevard, and 30th Avenue. The discussions were put on hold through the pandemic, and this spring Council is poised to approve the final framework in order to be positioned to take advantage of federal and state infrastructure funds that are, and will become, available. There are three possible levels of investment: EmX, Enhanced and No Build. The EmX calls for the greatest investment to create a bus rapid transit system comparable to what has already been built on West 11th and Franklin Boulevard. An Enhanced system would upgrade safety and reduce congestion, but would retain standard buses on a more frequent schedule. No build is just that – no proposed changes within this framework.

There’s some confusion and tension about this. The framework is a vision and a  target – it is not a final design. It provides direction to staff to enable them to apply for funding and dedicate resources at the appropriate level of investment. As those opportunities arise for any of the corridors, the proposed investments will be subject to council review and opened for public engagement. The final recommendations on Moving Ahead comes to Council for a vote on March 14th and include: EmX improvements to River Road and Enhanced improvements to Highway 99. Coburg Road is also slated for Enhanced improvements, but the recommendations propose study and attention first to the congestion at the intersection with MLK Jr. Blvd. MLK JR. boulevard is also looking at an Enhanced level of improvement which is already on track with safety investments through other funding sources. And finally, 30th Avenue is considered “No Build” -- this is a little misleading because the City will be making improvements to the safety of the corridor, just not within the Moving Ahead framework which is directly tied to bus service.

In closing, the Council engaged in a thoughtful discussion of our role as a Sister City to the Siberian city of Irkutsk in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Sister City relationship is a peacemaking program – it is intended to reach across political divisions through cultural and educational exchanges. We have been a Sister City to Irkutsk since 1988 and I last welcomed a delegation from that city in 2018. At the same time, I agree with Councilors that we should be clear that our Sister City relationship should in no way be interpreted as acceptance or complacency in the face of Russia’s unjustifiable and brutal aggression. Council committed to donating $10,000 for Ukrainian relief and requested that I send a letter of protest to the Mayor of Irkutsk. I am crafting that letter now and will make it public once it has been released.