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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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Apr 22

April 22, 2022

Posted on April 22, 2022 at 2:12 PM by Niyah Ross

Happy Earth Day!  Our recent rainy weather helped alleviate the drought and today’s sun gives this day a much- appreciated feeling of optimism.

The week got off to a rousing start with over 260 people in attendance at Monday night’s virtual public hearing.  We had scheduled two hearings, thinking the first one wouldn’t attract much testimony.  The first was consideration of a code amendment related to the storage and staging of materials on the street.  This was misunderstood by all who testified to include vehicles, which it does not. It is an effort to increase the safety on streets where some construction projects as well as unsheltered people are either storing materials or setting up campsites.  The ordinance change would impose a steeper fine or jail time for violators who refuse to comply after receiving notice or warning that they need to clear the street.   It will come to council for a vote next week.

For the second public hearing concerning Middle Housing, 125 people signed up to testify.  By midnight, close to 90 had actually spoken, fairly evenly divided between those who supported the draft code and those who opposed. 

It was a powerful evening, impassioned and earnest, with moments of outrage.  I take the concerns seriously and am also committed to our need to implement middle housing code that meets our two pressing priorities: our housing shortage and climate change.  I have summarized before the general concerns we have heard in emails, public forums and again at the hearing, but there are a couple of key take-aways from the testimony.

As we move forward to adopt the Middle Housing code, several issues will and should come back for further discussion at Council: the concern about short-term rentals, questions about our solar protection codes, and protections against displacement of existing affordable housing.   It is important to remember that both short term rental regulations and solar protections are addressed in other policies that can be reviewed.  And, as a reminder, I will repeat that the solar protections for Middle Housing are the same as for single family residential. Consideration of stronger anti-displacement policies is adopted policy in the Housing Implementation Pipeline.   All of these are important concerns, but they should not be a barrier to our adoption of code on Middle Housing. 

In particular, I want to address the concerns about the threat of Middle Housing to our tree canopy because it was frequently cited in testimony as an essential response to climate change. 

I encourage opponents to consider three factors: first, as I have written before, tree canopy protections for middle housing are the same as for single family residential. Second, middle housing offers important positive climate benefits because the smaller units are more efficient to heat and cool, even more so with multiple units in a single “plex”; and thirdly, we have the potential to require that new middle housing be fully electric, reducing the carbon footprint of our growing community. As one person noted succinctly, “housing policy is climate policy.”

Finally, the City is working on climate in concurrent and complementary ways, one of which is our investment in increasing our tree canopy.  I was inspired by the planting I attended last Saturday at Chase Commons.  The City has planted 600 new trees this season in areas like Chase Commons that have many apartments and inadequate canopy for cooling; and along Highway 99, one our worst heat islands. 

On Thursday I was fortunate to attend President Biden’s speech at the Portland Airport.  In a speech full of Biden aphorisms, this one rings in my ears: “We need to stop complaining and get to work.”  There’s a lot to worry about AND there’s a lot of good work underway in our community. We’re about to open the Farmer’s Market and a new riverfront park; we have three affordable housing projects in the works downtown; and we have a federal government invested in our success that is funding our improved multi-modal Franklin Boulevard, providing more funding for affordable housing, and helping us address homelessness.