I’m catching up this week on two weeks of council meetings and anticipating next week.
November 9th: Council returned for a second discussion of the Riverfront Urban Renewal District and chose to direct staff to draft a proposal to expand the District’s financial capacity. This will return for another work session and vote. At issue are remaining projects, particularly an affordable housing project and the renovation of the steam plant, for which there are inadequate funds remaining in the District. Affordable housing always requires significant public subsidy in order to be constructed. Those funds could come from the city’s other financial resources, such as the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, revenue from the Construction Excise Tax, Federal HUD funds or State Low Income Rental Housing Property Tax Exemptions (LIRHPTE), but those options have drawbacks. Using Affordable Housing Trust funds here would reduce the capacity to fund other projects elsewhere in the city; and the state and federal resources are competitive and might not be awarded.
As for the steam plant, this historic building is the focus of a proposed $49 million private investment that needs at least $5 million more funds to be realized. We unsuccessfully advocated for state support during the 2022 legislature, and I don’t think a second request in 2023 will be met any more enthusiastically. With that in mind, I strongly support expanding the District’s financial capacity to ensure that this economic development and historic preservation project is able to proceed. Otherwise we will face demolition and remediation costs on that property with nothing to show for it.
The second topic on the 9th offered a briefing by Fire Chief Caven on the proposed reorganization of the ambulance service. The goals include right-sizing the equipment to the need, addressing capacity to meet the high demand, stabilizing staffing and creating an emergency medical service career path. Among other things, the department will continue the transition already underway to reduce the number of fire trucks that are responding to ambulance calls and continue to invest in more single purpose medical response vehicles – whether fully equipped or basic life support ambulances. This work is also related to our discussion on November 16th, summarized below, about our full constellation of response systems for behavioral and non-emergency responses.
November 14th: At the 5:30 work session, Council reviewed and approved the annual work plans for three commission: Sustainability, Human Rights, and Police. These formal volunteer commissions represent diverse voices and undertake valuable research, focused community conversations, review of policies and projects, and make recommendations to Council. They are central to Council’s work and provide a consistent path for members of the public to learn more deeply about critical issues, and to offer insight and priorities. We benefit every year from a wealth of talent on these and other boards and commissions and I encourage anyone who is interested to take a look at their work plans on the City’s website.
The 7:30 public form on Monday hosted the largest crowd we have seen post-pandemic. University of Oregon students filled the room and flowed into the hallway to offer testimony about the negative impact of the Eugene Police’s “Party Patrol.” You will recall that last spring as students returned to campus and the weather warmed, the West University neighborhood was the scene of very large, very aggressive partiers. The goal this fall has been to firmly enforce the social host ordinance to avoid a repeat of the unruly and noncompliant crowds of last spring. As always, there’s more than one truth. The students are articulate and conducted themselves politely to make their case. I have offered to meet with student leadership to take them up on their offer to work with the city to ensure that everyone is safe.
November 16th: Council heard the second of three presentations from Berry Dunn Consultants regarding our alternative response system. This discussion covered two phases of the assessment: the medical/behavioral health response system; and the public safety system. In the first case, the report reiterated the ambulance transport reconfiguration, described on Nov. 9th, and added to that structure more data about emergency calls. For example, of over 21,000 calls for ambulance transport, 7,841 were described as “general medical.” That doesn’t tell us the severity of the medical crisis, or if an ambulance was really needed. One certain recommendation from this work is the need for more specificity in our data collection to better understand how different resources are being used.
This was followed by a summary of the other alternative response teams, including CAHOOTS, but also city teams within the police, such as Downtown and Housing Support Officers; as well non EPD teams like Downtown Ambassadors and Neighborhood Service Officers. Each of these teams was developed to meet either specific needs, or similar needs but in a different part of town. Among the recommendations we expect to hear in the final report in January will be system coordination through a specific staff role, better service evaluation and inventory, service delivery by geographic area, and the development and/or expansion of alternative responses for specific needs.
Looking ahead, Monday night, November 21st, we are holding four public hearings. In general, I prefer not to load up big topics on the same night, but the agenda in this case is driven by council deadlines. Two hearings will attract significant public comment: the first is a proposed ordinance to regulate commercial and industrial noise. This ordinance was initially put forward at the request of former councilor Claire Syrett, whose ward is severely impacted by early morning industrial rumbling from Zip-O-Logs.
Closing out the night will be the biggest of all -- a hearing regarding a proposed ordinance to prohibit fossil fuel infrastructure in all new low rise (three stories or lower) residential buildings. Based on written testimony and calls we’ve already received, we expect an enormous turnout—both in person and virtually. This is the first of five motions passed by Council in July to address the impact of buildings on our greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption. I consider this the most straightforward: it only applies to new residential buildings, which comprise a very small percentage of our building stock. They will all be connected to electricity any way; and eliminating gas connections saves costs in construction now; and avoids future costs of decarbonization. The technology and appliances are readily available, widely in use, and competitive in cost. As I’ve said before, we are seeking to adjust to the energy system of the future with vastly reduced consumption of fossil fuels; and this is one step toward building the housing supply we need for that future.