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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Jul 28

July 28, 2023

Posted on July 28, 2023 at 1:11 PM by Kathryn LaSala

This was Council’s final week of meetings before taking a break in August, and we focused on a few critical and time sensitive concerns: renter protections, strategic planning, and a discussion of the multi-use facility proposed for the Lane County Fairgrounds.

We began with the annual review of the City Manager’s performance. Sarah is universally respected and trusted by council and myself – the review was brief and laudatory. The city is good hands under Sarah’s leadership and the executive team that she has assembled. Given the ongoing budget concerns and the severity of several ongoing issues – housing shortage, homelessness and climate change – we are fortunate to have experienced and trusted leadership in place.

At Monday night’s meeting, Council approved the amended ordinance governing protection for renters. Council has made a responsible set of decisions that reflect responsiveness both to the vulnerability tenants experience in our housing market, and to concerns expressed by landlords. This is a tricky landscape to navigate. Two councilors opposed the ordinance fearing the measures would backfire and worsen the circumstances for tenants and reduce investment in rental properties. It’s important to take a step and learn. Council can always review the impacts of their policy and make changes where needed.

On Wednesday, we returned to a discussion of the City’s strategic plan. This process began last fall with a two-day workshop with council, mayor, executive city leadership, and city staff. That fast dive into areas of concern and priorities informed this more complete document outlining goals and strategies. The plan is built around four key areas: Urgent Community Needs, Communication and Outreach, Organizational Wellbeing, and Culture of Belonging. Within each area, impact actions reflect policies already adopted and new areas for focus. The staff will come to council with more specifics about actions, measurements and metrics to evaluate progress and outcomes.

Concurrently with this planning, I have been developing and inviting panelists to participate in a Blue Ribbon Business Panel on Economic Development. That panel will begin meeting in September, and this strategic plan will form the framework for their discussions as well.

Lastly, on Wednesday the City Manager briefed Council on the background and financial status of the proposed multi-use facility at the fairgrounds. This is commonly referred to as the Ems Stadium, as the impetus and urgency of the proposal is the ball team’s need for a stadium that meets Minor League Baseball standards and allows for a longer season. The Ems are under a tight time lime to find a new location. After working with the city staff to assess various locations, the Ems turned their focus to the fairgrounds and discussions with Lane County. The commissioners made two major steps: increasing the amount of the transient room tax paid by hotels to create a possible revenue source to fund the capital costs; and they commissioned a design for the facility. Since the initial conversations with the Ems, the total cost of the project has more than doubled, and many in the community, including the Ems, have turned to the city to help fill the gap. Council has proceeded with caution: we do not have full or detailed information about ongoing costs or assurance that the team would commit to long-term occupancy. Council has asked the manager to continue discussions to understand the full scope of the project costs. Two things are clear: First, the city does not have the $15 million funds being requested. We are facing our own $15 million gap to fund city services. Second, we all love having the Ems in our community and value all that they bring to us. It is hard situation, but it is not solely the City’s responsibility to make this project whole.