Council is back in session and that means that I am also back to posting these weekly blogs. We hit the ground running this week with updates from the City Manager about PeaceHealth’s decision to close the University District hospital; options related to the need for an expanded stadium for the Eugene Ems; and work sessions on Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities and the Riverfront Urban Renewal District.
To begin with the updates: there is not a lot of news to share. The City Manager, Fire Chief and others are in ongoing conversations with PeaceHealth, the Oregon Health Authority, and members of the Governor’s staff. I have also had conversations with PeaceHealth and with the Governor and have made my concerns clear in public statements. The presentation to Council was reassuring in one important way: under Chief Caven, Eugene Springfield Fire is already deeply engaged in exploring and problem solving to ensure that they are able to meet our community’s needs. As the Chief said to council, this work will just need to move faster. The likely closure would increase strains and capacity concerns in the system. The city is moving forward under the assumption that UD hospital will close on November 30th while at the same time keeping the conversation moving with PeaceHealth, OHA and the Governor’s office.
As for the Ems stadium, the bottom line is that the city does not have the $15 million that the Ems and County have requested, although we could come forward with a smaller offer related to waivers on System Development Charges and other costs. It will not be enough to meet the need. Council was clear that they would like the need for stadium funding to be included in our broader discussions about the city’s revenue shortfall and possible pathways to meet our short and long-term budget gaps. In October, the Manager will be bringing back to council more information about our financial picture and proposal for the revenue committee. Several councilors and I have openly questioned whether it would be productive to re-open conversations about renovating the Ducks PK Park to meet Major League Baseball’s requirements. It is not clear whether there is enough will and interest to reopen that possibility.
On Wednesday, Council reviewed the City’s proposed parking reform ordinance changes to comply with the State’s Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities (CFEC) rule. The city must either adopt a version of one of three options by December 31, 2023 or the State’s changes will automatically take effect.
CFEC was issued by former Governor Brown in 2020. The rule encompasses an array of land use changes, but the first deadline for compliance are the changes related to parking. The intent of the parking rules is to reduce areas devoted to parking as one step toward reducing the prominence of cars in land use planning, in favor of transit, walking and biking infrastructure investments and compact housing and commercial development. There are three broad options. The Planning Commission, based on their own assessment and insights gained from public engagement, unanimously proposed adoption of the first option, which is to eliminate parking requirements across the city. Developers retain the option to develop parking if they choose, but they would not be required as they are now by city code. Other elements of the CFEC parking rule seem to make this the most rational choice. For one, the CFEC already prohibits parking requirements within a half mile of major transportation corridors. That includes a large footprint of the city and, combined with other CFEC limitations on various kinds of housing and buildings, it is simpler to propose a consistent city-wide rule. The other two options require the city to either reduce parking mandates for certain types of development in key areas, or to repeal parking minimums for a longer list of uses as well as include at least one pricing mechanism.
Council in general supported the first option, although many stated their deep objection to this state mandate. The proposed changes are the subject of a public hearing on Monday, the 18th.
Also on Wednesday, Council reviewed a draft proposal to amend the Riverfront Urban Renewal District to expand the spending capacity in order to enable additional projects to be funded. This conversation parallels the discussion of the Downtown Urban Renewal District. Without Council action, the District will sunset at the end of June 2024. In addition to the housing projects already approved and underway, there are two specific projects that would benefit from the additional capacity: the affordable housing project and the steam plant renovation. Depending on the maximum amount of money generated for the District, the Council could consider a longer list of investments to include more housing, more physical improvements, and other emerging projects. Council chose to direct staff to initiate plan amendments that would allow three possible levels of investment and duration: $15 million over five years, $25 million over eight years, or $45 million over 15 years. This will come back to council later this fall. Council must approve the proposed extension by December in order to be able to refer this to the May 2024 ballot.