While the national homeless count has increased by only 0.3% since 2020, Oregon's homeless population have grown by 24.5% during this same period of time supporting our street responders have been reporting that a large percentage of the population is from somewhere else.
NOTE from Councilor Groves: While I support professional fireworks displays, it is time to ban the personal discharge of fireworks within the Eugene City Limits. The discharge of fireworks is disturbing for many people, especially those suffering PTSD, as well as domestic animals and wildlife. What are currently classified as "illegal fireworks," air borne explosive projectiles as well as those that produce commercial grade explosive force are by far the most dangerous but even legal fireworks can cause injury and start fires. As a former firefighter I've seen both. For example, a sparkler which is currently classified as being legal in Oregon, burns at temperatures reaching 2,000 degrees, and both legal and illegal fireworks have caused fires in our community. In fact this year in Eugene we experienced a house fire started by the improper disposal of spent legal fireworks and two brush fires attributed to illegal fireworks. The city council has directed the City Manager to return with a draft ordinance. A public hearing on this issue will also be scheduled before a final decision is voted on by council.
NOTE From Councilor Groves: While I'm not opposed to the underlying intent behind the "Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities" land use rules being developed by the State Land Conservation and Development Commission, the devil will be in the details. Our Governor has directed this work. My concern is that this set of prescriptive rules will have an adverse effect on housing development, something we desperately need more of. I am also concerned that the new rules as will most certainly increase the cost of development which is something we must avoid. Further, this is yet another example of an unfunded mandate imposed by the State without consideration of its effects on Oregon's cities. The burden of cost and dedication of staff time is something that should be taking into consideration before finalizing the rules. Eugene staff are already developing Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities implementation plans while Springfield is preparing to challenge the rules depending on their final outcome. I'm only one Eugene city councilor but I applaud Springfield who is poised to take action. In my opinion, the other Oregon cities located in the eight metropolitan areas designated by the State including Eugene, should consider a similar course. Again, my concern is not about responding to climate change, something we should be doing, it's about taking a path that moves in this direction while balancing our need for housing and moving at a pace we can afford and adequately manage. All too often in government we fail to look at collateral impacts and downstream effects of our decisions.
NOTE From Councilor Groves: I'm happy to see plastics No. 1 and No. 2 being accepted again for recycling by most garbage haulers. I will also be interesting in seeing what SB 582 produces in addressing further ventures in addressing waste and the opportunities created to better process our waste. Our environment is fragile and we have a responsibility to be good stewards and protect it. This includes being conscious of the products we purchase and considering how they are packaged when we make these decisions. It also includes our willingness to take the extra steps of following recycling rules and cleaning containers properly before placing them in our recycle bins. I am also gratified to see a number of companies increasing recycled materials in the composition of their products and thereby strengthening the market for recycled goods.
NOTE from Councilor Groves: I found this article on PG&E's pledge to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040 interesting. While the article itself is short on the specific details of the plan, I do agree with PG&E CEO Patti Poppe's statement that, "what I've learned over my years is that setting an ambitious target is the first goal, is the first step." President John F. Kennedy took a similar approach in 1962 while delivering a speech at Rice University. In this speech he declared that, "...by the end of the decade, the United States would land astronauts on the Moon." Achieving great accomplishments by setting aspirational goals, reach goals, has proven to be an effective strategy. Legitimate work towards achieving carbon neutrality is a laudable goal that can propel us towards a better tomorrow. However, before we shut off natural gas to our community, even if it's limited to new construction, maybe we should first ensure that our infrastructure and our capacity of renewable energy can meet the demand of our ambitions.
Note from Councilor Groves: If the recently developing trend of falling lumber prices, which is heading towards more traditional costs will continue, it may ultimately have a positive influence on our community's ability to produce housing, something we desperately need. In recent years escalating prices, supply chain issues, production and labor shortages coupled with a real estate market supply/demand inequity has pushed home ownership out of the reach of many. In addition, the current trend of rising interest rates has only exacerbated this problem. On the rental side of the equation, which now accounts for 53% of Eugene residents (point2homes.com), the current rental vacancy rate of 1.5% which is far less than the national rate for 2022 which is hovering somewhere around 5.6% (ipropertymanagement.com). Housing is not only important to those trying to find a place to live, it is also important to our local economy which needs work force housing. While the City has been working to create more opportunities for housing development, especially multi-unit housing, these other factors have blunted the some of these efforts.
City Councilor Randy Groves asked for this council work session on Tools and Strategies for Addressing Chronic Toxic Polluters. This is the first of three work sessions to address situations like the JH Baxter dioxin contamination which occurred in the council Ward 8 section of the Bethel area. The other two work sessions prompted by Groves and Councilor Claire Syrett are on Risk Bonds and the potential for establishing a Health Overlay Zone.
The Eugene City Council is assessing police reform measures following a year of national, state and local protests. Unfortunately, the Eugene Police Department is being painted with the same brush that is being applied nationally. At the same time, the Eugene Police Department is actually a very good forward leaning organization. That's not to say there is no room for improvement. However, as we move forward it will be important to apply reforms in a manner in which we don't render the organization ineffective in fulfilling its mission to "serve and protect our community."
Gabe Piecowicz, Heather Sielicki and Everyone Village are the real deal!! Everyone Village is a unique managed camp set up under the City of Eugene's Safe Sleep Site program. I have had the pleasure of working with both Gabe and Heather and what's different about their program is that not only are they getting the unhoused off of our streets and into better conditions, they are seeking to get at the root causes of being unhoused which is one of the keys to eradicating this problem long-term. I have been able to shadow Pastor Gabe during his street outreach work and his ability to connect with the unhoused community is amazing. He is able to establish relationships with people who are generally not trusting of strangers and can be set in their ways. In my time with Gabe I have been amazed at his ability to get people moving in the right direction when previous efforts have been unsuccessful and resulted in actions that are not always ideal. I want to thank both Gabe and Heather for a establishing a different model, one that holds promise for the future and moves us beyond just warehousing people.
This article does a good job of explaining Eugene's Safe Sleep Site concept, the associated costs, and the challenges with finding contractors, working with supply chain limitations, finding site management resources and hearing concerns from people connected to adjoining properties. To our friends who are county residents and claim that this is a "Eugene problem," which I hear frequently, please note that the first camp occupant profiled in this article is a woman who was displaced by the Holiday Farm Fire. She is from unincorporated Lane County. Based on my discussions with campers, residents, businesses, workers, my responder colleagues and my past experience as a responder, most are from somewhere other than Eugene! This is a regional, state and national problem and we should be receiving help from outside of our city. Not to pick on the woman from Blue River, and she has my deepest sympathy, but when I voted as a city councilor to approve the five Safe Sleep Sites being developed, I thought I was voting to approve space for people who are indigent and living on our streets, in our parks and publics spaces. People who have nothing and nowhere to go. This woman says she is paying on a property in La Pine Oregon. What? The Safe Sites are NOT intended for those seeking a less expensive life style and wish to save money, they are intended for those who truly cannot afford to go anywhere else. While we have to get people off of our streets for the health and welfare of our entire community, including the unhoused, the cost of providing these spaces and meeting the requirements imposed by our federal courts is staggering and NOT sustainable if cities like Eugene are expected to shoulder the load alone. Finally, a personal beef with our local media. In every article I've read on our unhoused problem, the focus seems to primarily be on Washington/Jefferson Park and the encampment on W. 13th Avenue. While these areas are most definitely problem areas, there is nary a comment about the hundreds of RVs, trailers and campers filling the streets of West Eugene where some of the worst crime is taking place. There is also a dearth of reporting on the problems still plaguing our downtown and the Whiteaker neighborhood. To any reporter reading this post, please step away from your desk, go out into our community and take a look! If you cannot find your way to West Eugene, call me and I will personally pick you up and take you for a tour! I can show you the problem up close. I can also show you streets that have been cleared and cleaned and talk about the positive impact on businesses and workers in those locations. Businesses that had let their properties decline and were looking to relocate. But after clearing and cleaning, many have reinvested in their businesses and the jobs they create for our community. Some who were ready to leave have now even talked about expansion. Sadly though, many streets are still in terrible shape and some businesses have already left or are still leaving because they have lost faith in our City and our system. Please stay informed on this work, help where you can, and raise your voice so that you are heard and counted as to what you believe to be the right thing. I also ask that you become informed so that you understand the limitations placed on your local governments as you judge their performance. I for one feel like we have had these challenges thrust upon us, over years, and many of the possible solutions have been removed from the table without our input.