June 20, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Angry residents demand city planners be held accountable

12 min read
Charlie Rojas: "Listen to what the Oregon Court of Appeals has said: Start over... Hold the planning department, city manager, city staff, planning commission responsible for their failures and lack of transparency."

Angry public comment at a joint city-county hearing, with calls to hold city planners accountable. During the Oct. 17 hearing on the River Road/Santa Clara neighborhood plan:

[00:00:11] Charlie Rojas: In July of this year, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed and remanded Eugene’s middle housing code amendment, Ordinance 20667, which would’ve increased housing density up to five times more than state mandates.

[00:00:23] Simply put, your code was poorly planned, failed to take into account lack of infrastructure, including sidewalks, water pipes, lighting, sewers, and as well, and maybe the most important, wastewater treatment capacity. As of now, any construction done under the aegis of Eugene’s middle housing code amendment is unlawful.

[00:00:39] Many constituents told you prior to ramming through Ordinance 20667 that it was badly conceived and that you didn’t have the basis for your dense housing schemes. Council Member Mike Clark also warned the city wasn’t close to being prepared. None of that mattered. Not common sense, nor logic, nothing.

[00:00:56] No attempt by either the county or city was made to conform with the actual law. In fact, Eugene planning employees claimed that there was no need for that study, to which the Court of Appeals said: ‘The city is not following the law. Go back and start over.’

[00:01:08] Not one of you has bothered to inform the public of the importance of that ruling. Not one Eugene Planning Department operative, Lane County or Eugene political functionary, nobody.

[00:01:17] Taxpayers and residents shouldn’t be surprised. This is an example of the abysmal quality of Eugene and Lane County’s political and administrative apparatus. We didn’t need the Court of Appeals to make that evident. For years, Eugene has promoted using public resources to incentivize construction of dense housing in the River Road Santa Clara Corridor.

[00:01:35] Many of us have asked basic but vital questions such as: ‘What are the rents for any of these apartments?’ Without that data, we cannot determine if any one of these plans makes any sense.

[00:01:44] We’ve been repeatedly told by the Eugene Planning Department that they don’t dictate or predict the rent. Yet county and city bureaucrats categorize these apartments as low-income, market-rate, affordable, much-needed, but then claim they don’t know what would be the rent for those categories?

[00:01:58] You’re admitting that you don’t have any idea what you’re talking about, and you’re deliberately trying to play dumb.

[00:02:03] What you don’t want to reveal is new apartments rent for thousands of dollars a month, and are in no way in line with economic reality. Our money is being thrown away because at some point, no matter how much you try to avoid the truth, nothing, nothing you are proposing fulfills any defined public needs.

[00:02:19] The only way any of this makes sense is if the federal government subsidizes rents and construction costs. That was supposed to have been facilitated by two congressional bills, Build Back Better and the Housing Opportunity Mobility and Equity Act of 2019. County and city functionaries were anticipating a lava flow of public money.

[00:02:36] Both bills failed. The massive windfall doesn’t exist and foolishly Eugene and Lane County plunged ahead without the means to implement any of these overblown notions.

[00:02:44] John Q: Charlie’s written statement concludes: ‘Listen to what the Oregon Court of Appeals has said. Start over…Hold the planning department, city manager, city staff, planning commission responsible for their failures, and lack of transparency.’

[00:02:58] We reported separately on River Road community leader Jon Belcher and several business owners warning of unintended consequences and the loss of jobs. Several speakers at the public hearing spoke in support of those businesses. From the Goodpasture Room Oct. 17:

[00:03:15] Janet Ayres: I too am very much opposed to this plan that the city is pushing, aggressively pushing down the constituents’ throats. This is a poor plan, in fact, unlawful with the middle housing position that the Planning Commission is just bulldozing through. The Court of Appeals came out with: ‘The infrastructure must be addressed first.’ They have not laid out a proper foundation to absorb this densification.

[00:03:47] And I’m opposed to the densification. I see no merit, no good that will come out of it. And we’re at a poor time. Our country nationally is at a $33 trillion deficit, about to get engaged in two wars now. And this—Oregon has always been what we call a welfare state. It relies on federal funds and monies coming from other places because we don’t have the creative leadership to attract family-wage jobs to this community.

[00:04:22] Our biggest employers are the University of Oregon and Sacred Heart River Bend Hospital. We need true leadership that will attract and bring in living wage jobs and stop squishing us into small spaces.

[00:04:39] We have a beautiful state. The state of Oregon is a gorgeous state. I see no need to eradicate the businesses, the fine businesses that promote our recreational activities, whether it be boating, RVs.

[00:04:54] I see no point in punishing them or the rental companies that help for folks that cannot afford these big expensive tools. And I commend those rental companies for making tools and equipment available for people that do not want to purchase them.

[00:05:12] And I find this plan is just aberrant. It goes against the people. It does nothing good for the people. And I’ve asked the city and their planners to stop with cramming, nonsensical, fraudulent Plans down our throats, and I asked them to engage the real community instead of your store bought city activists that come to those meetings and start cramming them down and if you voice any opposition, you’re quickly told to be quiet.

[00:05:46] And this three minute rule I think should be expanded to four minutes. People need more time and I’m going to ask the council the same. They need to provide at least a minimum of four minutes because we lack the leadership and the know- how for that leadership to bring in living wage jobs, which is at the root of a lot of our problems here in Lane County.

[00:06:10] I call it Lame County because it does not know how to attract viable businesses.

[00:06:16] I say I am opposed. I don’t want them to go back to the drawing board. I want them to squash it. This is an experiment that has failed miserably on all fronts. It’s an unlawful experiment.

[00:06:29] They’re even pushing it through with knowing that the courts have deemed the necessary components that must be put in place. I say stay with the 1987 review. It seems to have worked thus far.

[00:06:44] Harry Sanger: Hi, my name is Harry Sanger. I’m a prior board member of the River Road Community Organization and a prior member of the River Road / Santa Clara community action committee.

[00:06:53] I don’t see how the current plan is an improvement over the existing 1987 plan. I know a lot of people have spent a lot of time and hard work into making this a reality. And I hate to detract from that, but based on what we’ve been through the last several years, this plan doesn’t seem to accurately reflect the needs and interests of the neighborhood.

[00:07:13] And I think that it would be better served for the community to take this back to the drawing board and rework it based on where we’re at right now as a community.

[00:07:21] Furthermore, I think that it’s important to note the community engagement that’s expressed in this plan. It’s impressive, but it leaves out a lot of people in the neighborhood, and I think this is an area that recalled a city councilor, and I don’t think that this plan reflects the interest of all of those neighbors who don’t seem to have a voice in a lot of civic engagement, but are part of the neighborhood, and I don’t know how we get those people involved. They only seem to come out at times, but it’s an important voice that we need to consider.

[00:07:52] So, I think both planning commissions for your hard work, I thank the CAC (community advisory committee) and the neighborhood organizations for their hard work, but I think we really need to go back and look at what that 1987 plan represents and what a proper refinement to that to meet modern needs would be.

[00:08:07] Natalie Crowder: Hi, my name is Natalie Crowder, I’ve been here since ‘78, so I feel I know the community well. I shop in all the stores in this community. Most of my shopping has been 80% in the Santa Clara/River Road area.

[00:08:21] I object to the amendments to the land use code. And the reason is, is because I use Action Rent-All and the storage unit there. I think it’s poor planning. It’s ridiculous to think that we’re going to take these businesses away from Eugene, Santa Clara, River Road. We shop there and if you talk to most of the community, they shop there also.

[00:08:49] I rented from Action Rent-All two weeks ago. I think we need the storage rental place for people in transition. I’ve used it several times in the years with my four children. We need the boat and RV sales. It promotes recreation. And we need recreation and activities for our community. That’s part of the Santa Clara community.

[00:09:11] It may surprise the Santa Clara organization that the businesses on River Avenue are not walkable areas. The sewage plant wouldn’t be my top choice to walk to or by. There’s other places that we can do that. And it’s not on River Avenue.

[00:09:26] I think that this plan has been developed by a very small group of people. They’ve worked really hard over the last four to six years, and I appreciate their work, but their outreach has been dismal. I know for a fact: I’ve attended meetings, I’ve gone to the park get-togethers during the summer where the group of 10 went with four other people. That’s not community engagement.

[00:09:51] This has not involved the community. I agree with the gentleman, Harry Sanger, and what else do I have to say? He summed up perfectly: There was not public engagement.

[00:10:01] Patti Swinehart: I’m Patti Swinehart and I’ve lived in the River Road / Santa Clara area for over 40 years. I use almost the majority of all those kinds of businesses that were listed. I’ve known Clemens Marina for over 50 years, as a business in this area.

[00:10:22] I also started attending the River Road / Santa Clara community organization meetings when we first heard about the EmX, that it was going to happen. And so I asked a few questions, started talking to my neighbors, they knew nothing. And I’m certain that tomorrow as I start to talk to my neighbors, which I will be doing, they’ll know nothing about this plan, zero, because as I’ve been attending the meetings, I’ve realized it’s a small group of people that have been working on this for many years, and they’re very bought into it, but you will find if we put this to a vote, just as we did with Claire Syrett recall. Because this is not a community authorized, endorsed kind of planning.

[00:11:16] And the Planning Commission, I get it, they’re volunteers, but this is not an agenda that the majority of Santa Clara / River Road citizens are backing. I just know it after almost 50 years of living in this area.

[00:11:35] And I was there when it was two lanes down River Road. I was there when the city said, ‘We’re going to have a greenway.’ Now they’re saying, ‘Oh, we have property. We’re going to sell it.’ Well, they took that land from many of my neighbors and they moved homes off of that property. So now we’re doing the same thing.

[00:11:55] So I am opposed to the entire plan. I get it that they’ve spent many years, but I’ve looked at it very carefully. It has not the backing of the community, River Road or Santa Clara.

[00:12:11] John Q: While Jon Belcher said the River Road / Santa Clara plan joins the South Willamette plan as ‘the second failure by the city to fulfill their promise under Envision Eugene,” two speakers from Santa Clara spoke in favor.

[00:12:25] Louie Vidmar (Santa Clara Community Organization): My name is Louie Vidmar. I’ve been on the Santa Clara board for, I think, seven years, and on the community advisory committee for what feels like forever.

[00:12:33] As an aside, I’d like to remind those touting the (Claire) Syrett recall that fewer people voted in that recall election, yes or no, than who voted for her in the previous election. There’s a lot of misinformation and not a lot of PR due to the nature of special elections.

[00:12:47] So the topic at hand: It kind of stinks having people crap all over the work you’ve been doing for the past five plus years. The city is not cramming anything down anyone’s throats. This was a community-driven effort to differentiate River Road and Santa Clara from the rest of Eugene, and to set a positive example as a blueprint for the other neighborhoods.

[00:13:06] I was there when we had several open forums at the North Eugene High School in the cafeteria, hundreds of attendants each time, mailings went out to everybody, effort was made to accommodate as much as we could from what we heard from the neighborhood for the neighbors and the neighborhoods.

[00:13:23] Is the plan perfect? No. Is it better than something that was written when I was in kindergarten? Absolutely. So let’s get this passed and take River Road and Santa Clara forward into the future.

[00:13:34] Kate Perle (Santa Clara Community Organization): My name is Kate Perle. I’m the chair of the Santa Clara Community Organization. I served on the citizen advisory committee for the neighborhood planning process since its inception, and I’ve been involved in my community organization as a volunteer or a board member for over 20 years.

[00:13:49] This has been a watershed moment in the history of Santa Clara in proactive action on the part of the community to try to steer themselves into the future that the neighbors themselves have articulated they’d like to see.

[00:14:06] And this process has been a collaboration between the city and the county and the community organizations and our special districts, in trying to steer our future to a course that accommodates everybody who lives here and creates a path for a more resilient community. There have been thousands and thousands of volunteer hours that have been put into this planning process by residents.

[00:14:31] And like any neighborhood, there are competing interests and there are places where we don’t all agree, but as a community trying to lay the groundwork for a better future for our neighborhood and for the city proper in general, I’d say we’re doing a great job.

[00:14:50] And we have made concerted efforts to include the parts of our neighborhood that are outside the urban growth boundary that will remain outside the urban growth boundary and are very rural in nature.

[00:15:03] If we adopt this plan, that’s just the beginning of the process. We are going to need ongoing collaboration, resources, and efforts towards actually making the plan implementable over the next three decades, which is our proposed lifespan for the plan.

[00:15:21] And in addition, I’d like to point out that the community organizations along with our collaborative partners engaged in a two-year process to create a corridor plan for River Road from the Chambers connector up to Hunsaker Lane. And it has great work in it. Lots of incredible work went into building consensus, and moving the community towards compromise around densification, and supporting our local businesses, and creating an active and walkable corridor, and working toward creating more pedestrian meeting places, and building a future that requires less travel and more community building in our neighborhoods. And that work is encapsulated in the River Road Santa Clara corridor plan.

[00:16:10] All the corridors are not the same and each corridor will need some refinements based on its own particular characteristics. And that work already exists. So please don’t reinvent the wheel. Please use the work the neighbors have already done.

[00:16:24] John Q: Public comment to the joint city and county planning commissions Oct. 17.

After the failure of the South Willamette plan, an outside consultant reported a lack of trust in city planners. After their middle housing code was thrown out by an appeals court, and after ‘pulling the plug’ on years of effort on the neighborhood plan, some angry residents are calling for accountability.

The city is expected to respond to public comments by the end of the month.

Meeting minutes for May 18, 2022 record the following: “Councilor Clark – asked if a sufficiency study was done to show current infrastructure can support middle housing development; asked if Public Works completed an analysis to confirm the ability to support middle housing; asked if a study has been done to determine the amount of middle housing units that can be accommodated with the current infrastructure.”

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