Kitty Piercy’s 2008 State of the City Speech

Kitty Piercy

Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy delivered her 2008 State of the City address in the Hult Center lobby on Monday night, January 7 to a large crowd.

Here’s the last part of Mayor Piercy’s speech summarizing her goals for the year as a slide show with audio:

Here’s the text of the full speech:

Good evening everyone and thank you for joining us here in our beautiful Hult Center for the Performing Arts. Let me take this opportunity to thank our citizens, our council and our staff for all their efforts in 2007 to keep Eugene such a great place to call home.

Like many of you, I start off most days by listening to the radio, reading the newspaper and checking the web.

Like you, I am acutely aware of the ever-rising death toll in Iraq, the ever-rising temperature of the earth, the fretful American economy and the resulting financial challenges we face at home.

And, I am more committed than ever to doing everything we can to work for peace and justice, to reduce our impact on global warming, to keep our economy strong, and to provide the services our community expects. I believe absolutely in the power we have individually and collectively to make change, influence policy and set the direction for the future. Cities are where it all happens; where people live, work, raise families, and establish roots. Eugene is our city and our home. It is a reflection of our values and how we want this world to be.

A lot of our work occurs at the City Council table, through advocacy groups, on committees and commissions, and in our neighborhoods. Our energy and passion for civic engagement is a tremendous community asset, allowing us to address more issues in greater depth.

Essential to our civic engagement are our neighborhood associations. I am impressed with the ever more active and successful role they are taking to bring forward community perspectives and expertise, whether it’s on mixed-use development, infill and neighborhood livability, safer parks, railroad pollution, response to traffic fatalities, or protecting headwaters.

Civic engagement almost always comes with differences of opinion and the issues we face are often thorny. To me, the important thing is to work together – to find points of common agreement so that we can move forward as a community. Some recent examples of successful community cooperation are the Mayor’s Sustainable Business Initiative and the West Eugene Collaborative.

The Sustainable Business Initiative brought together a very broad-based group of people with economic, social and environmental expertise, to make recommendations on how the City of Eugene could support and encourage the growth of businesses that produce sustainable products such as alternative energy, alternative fuel, green building, recycling, alternative transportation and health care, natural foods and products. The task force was also charged with making recommendations that would support and encourage all businesses to use sustainable practices that reflect the triple bottom line of protecting our natural resources, building social equity and ensuring economic well-being. Their 22 recommendations, supported by the entire task force and adopted by our City Council, included establishing an Office of Sustainability and a Sustainability Commission. Both the office and commission are now firmly in place.

Then, there was the decades-long, acrimonious debate over the West Eugene Parkway. It was clear that the funding for this project was simply not there and that federal approval was likely never to occur. I asked business owners, environmentalists, neighbors, agencies, and elected officials to join together to start afresh and come up with do-able solutions for the vexing West Eugene traffic and transportation problems. They responded by forming the West Eugene Collaborative. We are working together to make recommendations on how local governing bodies can solve the longstanding traffic and transportation challenges in West Eugene while protecting our biologically rich wetlands.

Another one of our city’s current issues is the reinvigoration of downtown. We’ve had differences of opinion on how best to accomplish this and an election on one proposed course of action is now behind us. It is time to bridge our differences and form a plan that the whole community will support. I urge all those involved and interested in the future of our downtown to work for common ground. We can take the energy and continued commitment of the Citizens for Public Accountability, Chamber of Commerce, and hundreds of other community members and, together, bring life to our downtown, the heart of our city. The valuable work of West Broadway Advisory Committee can help inform the discussion. It is within our reach.

One of the reasons I am so optimistic about our downtown is that much of it is already doing well. Fifth Street, East Broadway and most of Oak, Charnelton, Pearl, Willamette and Olive are busy and full. The Beam redevelopment of Center Court and the Washburn Building is on the table. We have new businesses on Broadway and Enterprise is moving into the refurbished “Bon Marche” building. KLCC is moving in just a block away on 8th Avenue and Oregon Research Institute has a renewed interest in establishing a presence in downtown.

Yes, we do have those two pits and empty storefronts – and lots of visitors coming to town. In the short run, we can focus public safety efforts on our problem blocks, address rundown storefronts, tweak codes, increase cultural and recreational activities in the area, and look at parking restrictions. I intend to walk into each business in that two-block area to either thank them for looking good or to see how improvements can be made. This is something we must take on together.

Those short-term fixes will help keep the momentum going and build a base for a wide-range of exciting possibilities. We need to put the two problem blocks in the context of our entire downtown: opportunities for a new city hall, expansion of The Shedd, the development of a new Courthouse area, Franklin Boulevard improvements and, with EWEB’s anticipated move, new connections to the river. Let’s roll up our sleeves and keep going.

I am proud of the many services and amenities the City provides: our parks, open spaces and bike paths in every part of the community, and our stewardship of valuable natural resources. Most recently, we were the first city in Oregon to receive Forest Legacy funding in order to preserve 25 acres of Oak habitat at Wild Iris Ridge. That’s a great accomplishment!

It is our wealth of arts and outdoors assets that makes this community so special and this year offers an exceptional opportunity to highlight both.

In September, we celebrated the 25th Anniversary of this beautiful facility and offered 5,443 free admissions to a variety of events. Our beloved library, which has quickly become a cornerstone of our downtown, just celebrated its 5th birthday. Over 3,000 people participated in a Cultural Policy Review and the council has adopted strategies that will strengthen both our city’s and community’s cultural offerings and our commitment to the arts. Galleries are thriving – and not just on First Fridays – and local musicians and performers provide a diverse range of entertainment in unique local venues.

We took pride in the achievements of the University of Oregon and the Ducks as they gained national attention and acclaim for Eugene (even that pugnacious mascot). The University logged permits for more than $43 million in building projects in Eugene this year. And a hard working coalition not only brought the 2008 Olympic Track & Field Trials back to Hayward Field, re-establishing our reputation as Track Town USA, but Eugene has also been chosen to host the US national track championships in 2009 and 2011 and the 2012 Olympic Track & Field Trials. The huge community engagement efforts in planning for the Olympic Trials, the events leading up to them and the strategies to engage our young people were instrumental to ensuring that Eugene is Track Town USA – Forever.

I want to give special thanks to our interim city manager Angel Jones for her key role in this success. I also want to thank all our partners in the coalition that is doing a wonderful job of working together to maximize this opportunity for our community – the University of Oregon, the City of Springfield, the Convention and Visitors Association, Lane County, the State of Oregon, the Oregon Track Club along with Lane Transit District, the Chambers of Commerce and numerous businesses and hundreds of volunteers. With all the visitors and exposure, and the Eugene 08 Festival that is free and open to everyone, this will be the most exciting, fun event ever in Eugene and I encourage you all to get involved, support it and enjoy it. Go to to learn how.

On another front, Eugene continues to address the critical need for affordable and low-income housing. The most recent project is nearing completion in our downtown: WestTown on 8th, with its new innovative work/live units. Eugene adopted a stronger manufactured home ordinance to protect owners of this important affordable housing stock. We provided funds for shelter and transportation for the homeless and the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Homelessness has been working hard on how we can provide services and reduce the numbers of those who are homeless or face the threat of homelessness. A one-day Project Homeless Connect event in February provided services and connections for over a thousand of the area’s homeless and a second one is scheduled for next month. Staff, social services, governing bodies, and hundreds of volunteers and donations make this event meaningful on every level.

In July, our independent police auditor, Cris Beamud, officially opened her doors downtown and the Civilian Review Board is in place, working on complaints. Both have become an important part of ensuring justice in our community.

Police staffing needs remain an issue before us and that problem is compounded by the inadequate funding of Lane County’s prevention, intervention and treatment services, jail beds, legal, and judicial processes. While Eugeneans are committed to community policing, the county public safety system itself is broken. We will have to be very strategic in our prioritizations in order to effectively address this critical issue.

Loss of federal, state and county road repair dollars also continues to plague us and our pothole backlog grows. At my request, the council worked together to bring very diverse perspectives to the table and develop a funding package that included a gas tax increase. Although the tax increase did not survive the last election, we understand the growing need and will keep working on finding solutions that the community will support.

No look at local issues is complete without some mention of the hospital saga. While neither the council nor I can legally comment on the location proposed by McKenzie-Willamette in north Eugene, I can reiterate my strong support for the presence of two full-service hospitals in our metropolitan area, which will ensure healthy competition and breadth of services. McKenzie-Willamette should be in Eugene where it can effectively provide health care for our community, support our tax base and where, if needed, we can have some influence on significant health care policies.

I am proud of our continued efforts to guarantee the right and access to services for all our community members, regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, beliefs, or income. We want this community to be a comfortable place for everyone to live, work and raise their families, where differences are respected and thought of as a valued part of the fabric of a strong community. It hurt last year when our city experienced repeated incidents of hate speech and the defacing of important religious objects. Our community will stand united against such behavior, and defend the rights of all its members.

Same sex couples still pursue the same legal rights as married couples; clearly the day has come to end all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation. As you are probably aware, an opportunity to take one more step in achieving this goal of equality was recently frustrated when a new domestic partnership law was postponed by the courts. Despite these setbacks, however, we must continue to be vigilant in pursuing equal rights for all.

Differences of opinion about immigration issues can fuel bigotry and hatred; we need to remind ourselves that our community and our nation were built by indigenous peoples and immigrants, and that all human beings deserve respect.

The social justice triumphs and defeats of this last year have increased my resolve to continue working on becoming an official Human Rights City, one that embraces human rights in every decision we make. If there’s any place in America that can do this, it is certainly here.

Eugene has a commitment to being the most sustainable community possible. We know that with finite resources and growing climate change challenges, we must scale up this commitment as a matter of both City policy and in the consciousness and actions of the larger community.

This past year, we hired the City’s first sustainability manager and the members of the new Sustainability Commission have now been appointed. We will update our community greenhouse gas inventory in April. We know that over the last eight years, through the purchase of hybrids and biodiesel, City government has decreased its CO2 emissions by 10%. The methane we capture at our wastewater plant provides half the power it needs. Through LED lighting, recycling, wind power purchase, bus passes, bike programs, e-communications, and a whole range of other strategies,

Eugene has taken strides toward carbon neutrality and zero waste. We still have a long way to go. Large reductions in building and transportation emissions are the only way we can seriously impact climate change.

I have enjoyed working hand in hand with mayors across this country (now over 800) in support of the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, using our mutual power to push for changes at the Congressional level. While the situation we face as a planet is serious, I see major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago combining their purchasing powers for green solutions and to create green jobs at home – jobs that help put sustainable practices in place, are built on social equity, and pay well.

In Oregon, Governor Kulongoski has embraced sustainable jobs and practices as the basis for Oregon’s economy, much as we have been doing here. He hopes that Oregon can offer leadership on a number of fronts and I want Eugene to be a significant part of this work. It is no coincidence that Sequential BioFuels is located here, and that the largest solar panel display in the state is on one of our industrial roofs.

The governor has also required every state department including ODOT to do their part to reduce carbon emissions. As we approach all new regional planning efforts in transportation and land use, the state requirements give me hope. Necessity is the mother of invention and may help ODOT respond to climate change and finite resources, allowing it to be more creative and energy-conscious, rather than simply laying more roads.

The challenges are great and so are the possibilities.

I know 2008 will be a very challenging year at every level. We must continue to build on the momentum we have to address the major issues nationally and locally. We have the talent, the heart and the chutzpah. We are, after all, Eugene.

Thus, my to-do list for 2008 includes the following goals:

— Eugene leads in sustainable practices and supports the growth of sustainable businesses as a key to strengthening our economy;

— Eugene continues to implement the Sustainable Business Initiative recommendations, moving toward carbon neutrality and zero waste;

— Eugene develops a climate protection strategic plan;

— The West Eugene Collaborative (WEC) completes its recommendations for addressing traffic and transportation issues in west Eugene;

— Eugene reviews the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Homelessness and effective goals and strategies are adopted;

–We collaborate and successfully plan for downtown, increasing the pace of reinvigoration of West Broadway;

— Eugene addresses its neighborhood pothole backlog;

— Eugene advances the Cultural Policy Review’s strategies to increase support for arts and culture;

— Eugene and our partners host a hugely successful and green Olympic Track & Field Trials;

— Eugene considers an independent auditor for the City of Eugene;

— McKenzie-Willamette Hospital locates in Eugene;

— Our new city manager is on the job and is exceptional;

— Eugene adopts a youth advisory board respecting the voices, talents and needs of our young people;

— Eugene and its partners collaborate on the protection and restoration of the Amazon Creek basin and headwaters and build upon the success of the wetlands with the creation of the Environmental Education Center; and

— Eugene moves toward becoming an official Human Rights City.

My comments tonight and the goals I outlined have focused on the main issues of the day and on who we are as a community. I could go on for hours!

I know we can successfully bring people together to work on our most difficult and challenging issues. We must keep the proverbial “pedal to the metal” so we can hold on to what is wonderful about this place we call home. Our future depends on it.