Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 10.18.07

Filling the Blanks
City measure is a positive step forward

Why am I supporting Measure 20-134, the urban renewal district amendment? Because it supports my vision of Eugene as a beautiful, green, safe and welcoming city. Measure 20-134 helps us protect our wetlands and watersheds. It furthers our growth management goals. It helps protect the urban growth boundary and enhances sustainable approaches to economic development.

In short, by promoting compact urban development Measure 20-134 helps Eugene avoid the urban sprawl that has ruined so many American cities.

Reasonable people can disagree about this ballot measure. But if we look closely, I think we all want pretty much the same thing. With Measure 20-134, a modest and targeted public investment can help us build a great downtown. Here’s how.

• Building downtown promotes sustainability. Getting people to live, work and play downtown is at the heart of our planning goals. If we create a healthy urban core, we prevent sprawl and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. It is our shared responsibility to be good stewards of our land and to preserve the livability of this area for future generations.

Downtown Eugene is a special place. Eugene deserves a unique, vibrant downtown. A mixed-use neighborhood that all of us can enjoy. Downtown businesses need people and activity from morning to evening. This will require a wide range of new housing, and more businesses including restaurants, retail and entertainment. And a public park!

The past 20 years tell us this will not happen without bold public leadership. Measure 20-134 helps us achieve the critical mass of people and investment we need for downtown to succeed.

• Building downtown creates a healthy economy. The builders we’ve chosen to work with, Beam and KWG, have successful track records helping to create dynamic urban neighborhoods. They’ve restored historic buildings in Portland and built attractive and affordable mixed-use apartment and condo buildings in Portland and other cities. Measure 20-134 would allow the city to invest up to $40 million downtown over the next two decades — an investment that could leverage more than $160 million in new private investment.

As a city, we can put our money into infrastructure and making housing downtown affordable — and we can have a say in the look and feel of downtown at the same time.

Think of wide sidewalks and outdoor cafes, visually appealing architecture — both old and new, green building practices, public open space and art, a pedestrian and transit oriented district that more efficiently uses existing parking resources. With Measure 20-134 we gain a level of public control over downtown development we would never get without our investment.

How could a thriving economy downtown be anything but good news for our local businesses, our residents and — YES! — our tax supported schools and services?

• Building downtown supports education goals. Urban renewal funding does not raise taxes. Tax revenues from the downtown development itself pay off the bonds. This common funding mechanism is used in cities across the country.

In Eugene, urban renewal dollars helped build the Public Library and Hult Center for the Performing Arts — resources of immense cultural and educational value.

All my life, I have worked for the well being of children and families. My husband and I focused our careers on education. I would never support a source of funding that I believed shifted support away from essential services or schools.

The fact is that spending for education is determined by the state of Oregon, and includes a large contribution from state income taxes. A strong downtown economy builds both our income tax and property tax base.

Right now we use less than two cents of each Eugene property tax dollar for investments in downtown. Measure 20-134 allows us to continue to use those two cents to make smart investments in the future of our city.

• Building downtown supports local business. When I lived downtown this past summer, I enjoyed patronizing the Broadway Market, Kiva, Perugino, Letterhead, Passionflower and other businesses. But there are a lot of empty storefronts in between.

The key to making downtown healthy again is to fill in the blank spots and bring lots of new housing downtown. A lively mix of local, regional and national businesses has been a key to success in cities like Portland and Salem. Think of Eugene’s bustling downtown in the 1950s-1970s: We had Penny’s and Burch’s Shoe Store, Sears and Seymour’s Café, Newberrys and Quackenbushes.

Measure 20-134 will give us the tools we need to make this happen. The time for a bold vision, and for public leadership, is now.

Please join me in voting for Measure 20-134. Please join me in helping to ensure Eugene’s future as the sustainable, beautiful and livable city we all want it to be.

Kitty Piercy was elected mayor of Eugene in 2004. She is a former teacher, state representative and director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood.