All Vision, No Follow Through

The city of Eugene needs public, long-range planning

With heated discussions about rezoning in South Eugene, disputes about Kesey Square, confusion about what offices should be in the proposed City Hall and questions about the placing of an expanded farmers market, it has become obvious that planning in Eugene is not functioning well.

Instead of considered decisions based on well-established and officially adopted planning documents, issues such as those mentioned above are brought forward for official action by City Manager Jon Ruiz, Mayor Kitty Piercy or a member of the City Council on an ad hoc basis.

Long-range plans, which should provide context for these issues, have not been discussed in official hearings nor adopted by the City Council. It is simply not enough to base decisions about these issues on draft plans or on proposals from specially interested parties.

Let me illustrate the problems of not adopting long-range plans by reference to the Special Zoning regulations for the South Willamette Street Area. They were justified on the bases of the Draft Envision Eugene Plan and the Draft South Willamette Street Concept Plan. Neither has been adopted by the City Council nor discussed in formal public hearings before the council, although both plans have been in progress for more than five years.

Many, maybe even most, of the ideas in these plans may be excellent; however, they are not officially adopted policies of the elected city officials of Eugene and deserve to be discussed in public hearings before being used as a basis for council action.

The rezoning process of the South Willamette Street area should not have been brought before the City Council because it does not even follow the implementation section of the Draft South Willamette Concept Plan, which states that a new “single family options (SFO) zone” should first be adopted and then a “special action plan,” (SAP) including such things as rezoning, would follow.

But the South Willamette Concept Plan was not publicly discussed, let alone adopted, and its implementation strategies were ignored. I can only ask, “Why did the city manager or mayor even allow the rezoning issue to be placed on the agenda?”

The result of not discussing, modifying and adopting these plans has resulted in unnecessary great neighborhood unrest and general mistrust of city officials.

The Planning Department and the Planning Commission did their job in presenting the city manager with a plan for the South Willamette Area. However, their plan was merely “presented” to the City Council, which did not feel the need to hold hearings and adopt the plan. Nor did the city manager suggest its adoption.

Without being adopted, the plan has no teeth, and city business went on without the benefit of a long-term plan for the area. A deliberative process was avoided and the city continued to do business as usual — ad hoc discussions of individual issues as they arise without the context of adopted long-term plans.

Similarly, the plans for a new City Hall lack the context of longer-term planning in that both the degree of earthquake readiness and the presence of councilors’ offices only became apparent years after the decision to destroy the old City Hall was made.

Likewise, not having an existing plan for the core of the downtown — including Kesey Square, a farmers market and the Park Blocks and other open space improvements — except as part of consideration for continuing the use of an Urban Renewal District shows the lack of adequate longer-term planning in the city.

Over the years, I can’t count the number of “vision” statements the city has made without adequate plans for their implementation. Visions must be accompanied by long-range implementation plans.

Not having adopted long-term plans means that 1) citizens are left out of the planning process at crucial moments; 2) the city manager and the mayor may disregard even existing, proposed long-range plans in setting the City Council agenda and 3) short-term decisions about land usage lack well thought out contexts.

Can the core of Eugene stand the loss of more public buildings — the Federal Courthouse, the Eugene Police Department, the Municipal Courts, the major hospital, possibly the post office — the scattering of city and other public functions, and be made even uglier by such projects as the 13th and Olive Street student housing, let alone the disruption of neighborhoods?

As long as the mayor and part-time city councilors do not have a direct responsibility of managing the city, long-range planning for social, economic and land-use will remain in the hands of the city manager, who is unelected. And at present, the city manager largely ignores even the long-term planning proposals of the Planning Commission and Planning Department.

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