Eugene Condemns Anti-Asian Racism

Eugene City Council passed a resolution denouncing racism and heard testimony from residents urging the city extend temporary homeless camps at a May 26 meeting

Eugene City Council May 26 meeting

Eugene City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing all forms of anti-Asian sentiment related to COVID-19 and declaring May Asian and Pacific Islander American heritage at the May 26 meeting. 

The resolution was brought to the council by Councilor Greg Evans and Councilor Jennifer Yeh.

Yeh said the resolution denounces the discrimination that people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic and asks the community to speak out against bigotry. She said the resolution also puts social equity at the front of the decision making process in Eugene’s COVID-19 recovery plan. “Equity considerations will not be an afterthought, but will be part of our ongoing conversation,” Yeh said.

The resolution states that although Eugene strives to be inclusive, the city’s Asian and Pacific Islander communities continue to experience racism. All residents are encouraged to report instances of bigotry to the Office of Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement.

Councilors Mike Clark, Clair Syrett, Alan Zelenka, Chris Pryor and Mayor Lucy Vinis spoke in favor of the resolution.

Pryor said, “We stand behind all people, all ethnicities and all races — regardless of their origin.” 

Syrett said she was happy about the details of the resolution, which covers actions city officials and residents can take to promote equity and report racist incidents. “It provides direction as well as making a value statement.” 

At that meeting, the public forum was dominated by residents speaking in favor of extending the designated temporary homeless shelter sites sanctioned by the city. 

The temporary shelter sites were set up in April to support social distancing among unhoused residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the city website. Sanctioned campsites of six to 10 people were erected in the parking lots of Amazon, Hilyard and Peterson Barn Community Centers, with a total shelter capacity of 40. The sites are supported by local homeless service provider Carry It Forward and are currently full.

City Manager Pro Tem Sarah Medary said the sites would not be kept open but that City Council will discuss transition options for the people staying at the camps during their May 27 work session. “We can’t keep these open in these locations but there will be some other options you may want to talk about,” Medary said.

Elizabeth Deffenbaugh, an unhoused resident sheltering at the Amazon camp, said that if the camps were shut down it “would leave us with nowhere to go, no safe spots for sleeping.” 

Deffenbaugh referenced a conversation she had with Vinis when the mayor came to visit the Amazon camp. “I don’t know if you remember our discussion about how if you send us back out on the street there is going to be police harassment and assault upon all these people just for sleeping,” Deffenbaugh said.

Penny Royal, an advocate for unhoused residents in Eugene, spoke in support of Deffenbaugh. “I hope you find a safe and secure camp for Elizabeth and all of the folks at the Amazon camp, some of whom are physically disabled,” Royal said.

Royal described Eugene’s actions to support unhoused residents sheltering in place during the pandemic as insufficient. “The city sheltered less than 40 people in sanctioned campgrounds for 2 months, which they then closed,” She said. “The city and the county got a lot of back-patting press for this even though it was a tiny drop in a very large bucket.”

Jessica Worley, a housed resident in the Amazon neighborhood, asked the city to extend the camps in her community. “I think that it is urgent that we extend the deadline and allow people to shelter in place where they are at,” she said. Worley added that she was encouraged to see unhoused people able to settle in place and “gain some peace of mind and shelter.”

Vinis thanked Deffenbaugh for speaking, and said she is strongly in support of the concept of temporary shelter sites. “We are not wanting to increase suffering in our community, we are wanting to alleviate suffering and help people stabilize,” she said. 

The Eugene City Council also adopted three other actions related to property development at the meeting.

Following up on last week’s meeting, the city also passed a resolution authorizing the financing of projects described in the Riverfront Urban Renewal District plan passed 6-2, with Councilors Betty Taylor and Alan Zelenka casting the dissenting votes. The Downtown Riverfront project would connect a new riverfront park to the downtown area and create urban housing and commercial space, according to the city website.

City Council unanimously passed an ordinance updating the Multiple Unit Property Tax Exemption program (MUPTE) following the May 18 public forum at which no residents gave testimony. The city website says the ordinance updates MUPTE’s Green Building requirements and extends the deadline for projects approved by MUPTE to January 2030.

Council also adopted an ordinance extending the deadline for the Low Income Property Tax Exemption Program (LIRHPTE) to July 2030. LIRHPTE is an incentive strategy to encourage construction of low-income housing. Emerald Village and Saint Vincent de Paul Youth House are among the 33 low-income developments granted tax exemptions through LIRHPTE since it was first adopted by Eugene City Council in 1990.

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