In her first live State of the City Address since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis outlined the city’s successes and challenges of the past year, and capped off the night by announcing the formation of a new Business Council for Economic Development aimed at growing the local economy during 2023.
Vinis announced the formation of a Blue Ribbon Business Council on Economic Development, whose purpose will be to “support and grow the businesses we depend on.” The committee, Vinis said, will have 6 months to outline strategic priorities for a healthy local economy.
Five City Council members, four of whom were re-elected to their positions in May 2022, were sworn in by City Recorder Katie LaSala at the beginning of the event, including Lyndsie Leech, who was recently appointed to the interim Ward 7 city councilor position.
One of the city’s successes this year has been middle housing code amendments, Vinis said, though she admitted that there is still work to be done this year deliberating how to stabilize housing availability.
The housing code changes enacted in 2022 allow middle housing options such as duplexes and triplexes to be built in all Eugene neighborhoods.
The impacts of homelessness was the top concern for Eugene households this year, according to city survey data.
Vinis said the city of Eugene made progress in handling the homelessness crisis through commercial street parking regulation, consistent monitoring and the relocation of unhoused people from temporary shelter areas to new Safe Sleep sites.
The city of Eugene now offers nearly 700 shelter beds including nine Rest Stops and four Safe Sleep sites, Vinis said. The city needs to keep its successful programs in play, she said, and the city will continue to partner with nonprofit providers of assistance to people in need throughout 2023.
Vinis said the Safe Sleep sites and Rest Stops were successful models and encouraged continued advocacy for support from state and federal governments. Vinis said as a leader in the Oregon Mayors Association she will be a constant advocate for state support in implementing solutions to homelessness in 2023.
Vinis acknowledged the public safety challenges Eugene has been facing. Eugene Police Department is continuing to hire for its Special Crimes unit to curb the worst violent and drug related activity. Eugene is experiencing more gun violence, including more guns in the hands of people with mental health issues. Vinis said, “It is critical not to conflate homelessness and public safety.”
The City Council held discussions regarding alternative policing services last year, with a focus on the efficiency of those services. Vinis emphasized that discussions about alternative response teams will be ongoing this year.
Vinis acknowledged that the City Council is reviewing feedback on policing from the Civilian Review Board, and will consider the suggestions and feedback more in 2023.
While former Ward 7 councilor Claire Syrett was recalled this year in part for being an advocate for EmX corridor improvements, Vinis said during her speech that she is still encouraged to pursue these transportation infrastructure improvements this coming year. “The consideration of EmX and other transit corridor improvements are components of our gradual and thoughtful progression toward the Eugene of the future,” Vinis said.
While still in office, former Council President Syrett put forward five motions to address the role that transportation and buildings play in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
In November 2022, nearly 200 Eugene residents turned out at a public forum to testify for and against upcoming decarbonization policy. The Eugene City Council is slated to develop policy prohibiting the use of fossil fuels in new low-rise residential construction this year.
To prepare for the development of this policy, Vinis said the City Council is looking at the heating and cooling systems different types of buildings require to better understand the unique energy consumption needs of individual buildings and find potentials for lower fossil fuel use and emissions in construction and appliances.
Vinis emphasized the urgency of approaching these building regulations as major changes to the city’s energy system are impending. The city must encourage new energy choices, Vinis said, gradually enough to build consensus but urgently enough to counteract the harmful effects of the status quo.
This year marks the third year of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, a committee of 20 to 25 Eugene high school students who provide input on city policy, will be more involved in discussions in 2023, Vinis said.
Vinis ended her speech by announcing that she will convene a Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Business Council on Economic Development this year. The committee, once formed, will have a six-month timeline to outline strategic priorities for a healthy local economy, Vinis said. The last time a Eugene mayor formed a business council to address economic development was in 2004, Vinis said.
Vinis gave out three Community Service awards to Laurel Hill Center, a nonprofit that helps people with psychiatric disabilities; Beyond Toxics, an environmental justice nonprofit; and Kris Galago, who worked to organize seven COVID-19 vaccine clinics in 2021 and 2022 for the local Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community.
Vinis announced the Bold Steps award winners, the annual recognition of one small and one large sustainable business. Vinis awarded Forrest Paint Technical Coatings, a paint and chemical coating manufacturer, the large business award, and Threadbare Print House, a printing company that uses water-based ink, the small business award.