By Ethan Klein
The Eugene City Council met as the Urban Renewal Agency (URA) during its noon Jan. 25 work session to discuss expanding the financial capacity of the Downtown Urban Renewal Plan and identify priorities associated with that expansion.
“As you heard people were central to the community vision for downtown,” said Development Programs Manager Amanda D’Souza, after a brief presentation about the status of downtown by city staff before turning over discussion to the City Council.For the next hour the council primarily discussed a map developed by the community development team and informed by a Downtown Priorities and Projects survey data which identified “Locations of Concern and Opportunity,” areas of the city they believe need improved public safety to allow for more commercial activity and private investment.
Blocks were highlighted from red to orange to yellow to indicate the level of attention needed. In red, the blocks in need of the most attention according to the development team, was the corridor of East Broadway stretching from Charnelton Street to Oak Street. Intersecting streets around the Downtown Public Library, LTD bus station, Kesey Square and the Park Blocks were colored orange.
“…expanding that red portion one block south, or specifically to include the 10th and Olive block quad… changing it from orange to red, would be, what I think would be very appropriate,” said City Councilor Alan Zelenka Ward 3, on adjusting the map’s specifics.
Councilor Emily Semple of Ward 1, which encompasses downtown, was more direct where she wanted the highest areas of concern, “And also that red line of urgency,” Semple said, “put it dark right at Olive and Broadway, that’s where the worst of the worst is.”
This possible hard red line of urgency for the worst of the worst points directly to areas where low-income or unhoused humans rely on the nearby LTD bus station for transportation and go downtown to make community and utilize social services including: the Eugene Public Library, Lane Independent Living Alliance (LILA), Emergence Addiction Treatment and Senior and Disability Services.
Respondents to the URA’s community survey skewed mostly white, wealthy, and were either comfortably employed or retired, yet actions and priorities focused on the well-being of all people in the downtown, not just those who could afford to live and shop there.
The most popular actions for improving the downtown were selected by survey respondents by the following percentages: “expand non-law enforcement programs that enhance public safety” (68 percent), “provide more behavioral health and addiction services throughout Eugene” (67 percent), “increase commercial activity and active storefronts” (64 percent), “provide shelters and services for people without stable housing throughout Eugene” (64 percent), and “support the creation of housing affordable for people with low incomes” (51 percent).
Yet the survey results narrative puts undue emphasis on law enforcement when respondents were asked to rank their top three actions. The survey data summary says, “When asked to prioritize actions, respondents focused on police enforcement.”
This is outright not true. “Increase police presence and law enforcement in Downtown” ranked only fifth out of ten top actions. The narrative also attempts to invalidate the top two priority areas, which concerned behavioral health and homelessness, considering these issues to be citywide rather than downtown-specific issues.
The City Council and city staff’s fixation on literally redlining our unhoused neighbors should not be news to anyone in the city. But the flagrant nature in which the City Council and city staff fear-monger and bend data should be seen as an extension of policy that is against the interests of not just the survey respondents but most Eugene residents.
We must all call on the City Council to disband the city’s archaic obsession with urban renewal promised in the mid-twentieth century. We must also pull support from our elected officials who fail to acknowledge those human beings who are most at-risk and under-served as truly central to the community vision of downtown and by extension our city. The next work session to discuss the future of urban renewal is tentatively scheduled for March.
Ethan Klein is a memberof the Democratic Socialists of America – Eugene-Springfield Chapter, and this viewpoint is in conjunction with the Eugene-Springfield Democratic Socialists of America.