Ethan Clevenger. Photo by Todd Cooper.

‘Big City Problems’

Ethan Clevenger, a downtown business owner, runs for the Ward 1 Eugene City Council position 

Ethan Clevenger, owner of  local Porterhouse Clothing Supply and candidate for Ward 1’s seat on Eugene City Council, says he knows that the economic impact felt downtown will also be felt city-wide. Eugene, like many cities across America, is growing. It’s no small town anymore. 

“We’re going on 200,000 people,” Clevenger says. “We have big city problems; problems way outsized for our community.”

Clevenger is facing off against retired college instructor Ted Coopmen and Lane County Planning Commissioner Eliza Kashinsky in the May primary race for the downtown council seat. 

Clevenger says he believes that it is possible to maintain that unique Eugene charm while expanding its economic development to attract businesses and, more importantly, to stop the “brain drain” of college students who leave after receiving their respective slip of paper.

“There’s a constituency there that’s concerned we can’t do both,” Clevenger says. “But I think we can build an economy that works for everyone in Eugene and helps us actualize the ideals that we hold so near and dear.”

Moving into Ward 1’s Jefferson Westside Neighborhood in December 2023, Clevenger believes in the economic vitality that downtown districts bring to municipalities.

“There are economics behind downtown’s that say that this area of your city has to thrive if your city is going to thrive,” he says. Downtowns are designed to accommodate a variety of community wants which in turn generate city revenue through the overlapping economic activity.

“That was kind of my skin in the game. Let’s put [my business] downtown and be a part of these conversations and make this a space that works for everybody.”

Being a small-business owner, Clevenger notes that he holds the power to build coalitions across Lane County with endorsements like the Eugene Chamber of Commerce, Eugene Realtors and Democratic Party of Lane County.

“That’s representative of an ability to kind of reach across these constituency groups and build coalition,” Clevenger says.

Sitting on the Local Government Affairs Council at the Chamber of Commerce, Clevenger says he knows that in order to address monumental issues like the housing shortages and poverty rate in Eugene, the city needs to attract businesses that offer livable wages to lift people out of poverty and drive economic impact.

“We have to be a city that attracts businesses that pay good wages and have good benefits — and are going to be able to employ folks thinking about building a life here,” Clevenger says. “Creating that economy helps to fund those programs that lift folks out of poverty that give them the services they need to see.”

Besides pushing for a more diverse and concrete portfolio of businesses in Eugene, Clevenger says that will help fund the social services the city needs to fill its gaps.

Gaps to be filled in housing are attainable, Clevenger says. It’s possible to appease the NIMBYs, too.  

“We do have to talk about the supply. If we [build affordable homes along] the long transit corridors, we can do that in places where folks aren’t really worried about the character of their neighborhood,” he says. “Nine times out of 10, it’s not cost effective to build in a place where you’re impacting the character of a neighborhood. These transit corridors are efficient. And that’s where we have to build.”

Clevenger isn’t sticking his nose up at the imminent challenges facing Eugene either. Once budget shortfalls are addressed, he says he believes it’s important to be decisive to avoid stymieing city developments.

Eugene “is looking at an eight digit budget shortfall,” Clevenger says. “And that’s going to make it very difficult for us to, say, prop up more Sleep Sites, create wraparound services and fund our nonprofit partners who work in the mental health space and the addiction space.”

Clevenger has worked with the Active Bethel Community and says that he represents the “user experience” side of the government equation. He believes he can change the perspective that city government works for a vocal minority rather than the masses.

“We have to lean heavily on our partners at the county and at the state and make sure that they are kind of picking up their piece of things,” he says. “We have to be seen as partners.”

According to ORESTAR, Clevenger has raised over $24,000 in contributions. His endorsements include Lane Community College Board of Education member Kevin Alltucker and EWEB commissioners John Brown and John Barofsky.