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This is a press release courtesy of Mayor Kitty Piercy
State of the City 2009, Mayor Kitty Piercy
Good evening everyone. I am pleased to be here with you for my fifth State of the City address. Thank you for joining us tonight as we begin a year with great expectations and trepidation.
We will all remember 2008 for the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, the reengagement of millions of Americans in the political process and the rebuilding of hope for the future of this country and the world. We’ll remember it as a pivotal year in our country’s history and one where truly all American children know they can aspire to be President.
We will also remember it as a time of multiple and diverse challenges: huge financial uncertainty, economic recession, and a growing need to reduce our impact on climate change and our dependency on fossil fuels. Healthcare, jobs and housing moved out of the reach of many in our community. State revenues were down and the city budget was tight.
Tonight I will propose the development of a progressive economic plan; but first I’d like to take a few moments to remember what we have managed to accomplish as a city in 2008, despite all the challenges. I invite you to join me in looking at where we are right now, what we hope to do in 2009, and what might be possible over the next four years.
First of all, thank you for entrusting the city council and me with the governance of this wonderful city. We are honored to work on your behalf and pledge to work together and with you to keep Eugene moving forward.
If I were asked to define my vision of the New Year in the most simplistic terms, I would tell you that I approach 2009 with cautious optimism. Eugene has a strong foundation to build upon. City financial resources have been managed with prudence, skill, and common sense. We are facing budgetary challenges like everyone else, but we have seen them coming and have been preparing to manage our resources to provide the services the community expects in the most cost-effective way possible.
To help guide this work, we welcomed our new city manager, Jon Ruiz. He has stepped quickly and decisively into his job and is already demonstrating a “can do” attitude, a service orientation and a real enjoyment of our community. He got a real kick out of his first Eugene Celebration.
Even in the midst of our budget challenges, a plummeting economy, and a heated election cycle, we still managed to get quite a lot done in Eugene in 2008.
• With our partners, we hosted an amazingly successful and green 2008 Olympic Track and Field Trials and regained our status as Track Town USA. Eugene fulfilled its promise to engage our young people in every facet of the Trials and provided them with a full range of activities.
• Voters supported two important city ballot measures to fund some of our street repair backlog and to ensure the integrity of our new police oversight system. You also funded 4J’s local option levy and the LCC bond. Thank you voters.
• Again with our community partners, Project Homeless Connect was held last February, providing one-stop services for 1,158 guests. While we all wish fewer people were homeless, over 600 wonderful volunteers donated their time and energy to help their neighbors. Eugene continues to reach out to the homeless and needy. This wonderful event will occur again in March and I encourage you to get involved.
• Downtown developments moved forward in 2008 and continue to inspire confidence that we will soon have a downtown we can all be proud of. Progress is already being made on plans to renovate the Centre Court and Washburn buildings and to fill the adjoining pit. Plans to construct a mixed-use development to fill the pit across from the Library are also progressing, and The WestTown on 8th affordable housing project was completed in 2008 and includes a mix of businesses.
• Our police, fire, and emergency services staff did outstanding work in providing Olympic Trials security, ensuring the safety of visiting national presidential candidates and overseeing a massive move of patients from downtown to the new RiverBend regional hospital. The crisis intervention training program for our police was initiated to better equip them with tools for dealing effectively with the mentally ill. This year, Eugene received recognition for being one of the safest communities in the country.
• Eugene continued to move forward with its “green” goals by adopting the priorities identified by the Sustainability Commission regarding climate change, transportation, land use, green building, business, food and waste. A climate and energy action plan is under development to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2020. A city staff team is putting in place a triple bottom line analysis tool (social equity, natural resource protection, and a strong economy) to aid council decision-making.
• The new Pedestrian and Bicycle Strategic Plan is being implemented to grow Eugene’s commitment to alternative modes of transportation and decrease vehicles miles traveled.
• Despite the “uphill battle,” progress was indeed made in road repairs. The “pothole patrol” patched a quarter million square feet of streets and the gas tax paid for $5.5 million in major repairs.
• Following through on the Parks Bond commitment, the city has acquired more Ridgeline parkland, the Amazon headwaters property, park property in Santa Clara adjacent to Madison Middle School, and added parcels to Golden Ponds in Bethel/Danebo. In addition, the city partnered with Bethel and Eugene school districts to build athletic fields at Meadow View, Willamette High, Spencer Butte and the Arts and Technology Academy.
• In October, Eugene’s Cultural Services launched the Arts and Business Alliance to build public/private support for our rich diversity of arts and culture and to boost its prominence in the economic life of our community.
That’s just some of the work that has been accomplished in the last year. Our thanks to each and every staff member, and to every volunteer for their help in achieving city goals.
As you can see, almost all of our city projects are done with partners. Together we make the city of Eugene. Together we provide jobs, services and opportunities. Together, we provide the means to achieve the community’s vision and goals.
• LTD has gained national notice with its very successful EmX and the key transportation it provides to our most vulnerable citizens. LTD is at the top of the list in reducing carbon emissions and vehicle miles traveled.
• EWEB has provided clean and increasingly diverse energy, helped many in need, and has been an essential part of our community response to climate change. This year, I had the honor of addressing the National Public Utilities Conference about how we work together to keep Eugene a national leader in sustainability.
• Bethel and 4J continued to prepare our children for success and we partnered on many recreational and cultural opportunities, safe schools, new playing fields and the green schools program.
• Our two largest post-secondary educational institutions, the University of Oregon and Lane Community College, have national reputations as leaders on many fronts. The University of Oregon is a significant economic engine with new buildings going up for education, science, housing, and sports. LCC plans a new presence in our downtown, adding to its reinvigoration. Both institutions have outstanding and nationally recognized leaders and both are out in front on addressing climate change and sustainability. It seems very appropriate tonight to recognize the years of leadership Dave Frohnmayer has given to the University of Oregon and our community, to thank him and wish him well.
• Lane County and neighboring cities are partners in the economy of our region. We share the water, air, and resources of this beautiful area as well as the opportunities that are before us as we look to the upcoming year. This is a crucial time for us all to work even more effectively together. We embarked on a number of land use and transportation planning projects, including participation in the West Eugene Collaborative, that will define the future of our region, and we in Eugene look forward to working with them to ensure the best for all our families.
These are just a sampling of the partnerships we benefit from every day. The individuals, organizations, clubs, and programs we partner with are too numerous to name this evening – but your dedication and limitless enthusiasm is deeply appreciated by all of us.
Did everything go perfectly in 2008? City life is inherently complex and we routinely faced challenges, but no one could have predicted the intensity of our national economic crisis. No matter the effort, some things just don’t go as we would wish.
• Controversy plagued the Independent Police Review/CRB process and the pilot taser program caused major community concern. Progress was made with the oversight process and the ordinance amendment committee began meeting this week with the goal of completing its work in March. We continue to be committed to the full implementation of the oversight system.
• Despite efforts, Eugene didn’t secure a full service hospital in Eugene this year. We celebrated the opening of the new regional RiverBend Hospital and Peace Health’s continued commitment to redevelop their downtown campus here in Eugene. We are grateful to the group of physicians who opened the Urgent Care facility on 13th to offer crucial services in the core of our city.
• The council did not move forward with a new city hall because of budgetary constraints and emerging priorities. While this issue is temporarily on hold, it remains a problem that the current facility does not meet seismic standards and has limited space capacity. We must also recognize the very real safety concerns for those who work in the building - an important issue for the council to address.
• Even with new housing and development prospects, too much of our downtown remained underutilized and uninviting. There was controversy over the best way to manage safety issues while we continued to move downtown reinvigoration efforts forward. There was also a challenge of staffing our police force and moving closer to community policing. We will continue to be vigilant in protecting the rights of all while attempts are made to improve downtown.
• The county’s deepening financial crisis and its inability to finance its part of the public safety system continues to be a major challenge. Lack of funds touches so many areas, including prevention, intervention, and treatment services, as well as the judicial process and incarceration. We are told that a few offenders are responsible for a lot of property crime (and now robberies) and that the lack of jail space keeps re-circulating criminals in our community, affecting the livability of Eugene neighborhoods. In addition, in 2008, metal theft became a huge and costly issue for public agencies, non-profits and individual homeowners. Finding an effective way to respond to these issues will be an important priority.
• Due to changes in technology, Hynix closed, leaving 1,000 unemployed people. The closure affects the city’s tax base as well as the financial picture for EWEB, the school districts, LTD and a number of other entities. It was also the first of a number of closures and hour reductions that have occurred in the wake of the economic crisis.
These challenges will inform and influence the decisions we will make in the upcoming year. What course shall we set for 2009 and beyond?
The Economy is Job #1. The people of our community need jobs to raise their families and care for their basic needs. Eugene should be a place where people choose to live because of its resources, values, and opportunities.
It is impossible to predict the economic future right now. Here in Eugene, we have some experience with economic downturns; but this national crisis is on a scale we have not seen since the depression.
We have been preparing.
As I mentioned earlier, the city has managed its finances well and has understood the need for sound policies that respond to this rapidly changing world, climate change and finite resources.
We understood well before the current crisis the need for Eugene to focus on jobs and on becoming a hub of the new green economy– to be bold and visionary.
We have a wealth of resources to draw on: the ingenuity of our existing businesses and entrepreneurs, the beauty of our city and natural environment, the quality of our schools and public services, and the skills of our labor force. This is why people and businesses want to locate here.
We have positioned ourselves for the future through growth management policies and planning, local purchasing, streamlining our processes, incentives to grow local business, investing in downtown housing and development and the arts, and adopting the Sustainable Business Initiative. We have worked with our partners on our education, transit and alternative energy investments and opportunities. We are recognized nationally for being a top green city and a top place in which to do business.
We have laid the groundwork well on many fronts.
There are a number of things we will focus on immediately to move us forward.
• The incoming Obama administration has indicated that it will quickly be putting forth a stimulus package to help this country’s ailing economy, and Eugene is ready to take advantage of what that might offer the working families in our region. We can do this if we are on the same page.
Eugene has a list of over $200 million in “ready to go” projects that fit the stimulus criteria given for job creation and infrastructure improvement. We expect these projects, if funded, could create 4,404 well-paying jobs by the end of next year – with an emphasis on green industry. These include jobs in development and construction, alternative energy, accessibility, pavement preservation, bike and pedestrian improvements, parks and trails, water reuse and pollution control projects.
But we need to be sure that we are also aware of what other public institutions, our utilities, our private sector, and our legislators have prioritized. We want to be sure we maximize our potential by working effectively together at the state and federal level.
That is our first order of business.
• In the short run, economists tell us that our local attention should be on finding ways to help our local businesses survive these difficult times. I have spoken to councilors and the city manager and we are ready to facilitate those discussions immediately with our regional partners, business community and other stakeholders.
That is our second order of business.
• Moving from Hynix to solar is our community goal for the reuse of that facility in responding to current energy needs, green jobs, and the tax base. Let’s hope that is the big deal Astrologist Joanna Mitchell was predicting.
There are a couple of other important related items that we must put our efforts behind.
• Lane Community College is key in job preparation, retraining, affordable education, and specific training for some of the green economy work sectors. It is essential that our state budget includes investment in our community college and we need to work with our legislators to ensure that outcome. LCC is always important but never more than now.
• LTD is key in carbon reduction, transportation access for many and jobs. LTD has been extremely successful and the EmX is recognized for its innovation at both a national and international level. It does notmake sense for LTD to cut services just when we need more people to use it as a major source of transportation. We must find a way together to put our transit system together faster and with increased capacity to keep moving forward.
I bring LCC and LTD up because of their huge impact on our city’s quality of life and economy. They are not under our governance; but are key to what we are trying to achieve.
For the future we will boldly move forward a progressive economic plan; building on the foundation we have laid together.
I invite our regional partners, both public and private, to join us in preparing for an Economic Summit early this year to lay the course for our future. We cannot wait for who shows up. We cannot wait for what will be allotted. We must go after what we want for our communities: more jobs that pay well, decrease our impact on climate change and finite resources, and take full advantage of the changing world economic opportunities. I have long believed that with crisis comes a moment to do things differently and better. The groundwork has been laid and now is the time for bold steps forward into the future.
Keeping the city on track is essential.
While being innovative, we also have to be steady at the wheel in these uncertain times, providing basic services.
• Collaboration and innovation are needed to restructure our public safety system with our county partners. We cannot have this revolving door in our jail, and a court system that cannot do its job. While our city is still rated one of the safest, this won’t continue if the system is not fixed. Eugene voters will support specific, balanced and accountable solutions that are not simply a forwarding of failed policies. We need to keep moving toward community policing and a successful and fully functioning police oversight program and we need to ensure that our police, fire and EMS services have the tools to keep up with demands.
• The city will have the opportunity to demonstrate accountability in how it implements the road repair bond and report back to the public. This gives us a step up in reducing our backlog and council will decide on the next step forward. We will lobby for the state to do its fair share as well.
• The city moves forward with sustainable traffic solutions for West Eugene. The West Eugene Collaborative has finished it work and is producing a report with recommendations regarding improving the flow of people and products, reducing traffic, and improving the livability of West Eugene.
• In tough times, Eugeneans often step up to meet the needs of the community. We already see an increase in those in need of food and shelter. The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee to Finance Homelessness and Housing Programs will report its recommendations to the council on January 26. It will then be important for a larger community discussion to occur about the steps this community is willing to take to reduce the numbers and ensure that more of citizens have basic needs met, including treatment programs mental health care and shelter options. It will not be cheap.
• Beam's renovation of the Center Court Building is scheduled to start in late Spring of this year. In addition, the EWEB riverfront master planning process is underway, offering us new opportunities for linking the city to our waterfront. Incorporating the growth and linkage of parks and the key role of visual arts is essential in all we do. Other important projects are being planned, such as Brian Obie’s boutique hotel at the 5th Street Public Market.
• Important community issues will keep on coming in 2009. The council will have a January work session to discuss the future of the venerable and historically important Civic Stadium. The City Manager has stated that he will examine whether or not an in-house city attorney makes good governance and economic sense for a city of our size and complexity, and will be seeking input from the City Council as part of his analysis.
In summary, we have made much progress, seen some disappointments and have much to look forward to. Now Eugene is prepared to take decisive steps to respond to the economic, environmental and social challenges we face while keeping us on course in providing basic services and good governance. This is the work we do together.
Soon the new President’s inauguration will take place and in spite of all that is wrong, and all that we fear, we find ourselves hopeful for good changes at every level. We are asked to pull together, to help this country be what it should be - at home and in the greater world. We are asked to pull together – there is work to be done – serious work. We are asked to be audacious and to care for those beyond our own families and friends and border. We are asked to be prepared for the long haul and to recognize that such change will and does take time.
As we work together here at home we will aim to live up to our potential, to be humble, bold, and generous - united with people across this nation and world to honor and respect differences, share the wealth of this planet and protect it for future generations. Every one of us is important in this work.
I wish each of you the happiest of new years and I am deeply grateful to be here, in Eugene, Oregon, to work with you.