January 8, 2014
MAYOR PIERCY’S 2014 STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS
Good evening everyone, and welcome. I am honored to host you here in our beautiful Hult Center, an invaluable community asset and the cornerstone for arts and culture in our downtown.
Tonight is the beginning of my 10th year as Mayor of Eugene. We’ve learned a lot, experienced a lot, and accomplished much together.
I am proud of this city. We face the issues of the day squarely and do our best with them for all the right reasons. In many areas we are national leaders.
We’re a very engaged, caring community, with many strong and heartfelt opinions. We’re always working on something and we always have a lot of talent to invest and to draw on.
I’ve learned that no task is too large or too small for us. If one solution doesn't work, we try again, and find the answer. I've learned that fear of failure does not keep us from trying; criticism does not dissuade us from doing what we think is right, and no election or political pressure deters us from doing what we need to do. Whatever is happening at the federal or state level, we do our work here together.
Everyone in this community has something to offer and our council meetings are a place where all voices can be heard - where we learn from each other. Through the years, this opportunity has grown even more powerful. In the nine years I’ve been Mayor, we've never removed anyone from the public forum of a Eugene Council meeting and we've dealt with a lot of controversial and emotionally charged issues.
Of course, Eugene isn’t perfect and we are often critical of ourselves. We can never do enough. If the United States cannot implement the Human Rights standards on a national level, we will do our utmost to implement them here. If the federal government won't act on climate change, we will act here. If our national government is in fiscal disarray, we will shore up what we can here, and plan for the future, so our families can be healthy. We will do our best to be stewards of the nation's resources: people, planet, and economy- in keeping with our shared values.
We learn from the past, deal with the present and focus on the future.
An example of learning from the past, dealing with the present and focusing on the future is downtown Eugene. As Parks McCants of examiner.com wrote on December 30, “Despite a prevailing atmosphere of local pessimism bordering on resistance, Eugene’s Broadway corridor has morphed into the place to be for local entertainment. Eugene’s top story for 2013 is the redevelopment of the city’s inner core. The rebirth of downtown has created hundreds of jobs and preserved hundreds more while adding quality of life to the region. And, it will generate sales and service tax revenue for decades to come.”
Today you will find new apartments, a learning center, offices, retail stores, restaurants, cafes, bars, galleries, a teahouse, theatres and people of all kinds enjoying a reenergized downtown, and that’s good news.
Our local economy
During the recession, the City of Eugene focused on the biggest need we have as a community: building a stronger economy to support our families. This year we met with some significant successes.
The communities and universities in the South Willamette Valley, led by Corvallis and Eugene and with seed funding from the State of Oregon, banded together to create a vision and plan for a system that addresses the specific economic development needs of our region. This plan is called the Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network, or RAIN.
RAIN brings together business, community members, government and higher education to accelerate the formation and growth of technology-based companies to help communities provide jobs and stem the out-migration of talented young people.
As Senator Beyer has said, we believe this is the next big thing for Oregon and we’re excited to be part of it and what it can do for our families.
State passenger rail
Another enormous effort underway is the improvement of our state passenger rail system. Eugene is the current system’s southern terminus and I co-chair the Oregon Passenger Rail Leadership Council, which will advise the governor and Oregon Transportation Commission on a preferred alignment for intercity passenger rail improvements. This work is the foundation for making Oregon more competitive and will benefit us in achieving economic, environmental, and social goals.
We may be a modest-sized community on the Cascade Rail Corridor between here and Vancouver, British Columbia, but we can take credit for restarting the rail conversation for the state of Oregon. And it’s not the first time we’ve taken the initiative. Let’s take a moment now to remember another Eugene Mayor, Ruth Bascom, who led the last statewide discussion of passenger rail.
There are many great City success stories to tell in Eugene this year. In not trying to test your stamina but to give you an inkling of what has been accomplished in your city with your tax dollars, here are a few:
• Our fire department continues to move to full integration with Springfield, saving $1.5 million for the two cities. They’ve also used 6,400 less gallons of fuel to reduce our carbon footprint.
• Eugene Police Department adopted a new patrol car model that will save us $20,000 in annual fuel costs. EPD opened its downtown station and, with the downtown team, improved safety. EPD became the first police agency in Oregon to train its entire police force on the topic of bias-based policing. The Women in Blue program improved our ability to recruit women to our department.
• Our airport had a record year for passengers with six major carriers for the first time ever.
• The Eugene Public Library was again recognized as being in the top 3% in the nation - a Star library for 2013. Patrons borrowed from our library at a rate of 19 items per capita - or twice the national average.
• Recreation has focused on youth job-building skills in leading activities and volunteering for programs - a growing participant list of 300. Amazon pool drew over 47,000 patrons this last summer. We have our new Disc Golf Course at Alton Baker Park. The Hult Center celebrated its 30th birthday, part of the $47 million in annual impact by our arts businesses. And Karm Hagedorn recently retired from running the Hult, but not before she did the impossible, expanding the women’s restroom access. Now that’s a legacy.
• Eugene was featured in a publication from Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute for our pioneering efforts to implement Human Rights standards.
• In order to keep our neighborhoods and students safer, Eugene enacted an ordinance to hold renters and homeowners accountable for loud parties and unlawful behavior. So far, the ordinance appears to be working well.
• Eugene enacted a ban on plastic bags to reduce the negative effect of plastic bags on our environment, and to reduce the need for and consumption of such bags. (Hats off to Trader Joes for thanking us for doing this.)
• Our community-wide energy consumption continues to decrease, putting us well on our path to reduce usage 50% by 2020.
• Eugene’s Love Food Not Waste program has collected 2, 541 tons of commercial food waste to turn into compost, saving businesses money and easing the burden on our landfill.
• A new skateboard park is being built at Washington Jefferson Park, promising a safer park, good activities for youth and economic opportunity as a national draw.
• Over the past three years, Eugene has repaired over 45 miles of improved streets - an all-time high in the history of our city and all because of you, the voters.
• Two Eugene neighborhood groups – Harlow Neighbors and Santa Clara/River Road Outreach and Learning - did us proud when they received national recognition at the 2013 Neighborhoods USA Conference.
• Harlow won National Neighborhood of the Year for its Feed Hope initiative that ensures children eat when schools are closed. The River Road/Santa Clara SCRROL project was a Neighborhood of the Year finalist for engaging neighbors in conversations about the future of governance and service delivery in the River Road and Santa Clara communities.
Yes, there’s a lot of good news and a fair number of challenges as well.
The Budget Gap
As most of you know, Eugene has worked hard on a sustainable budget. During the recession we cut over $24 million from our budget and services, but still faced a $5 million gap. Rather than make deeper cuts, last year council referred a fee proposal to the voters. That failed, and now our Budget Committee is asking the public for input on which service cuts should occur.
There is some good budget news. A slightly better economy and PERS reforms have narrowed the budget gap from $5 million to $3. While it is still an ongoing budget deficit that can’t be solved by one-time resources, it is not a huge gap and it is my goal to ensure that no services are completely decimated in our efforts to address it.
Front and center all last year was shelter for the unhoused.
We are experimenting/partnering on two new innovative pilot programs to provide some emergency shelter: Opportunity Village and the “rest stop” concept. Each of these programs depends on public oversight, donations and the sweat equity of the participants.
Best practice continues to be the rapid rehousing model. The goal of this model is to get everyone into some type of basic housing. The State of Utah has been implementing such a program and I have been in touch with the Mayor of Salt Lake City to learn more about this. I’ve also been contacted by an Oregon Senator about the possibility of introducing a bill on this topic in Oregon, which I am committed to looking at seriously.
It is far cheaper and more humane to house people than to relegate them to the streets. The problem of homelessness and need for emergency shelters costs all of us, either way.
In addition to these efforts, we have a grant to study a community court model that would provide more access to treatment and transition options for people to get well and off the streets.
Student Housing Boom and Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE)
During the recession we saw a huge student-housing boom in the university area, when financial institutions changed course and would no longer invest in apartments, condos or single-family dwellings.
This construction activity brought focus on the city’s use of the Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption – or MUPTE - to encourage good quality, multi-unit construction in certain areas. For example, council determined that encouraging student housing in the downtown area could benefit the reinvigoration efforts underway and reduce the student housing pressures in other neighborhoods.
Council has been working on a proposal to ensure that MUPTEs result in maximum benefit for the community and are used sparingly and in very targeted ways to achieve city goals.
With the addition of these new student housing facilities, it would be well for us to keep our eyes on opportunities to transition some of the housing formerly used for students to housing for the general public.
The work of a city is ongoing and iterative. We hardly get to appreciate our successes and learn from our failures before we face an entire new array of challenges and opportunities.
As you see we have to fill our current budget gap and examine ways to fund the basic services that are well supported by our community. I believe most economists agree that continued cutting won’t create a healthy economy.
We aim to reduce the numbers of folks who lack jobs and homes with a wellness approach rather than a public safety response. This may well mean obtaining state and federal help to address a national problem that has come to roost in our local communities at great human and economic cost.
We have some exciting opportunities in economic development for our metro area and region that can improve our local budget outlook. This collaboration between universities, governments, businesses, and communities is an aggressive approach and powerful for our city and for Oregon. In this case, let it RAIN.
We’ll continue to support the new downtown Eugene and its safety needs as well as its opportunities. We’ll continue to support the new downtown Eugene and its safety needs as well as its opportunities. As we move forward to remake our City Hall and transform that entire block, we will do so in a way that builds on and supports downtown’s momentum and creates a place we can all take pride in.
As you heard today, in every part of the city - both government and larger community - we are working on reducing energy usage in fuel, buildings, and how we live, what we grow, how much we consume and how we travel - and we are seeing success.
These initiatives represent not only a cost savings to us but also this community’s commitment to reducing our impact on climate change and to living more sustainably so that our children and future generations may thrive.
It’s going to take resolve to stick to the visionary plans we have in place with Envision Eugene, our Climate and Energy Plan, our Bike and Ped Plan, and our Human Rights Plan. We have to stay the course. In all of these, we offer great leadership as a city.
Here’s to year number 10 as your Mayor. Thank you for the privilege; it is an amazing journey. Thank you for all each of you does to support this great community. Thank you to our staff for their efforts to make Eugene a great city, even in the toughest of times. And, special thanks to our public works employees, our police and firefighters and to EWEB and LTD staff for all their work to help get us through a week-long freeze. You had our backs.
Happy New Year, and may 2014 be a bright and promising year for our city and for all of us.
January 8, 2014