Web Extra: Eugene State of the City

EUGENE, Ore. — Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy is delivering the State of the City speech Wednesday, Jan. 9. Here is the speech in its entirety:

2013 State of the City of Eugene

Mayor Kitty Piercy

January 9, 2013

This is an evening to celebrate our city – to look at our accomplishments and, more than anything, our plans for the future.

As we celebrate our city, we also celebrate each of you, for it is you, the people, who make a city.  This is a day to recognize you who guide and govern our city and to thank community volunteers and staff for the hours, ingenuity and compassion they bring to our city.  You all make Eugene a very inspiring, unique and wonderful place to live. The sheer number and quality of our volunteers, our staff accomplishments, and our commitment to stewardship are known and recognized across the country.

For me, this is a very sweet moment when I begin my ninth year and third term as Mayor of Eugene.  Thank you for giving me the great privilege of serving.  I want you to know that I approach the next four years with the same energy, fortitude, and commitment I had eight years ago.  If anything, my expectations are even higher because I know what is possible when we work together as a community.  I know we are indeed “better together”.

The Last Eight Years

Throughout the last eight years, I focused on ensuring that Eugene has a strong, resilient and creative economy that supports our families, and that our economic development is guided by sustainability, by caring for and nurturing both our natural environment the social well-being of all.

In 2005, there were many challenges to achieving these goals.

1.  The number one topic in city government was community division.

I observed in my first State of the City, “Different opinions based on facts, experiences and expertise enable us to consider policy proposals from a broad range of perspectives. In the best of worlds this results in sound decisions. We can improve how these opinions are expressed.”…. “We, both leaders and community members, simply can aim together to do it better, to respect the views of all, to engage our residents in new ways and to carefully use the expertise we have. And we can aim for the win-win whenever possible.”

Over the last eight years we aimed for win-wins by:

  • Providing open and transparent meetings with time for everyone to be heard and true deliberation to occur.
  • Bringing many perspectives to the table to participate – in the Sustainable Business Initiative, the West Eugene Collaborative, the Climate and Energy Plan, and Envision Eugene.
  • Engaging our neighborhood associations in meaningful conversations and policy decisions.
  • Forming working partnerships with our metropolitan partners to create jobs and build our economy
  • Holding Mayor’s one-on-ones with city councilors from each ward, going to a different ward each month to sit down at a grocery store, at five in the afternoon, to listen to the concerns of the people in those neighborhoods.
  • Improving city communication tools at all levels.

These ongoing efforts, and others, have broadened our capacity to engage our community in decision-making and have built confidence that we can take diverse views and approaches and work together for the entire community.

2.  People were deeply concerned about inequities and social justice.

Over the last eight years we worked hard on this.

  • With many community partners, we implemented internal and external diversity plans, developed policies and spoke out quickly and strongly against hatred and discrimination.
  • We set an ambitious goal to become a Human Rights City and our council passed resolutions that support being a welcoming community for immigrants and access to educational opportunities for immigrants.
  • Eugene established an independent police auditor and civilian review board to ensure a fair and responsive public safety system.  We put in place a data-based police system to better respond to crime hot spots that brought positive results. We implemented new training opportunities for de-escalating public safety situations when dealing with people with mental health issues.
  • We’ve helped build world-class, affordable housing projects, including housing for vets.
  • We supported Cahoots, Buckley House, and other human services.
  • We expanded our car camping program to include tents and Conestoga huts, supported Egan Warming Centers, and approved a micro housing pilot project.
  • Most importantly, we developed a Triple Bottom Line tool so that all major city decisions would be looked at for their social equity, economic, and environmental impacts.

3.  Too often, economic success was pitted against environmental protection.

Eight years ago, the debates were frequent and emotions ran high.  As I said then, I learned from listening to people that “across all sectors and political affiliations, our residents believe Eugene can and should have a strong economy and protect our beautiful natural environment. “  I suggested that “by encouraging businesses that are sustainable we can meet goals of environmental regeneration, social equity and profitability.” – the triple bottom line.

I launched the Sustainable Business Initiative, to put these goals into action and since that time we have:

  • Established a Sustainability Commission and created a Sustainability Liaison position.
  • Adopted green building standards.
  • Created an ambitious climate and energy plan that has received national recognition and puts in place strategies for food security, local purchasing, Co2 reductions, and zero waste.
  • Given the Bold Steps Award to businesses that have made significant strides in sustainable business practices.
  • Received an international award for setting the standard for sustainability at Olympic events.
  • Launched the “Love Food not Waste” program and diverted over 1,000 tons of commercial food from the waste stream and into compost.
  • And, just the other day, Bill Moyers recognized Eugene as #6 of the top 12 cities leading the way in sustainability.

4. There weren’t enough good jobs.

In 2005, just like today, our community needed employment to support families and to pay for city services.  We wanted jobs that paid good wages and benefits and that were aligned with our community values.

With our partners we developed a Regional Prosperity Plan. In keeping with this plan:

  • Lane Community College built the downtown learning center for green job preparation and worked with the Lane County Workforce Partnership on youth skill-building for job readiness.
  • The University of Oregon dramatically increased research-based business spin–offs into the community.
  • Both Eugene and Springfield offered low-interest loan programs to help businesses launch and expand.
  • A new online, one-stop shop for businesses was developed.
  • Our Chambers of Commerce pursued business incubator spaces and financial investment opportunities.

5.  We needed to manage growth and support jobs.

Through Envision Eugene we planned for a future that would:

  • Protect older neighborhoods while providing housing and employment opportunities for new families and people of all incomes.
  • Protect our forest and farmlands, our rivers and streams and reclaim brownfields for redevelopment.
  • Protect the health and well-being of our most vulnerable residents and ensure environmental justice.
  • Build transit corridors where housing and businesses thrive.

6.  We needed to repair our badly deteriorating infrastructure

Our voters have passed two five-year road bonds, allowing us to repair more roads than ever before in the history of this city.

7.    Our downtown was plagued by empty store spaces and we struggled with community identity.

In 2005, I suggested we focus on a reinvigoration of our downtown that would “encourage development and build on our assets”.  I supported identifying our city as a great city for the arts and outdoors, lifting up that special combination of important cultural, recreational, and athletic assets.

  • We developed partnerships and targeted our funds. There are at least 14 new developments in our downtown core, bringing jobs and millions of dollars in investment.  These new developments include housing, offices, restaurants, and theatres.
  • We have hosted two fabulous Olympic Track and Field trials and a number of other track events.  The athletic prowess of the Ducks has brought business (not to mention some roses and fiestas) to our community.
  • Our new Art and Business Alliance has been hard at work helping take full economic advantage of the arts of our community.  This included the development of the Eugene-a-Go-Go website and a survey showing that arts bring $45 million and 1,700 jobs into our economy.

Now for a look at 2013 and beyond.

Building on a sound foundation and facing more challenges.

In 2013, we have much to build on. There’s a great deal we have accomplished together and it was no mean feat.  Our staff, council and Budget Committee faced revenue reductions with courage, innovation and integrity, cutting $24 million out of our $125 million general fund.  They did this by requiring more work of fewer people and shrinking our city footprint, while continuing to provide most key city services. This was not easy and they did it without complaint because, like you, we have to deal with economic realities.

So, here we are looking forward to 2013. We’re not out of the woods yet.  There’s more cutting to do. There are no more places to cut without serious reductions in services. Our belt is tightened so tight you can see it poking out our backs.

1.  If we don’t want to lose vital city services, we have to be innovative.

We are now talking about significant cuts that include fire and police, library, parks, and pools.  All of our services have seen reductions and we’ve been extremely innovative in a number of ways, including the merger of Eugene/Springfield fire services.

There is nowhere left to cut without feeling some loss, so you may well be asked what you are willing to do to prevent further erosion of basic services. We are not talking about restoring previously cut or curtailed services but how to prevent further loss.  The city manager has several revenue-increasing strategies to present to council for consideration and your thoughtful input will be essential over the weeks ahead.

The big-picture issue is identifying what kind of community we want to live in and how we can work together to help our city through this critical time.  So far we have done well on all fronts. We’ve managed resources wisely and done our utmost to get the biggest” bang for the buck” while getting through the tough times and preparing for better days.  The recovery is slow and we will need to find an additional $6 million somewhere, either through budget cuts that result in loss of service or some form of increased revenue.

2.  We will continue implementing our Regional Prosperity Plan.

We are planning a summit to examine data about the outcomes of our efforts and the best direction for us to take.

The new big idea that we have developed with the Governor’s Regional Solutions team is a proposal to build the South Willamette Valley Technology Business Accelerator to transition local businesses from start-ups to larger companies that can provide higher wage jobs.   For us, this would mean providing early-stage technology start-ups with affordable office and lab space close to university research, faculty and students.  Doing this would provide these businesses with access to high capacity university equipment and expertise in an open environment that fosters the exchange of ideas and collaboration.  It would connect them to mentors, give them guidance on business formation and outside investment, and provide sales and marketing support.  The program would fill a need for such resources in this state and the accelerators are envisioned to be located in both Eugene and Corvallis.  Just yesterday, Governor Kitzhaber was here to discuss this proposal.

3.  Downtown revitalization will continue with an emerging Arts and Culture District. 

There are already many pieces of an arts district in place and more to come with Lord Leebrick’s new theater and the downtown Bijou soon to open.

Imagine our historic downtown post office becoming the new Lane County and Eugene museum of history.  Think about how we could learn about and preserve all facets of Eugene’s very interesting history, good and bad, and all points in-between.

We’ll design a city hall that not only is where people come to be part of the municipal decision-making process but also a place where people can convene, where our rich cultural diversity is visually honored, and perhaps even where an indoor farmers market can find a home.

4.  We will have the opportunity to connect our downtown to our river and to create more opportunities for us all to enjoy this renewed area of our riverfront.  

EWEB has master planned the EWEB-owned riverfront property and, as decisions are made to move forward, the city council and general public will have a part in the implementation of the plan.

5.  We continue to implement our Climate and Energy Plan:

We will ratchet up our community commitment to mitigation and adaptation strategies.  Recent research has shown us that our community supports addressing climate change:  77% of our residents agree that climate change is human-caused; 81% agree that climate change requires us to change our behavior; and 75% support stronger regulation of greenhouse gases.

Two young people from our community have taken legal action on climate change. State leaders have filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Kelsey Juliana and Olivia Cherniak’s appeal to compel our state to take action to protect Oregonians under the Public Trust Doctrine.   These are our future leaders and they join young people in 49 states in filing such briefs.

Eugene is on the forefront of greenhouse gas reduction work.  Until recently, inventories of greenhouse gas emissions have not included purchased goods and services.  Recent research – including groundbreaking work by the City of Eugene – suggests that these emissions may well exceed those associated with energy and power.  We’ll use this information to guide our work, as will others across the nation.

Other important work is stormwater management in the Long Tom Watershed. Public Works offers a $50,000 grant for retrofitting buildings to better handle stormwater.  This will, in turn, reduce stormwater surges on our system, keep our water cleaner and reduce costs.

One final example of work being done to implement our climate and energy action plan is a project at Sheldon High School to plant trees that are well-adapted to future climate conditions, building resilience.  I want to note here that we should all pay attention to our urban forest.  Because of budget cutbacks the City has not been keeping up with its past tree-planting practices. As old trees die, new trees are not being planted at the same rate.  There is a significant lag.  This is something you and I could do together with Friends of Trees.  If every family planted one tree a year in our city, we could begin to recover what we have lost.

In addition to these specific initiatives, we’re looking at our land use planning and climate work together. We’re looking at our risks and doing a regional vulnerability assessment.

This may sound like a lot but it is only a small percentage of what we need to do.  Water scarcity is an emerging issue.  Climate refugees relocating to this area may impact our resources sooner than we think. In the Netherlands, the government has been preparing for sea level changes for years. But here, like New Orleans, we are mostly unprepared; this is work we need to do together- and it is very important work.

6.  While we work to improve our circumstances, there are many in need. 

Our county government has faced far greater cuts that have impacted every corner of service provision, including human services and public safety.

As a city, we recognize and feel the impacts of a less-than-functional public safety system – of insufficient jail beds.  Of course, having adequate jobs, education, shelter, food, and health care all reduce crime or keep it from happening in the first place.

We will continue to try to be helpful to the county and to people without services.  Our county could benefit from an independent, objective outside analysis by someone with no “dog in the fight” to have a look at our entire public safety system.  That includes us.  As the Governor has said, we cannot afford to keep doing what we have been doing.  It’s time to try something different.

After the recent election, I have hope for better days ahead for this country and for our state.  Things are still very challenging for all too many people.  Our city will have many opportunities to lead and to help and we will do our utmost, including continuing to address the needs of the homeless.

  • We’ll support a pilot micro housing project.
  • As recommended by the Opportunity Eugene task force, we’ll set up an ongoing city committee to ensure we continue taking steps to reduce homelessness and to increase shelter options, property storage capacity and safe, legal places for people to be.
  • We’ll take a look at the laws and ordinances unfairly affecting homeless people with the goal of removing barriers.

I know we will help each other.  That’s really the only way it will get done.  My guiding principles will remain the same:  ensuring that Eugene has a strong, resilient and creative economy that supports our families, and that our economic development is guided by sustainability, by caring for and nurturing our natural environment and social well-being of all.

We have proven that much can be accomplished when we work together and I look forward with great optimism to what we will achieve for our wonderful city in the next four years.

I wish all of us a more prosperous, more compassionate, and more just new year. ”


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