EUGENE, Ore. – Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis delivered her 2020 State of the City Address on Wednesday.
Her speech focused on the key challenges the city faces, including climate change, homelessness, housing affordability, public safety and the economy. And she highlighted what she described as progress in tackling those issues.
“I was struck both by the enormity of the work we accomplished as well as the challenging pace at which things move," she said.
Vinis emphasized that the city is in its final stage of approving Climate Action Plan 2.0 which will provide a roadmap to meeting the goals of the climate recovery ordinance. She said the city is looking to engage with the public prior to the final adoption of the plan.
Regarding affordable housing, Vinis said she’s hopeful that the construction tax passed in April 2019 will help fund new projects. She also said construction projects should have compact urban growth in mind for the sake of the environment, meaning that people would live in walkable neighborhoods.
“We must be prepared to invest in change,” Vinis said.
Homelessness is interconnected with the need for more affordable housing, Vinis claimed, and she said the city and the county have worked together to adopt changes to address the situation. The plan will roll out over five years and require investment and commitment from the public.
This year, officials are looking to create a low-barrier shelter, implement mobile outreach teams, develop a landlord engagement process and hire a strategic initiatives manager to coordinate efforts.
Vinis admitted that homelessness is tied to challenges public safety faces. The upcoming payroll tax will support the expansion of public safety in Eugene, Vinis said. Starting January 2021, it will raise $23.6 million.
“We have heard clearly the frustration and anger of business owners and employees who justifiably want an end to the trespasses, burglaries, harassment and vandalism that has plagued them,” she added.
She said she hopes the creation of additional rest stops, car camping and more tiny homes will help stabilize the homeless. Vinis also called for neighborhood watch groups and investment in service providers. More mental health and addiction services are also needed, Vinis said, and the mayor promised that work will be done in 2020.
Eugene resident, KelliAnn Stiles, said she was happy with Vinis' speech and is glad the mayor is outlining plans to fix the homeless problem.
"I feel like we're very blessed in this area, Lane County, Oregon to have people that are really concerned and committed to choosing kindness to help the homeless," Stiles said.
Among all these challenges, Vinis highlighted the growth of the economy as a success. Major public investments are being made regarding the riverfront, the Park Blocks and Farmers Market and a new city hall. There is also the private development at Fifth Street. These investments will lead to housing opportunities, Vinis said.
However, funding is a concern, and Vinis said tough conversations will need to be had.
“Problems are complex, resources are limited, and big change does not come easily or overnight. Public testimony can be angry and impatient. Tensions rise when we don’t see a common path. Too many voices are never heard at all,” she said.
Moving forward, Vinis looked to the Youth Advisory Board, which will begin meeting this winter. Vinis said she hopes the board will allow the upcoming generation to provide insights into public discussions.
Also, soon Eugene will be hosing the IAAF World Athletic Championships. And as the event approaches, Vinis said Eugene is doing the “good work we should do for our community anyway – to make investments that will stand as a legacy.”
But not everyone was pleased with her speech. Thomas Hiura is a Eugene resident and is planning to run for mayor. He said he is not expecting much from Vinis this year and he believes much of what she said were empty promises.
"The fact that she talks about how last year she made two commitments to do two efforts and initiatives for diversity and now she is talking about how this is the year she is going to do them now?'" Hiura said.
When it comes to the homeless problem, Eugene resident, Cliff Gray, said the mayor's plans to fix the homeless problem doesn't go deep enough.
"It's not a cure," Gray said. "I'm afraid it doesn't go to the root of the problem."
Vinis closed her speech with optimism about bringing the city together, no matter people's differences, to solve Eugene's challenges.
“We will see in the coming months opportunities to invite and savor the colors, textures, tastes, sounds, beliefs and ideas of the diverse cultures in our city that make us whole. That tapestry is woven in kindness. It begins with conversations. I hope our common legacy will be to listen to one another, to welcome the diverse communities within our community, to take pride in the abundance and beauty that is here, and to act collectively and individually to meet the challenges ahead with openness, compassion, intelligence, and courage,” Vinis said, closing her speech.