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Bend drops disputed Juniper Ridge shelter while pursuing other ways to help homeless

(Update: Adding video, police survey discussion)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Citing issues ranging from timing and logistics to feasibility, city of Bend staff told councilors Wednesday night they are dropping a controversial proposal for a temporary transitional homeless shelter on the southern edge of the city’s Juniper Ridge parcel.

About 100 homeless camps are located across the 500-acre site, and recent fires and other issues across that landscape prompted the proposal earlier this year, which drew loud criticism from neighbors, some 300 of whom took part in a pair of city listening sessions Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Based on a variety of factors, it’s really not feasible to establish a shelter site at that location, using (the city’s) emergency order,” Assistant City Manager Jon Skidmore told councilors, while stressing that there are a number of other strategies the city is pursuing to address the issues.

One key logistical issue that sank the shelter idea is the timing of a rock crushing operation that will follow the alignment of the North Interceptor sewer project, leaving behind a cleared and level site with gravel, but isn’t going to move north at least until April, if not later. That could mean the project wouldn’t take shape until May or June, and the city’s emergency order under COVID-19 could be lifted by then.

Instead, the city is looking at revising its development code to allow facilities to address homeless issues for the long term, Skidmore said. Other issues included budgeting and permitting, along with timing.

City Economic Development Director Carolyn Eagan pointed to other recent developments, such as city approval of the Central Oregon Veterans Village and another project planned by St. Vincent de Paul, as well as the city submitting a request for some of the state funds directed toward acquiring hotels and motels to convert as homeless shelter.

Councilor Barb Campbell asked when the city’s planned gates to the parcel be locked, to which Eagan said that under state law and rulings, they won’t close until the city is “providing legal, safe places for people to sleep.”

Council also discussed a recent community input project on the Bend Police Department.

Three community feedback opportunities were utilized from September to November in an effort to improve policing efforts. Online written opportunities and live Zoom meetings were coordinated for both citizens and officers.

Councilor Bill Moseley said that while the anecdotal feedback is helpful, more needs to be done to properly reflect the viewpoints of the general population.

"This just tells us that there was a segment of the residents who volunteered to offer information who might be more or less passionate than the average person," Moseley said. "I'm just wondering if we can validate some of the responses and feedback to determine if it represents the general community."

Feedback appeared to show a lack of clarity and agreement on the role of the department across a variety of problems, including mental health issues.

Bend police say they are aiming to increase non-call interactions with residents to improve transparency. (Police Chief Mike Krantz is conducting a community survey now, starting with a random sampling and expanding to a general public survey in January.)  

Wednesday’s meeting could have been the last of the year and of this council, before four new members come aboard in January. But there may be a short meeting to finish adoption of a Commercial and Industrial Construction Tax now allowed under state law.

It’ll be 1/3 of 1% of the value on commercial and industrial building permits, with half (again set by state law) to fund housing programs, as well as other support for people earning less than 30% of the area’s median income.

But it was one of the last chances for departing Councilor Bill Moseley – a staunch defender of business interests – to take a stand, voting no (along with departing councilors Justin Livingston and Chris Piper).

“It’s essentially a tax on employers,” he said. “If it were along the lines of workforce housing, it would have some correlation to the fee itself. It’s also incredibly expensive to operate a business in Bend. This is just one more burden on employers, without having any really targeted benefit for them.”

Mayor Sally Russell was the first to take an opposing stand, saying the fee is a way for Bend to deal with issues affecting not just individuals and businesses.

Campbell agreed: “I absolutely think there is a benefit to employers.” She said she’d heard that Winco was having trouble finding enough employees, and “I think that may absolutely be directly tied to housing.”

She said helping the homeless also can have other business benefits, noting how some, in the Juniper Ridge controversy, said they were “worried about homeless people prowling their property where there are hazardous chemical.”

So the first reading was approval, 4-3. But with no scheduled council meeting before January’s annual meeting and changing of the guard, when would the second reading and final vote happen?

Councilor Justin Livingston – who voted no – moved to hold a special meeting before New Year’s, to finish the task, prompting Campbell to ask why to do that, “in order that Justin can vote no again.”

City Manager Eric King said with a change in the city’s software system, the new tax likely wouldn’t be in place until March 1. City Manager Mary Winters said that with such a close vote on the first reading, all would need to attend.

After more back-and forth, Russell noted she’d agreed to hold the vote between Christmas and New Year’s, and urged everyone to call in and take part.

So the meeting ended, as many year- and term-end meetings do, with everyone offering compliments to each other, getting past the past skirmishes and squabbles to, in Russell’s view, marvel at the many things they accomplished, from the Climate Action Plan to the transportation bond passage and new efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We built a lot of bridges,” she said.

One last bit of praise came in a specific form at the end of the night, as councilors gave ample praise to King, who became city manager in 2008 and has navigated a lot of council makeups and issues large and small. He turned down a pay raise last time, which put him "woefully behind" his counterparts elsewhere, Abernethy said. So he was given a 20% raise, also increasing his severance pay from 12 to 18 months.

City of Bend news release:

City of Bend advances homelessness and housing strategies

During tonight’s Bend City Council meeting, the City took action on multiple items to advance homelessness and housing strategies:

  • Council directed staff to pursue code amendments to allow for the development of transitional shelter sites and other facilities to address homelessness in Bend.
  • City staff announced they are submitting an application for State funds to purchase a motel to house community members experiencing homelessness or at-risk of homelessness.
  • Councilors preliminarily approved an ordinance to implement a new construction tax on certain commercial and industrial improvements. Revenue from the tax will support housing programs, and services and programs for families earning less than 30 percent of the area median income.

Transitional Shelter Sites

On Oct. 21, the Bend City Council supported a staff plan to explore options for a temporary transitional shelter site on City-owned property in Juniper Ridge. During tonight’s work session, Council received an update on those options from City staff. A feasibility review of a potential site at Juniper Ridge determined it was not feasible to develop a temporary transitional shelter site under local COVID-19 emergency orders. The City is not pursing a temporary transitional shelter site at Juniper Ridge at this time.

City staff will now explore updates to the Bend Development Code that would allow for transitional shelter sites or other facilities to address homelessness to be developed throughout Bend. Updating the development code would provide more options for developing shelter sites, which are relatively limited under current development code.

As with all development code updates, the City will hold public hearings for community members to provide input on proposed code changes for shelter sites prior to adopting them. It is anticipated that proposed code changes may go to Council for review and adoption in late spring of 2021. The City will provide more information on the public input process for the development code updates after a timeline for the project and dates for public hearings are established.

Funding Application

Also on Wednesday, City staff notified Council that they will be submitting an application to the Oregon Community Foundation for State funding available through Project Turnkey later this week. The program provides $35 million to cities, counties, housing authorities, or 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations to acquire motels or hotels to use as non-congregate shelters for people experiencing homelessness or at-risk of homelessness. If the City is selected to receive funding, it would work with NeighborImpact and other social services partners to acquire and manage a motel for community members most in need of stable housing.

Construction Tax

Finally, the City Council supported an ordinance to implement a new commercial and industrial construction tax with a first reading of the ordinance. The proposed tax would be used to fund programs for housing, and support, services and other programs for people making up to 30 percent of area median income, which is currently $22,980 for a family of four.

This construction tax will be one third of one percent of the total valuation of new building permits issued for commercial and industrial improvements that result in a new structure or additional square footage. This is a new tax, and is separate and distinct from the City’s Affordable Housing Fee. It will go into effect no sooner than March 1, 2021. To learn more, read the proposed code for the construction tax.

The tax is estimated to provide up to $581,000 in revenue per year to support the critical community needs listed above and will be distributed by a formal request for proposals process, similar to the allocation of existing Affordable Housing Fee and Community Development Block Grant funds.

Continuum of Housing

Temporary transitional shelter sites are one of many possible short-term solutions to help address homelessness in Bend. To learn more about temporary transitional shelter sites, visit the Temporary Transitional Shelter Sites page.

Mid- and long-term solutions, like generating revenue to support housing and other critical services, and acquiring housing facilities, are also necessary to support community members as they transition out of homelessness and into stable housing. To learn more about the continuum of housing needed in Bend, visit the Emergency Homelessness Task Force page.

Article Topic Follows: Bend

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Barney Lerten

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