Northwest Not-so Natural

The Eugene City Council met at 7:30 pm Monday, Jan. 25, for their bi-weekly council meeting to discuss tax exemptions for an affordable housing community, listen to concerns from a flurry of environmental advocates during the public forum, and help fill an empty seat on the city’s Toxics Board

To open the meeting, the council voted unanimously in approval of resolution approving a Low-Income Rental Housing Property Tax Exemption (LIRHPTE) for the Garfield Trailer Park on North Garfield Street. 

The Garfield housing community includes nine apartments and six mobile homes. The proposed rents, which would affect all properties range from $331 monthly for a studio and $612 for a three-bedroom unit. The changes would not be possible without a LIRHPTE in effect and would only be offered to residents earning no more than 60 percent of the area’s average, said Ellen Meyi-Galloway, a member of the Committee of Development. Furthermore, all money saved through the exemption would go towards unit price reductions.  

“This is a very cool project that’s continuing with the types of incentives that absolutely create affordable housing which is the type of stuff that I think we need to focus on,” Councilor Alan Zelenka said. “This is how we’re actually going to get more affordable housing units in Eugene.” 

Following the approval, a vast majority of the public forum speakers touched on the issue of renewable energy, specifically they argued that the pending franchise agreement renewal with Northwest Natural, which would lead to the continuation of fracking and a detour from Eugene’s sustainability goals. The city has been in negotiations with NW Natural for months over a franchise agreement and approved a six-month extension in November 2020.

Middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students and adults delivered impassioned pleas to the council in hopes of persuading the city not to renew the franchise agreement, which would in effect cut off the natural gas supply to Eugene. More than half of the individuals spoke on behalf of the Fossil Free Eugene Coalition or the Earth Guardians 350, which are community run programs advocating for a smooth transition to renewable energy. 

Many speakers argued renewing the agreement would drastically set back much of the progress being made in the sector and provide a sizable setback to the city’s climate goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. 

“It is very encouraging to see our next generation being involved in a way I would never have considered as a middle schooler or young person,” Council President Jennifer Yeh said. 

Before the meeting adjourned, the council moved to re-appoint a member of the Toxics Board. The board, a public information program, handles policy surrounding the use of hazardous substances. Due to strict guidelines for hiring Toxics Board members, and an inability for the board to reach quorum for their upcoming meetings and decisions, manager James Lenhart presented the board’s case to the council. 

The council unanimously re-appointed Krystal Abrams effective immediately for the remainder of a three year term. 

The full recording of the meeting can be found here. The City Council had a 5:30 pm work session earlier that evening that discussed middle housing.