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Child care, weather shelters, cleanliness among Ashland goals

Mail Tribune - 11/2/2022

Nov. 2—Child care availability, severe weather shelters, new partnerships, cleanliness and equity are key goals for the city of Ashland moving forward, Ashland City Manager Joe Lessard told Ashland City Council Tuesday.

"It's not child care; it is really an early issue of early child care education. If we are going to accomplish any of our long-term goals — and diversity — we are going to have to address this issue," Lessard said, as part of a presentation about the city's prospective vision statement.

The goals listed in the vision statement were pieced together from a survey Lessard asked councilors to complete in June.

For Ashland, child care is the root system necessary for an efficient workforce, livability and long-term economic stability, he said.

"There are cases where we need to step up our game in terms of cleanliness" Lessard said, referring to the city's problem of overflowing garbage cans in parks and public areas.

Cooperation between the city of Ashland and such entities as Southern Oregon University, Ashland School District and other community groups will be the foundation for achieving the city's overall goals, he said.

"These organizations have aligned interests," he said. "In order for us to cost effectively address our issues going forward, partnerships are going to be essential."

The city is preparing to undergo a diversity and inclusion assessment, Lessard said. City staff will meet with Ashland'sSocial Equity and Racial Justice Committee Thursday, he said.

A proposal for a permanent emergency operations center also should be expected soon.

Councilor Tonya Graham suggested the goals and vision statement for the city should not be adopted by council until it receives more public feedback.

Council voted unanimously to hold a public forum for discussion of the city's long-term goals.

In other council business Tuesday, proposed changes to the municipal code related to the construction of multifamily housing came with vague accusations of a conflict of interest.

"What the (System Development Charges Ad-Hoc Committee) has done is make changes to support multifamily (housing) development," said Scott Fleury, Ashland Public Works director.

The committee, which works to adapt Ashland's municipal code to ease the process for building development and housing, came up with proposals for the council to consider.

Proposals before the council Tuesday were designed to change when certain fees are charged and alter the minimum and maximum caps for repayment of loans from the city to developers. The new minimum allowed for payment by installment would be $1,000 rather than $2,000. There would be no maximum limit.

Deferment of paying certain fees until a multifamily housing unit is occupied or until renters have begun paying rent were also proposed. Those fees are now part of the approval and building process as an up-front cost.

"We do have several concerns," said Ashland resident Craig Anderson, representing the local nonprofit group Rogue Advocates. "The first is lack of transparency and potential conflict of interest; secondly, a lack of justification given the potential financial implications to your constituency. Third is the potential illegality."

Anderson said a certain developer "stands to profit handsomely" from a proposed development he said would be coming soon. He said ad hoc committee member George Kramer and Councilor Shaun Moran were connected to this potential conflict of interest.

The changes, he said, also require a public review period of 60 days, creating the potential illegality.

Ashland Mayor Julie Akins offered to suspend council's rules for public comment and allow a question-and-answer exchange between councilors and Anderson. Council declined the suggestion with silence. Fleury then was directed by Akins to respond to Anderson's statement.

Fleury stated the proposals were a municipal code update, which would not be done without the proper public approval process, and the proposals would change when fees are paid rather than what fees are paid.

The ad hoc committee's members were proposed by Akins and approved by council in April 2021.

"I don't know what that development is. I wouldn't have any way of knowing whether or not these particular members are involved, or if Councilor Moran is involved. I'm sure he would recuse himself," Akins said. "The way that the committee was conceived was just to find people who would be expert in how SDC's work."

Councilor Paula Hyatt proposed a motion to advance the proposals to a second reading while also reviewing the language and any potential conflict with city rules and procedures. The motion passed unanimously.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.


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