“I was just a guy who wanted a bike path.”
That was how George Brown explained how he got involved in Corvallis neighborhood activism.
Brown, who arrived in town in 2009, became concerned about how safe his children were when they walked or rode their bicycles in their South Corvallis neighborhood. The problem? A state highway is the main transportation corridor.
Brown organized a block party and also talked to Richard Hervey, then the councilor for Ward 3, which includes most of South Corvallis. Hervey suggested that Brown look into forming a neighborhood association.
Brown now is president of the Tunison Neighborhood Association, one of 30 that are recognized by the city of Corvallis. He also participated on the citywide Public Participation Task Force, which worked to better connect the neighborhoods with government.
And he’s going to get his bike path. In May 2016, the City Council approved the receipt of a grant of more than $700,000 from the Oregon Department of Transportation that will pay for 90 percent of the path project, which will link the multiuse path on the riverfront with Crystal Lake Park — and bypass the highway. City officials plan to complete the path project during the 2018-19 fiscal year.
“Ultimately we were successful,” Brown said. “We don’t have our bike path yet, but that’s OK. Because it’s a long process.”
Brown’s bike path tale was one of the success stories shared Tuesday at a Corvallis City Club meeting on neighborhoods. In addition to Brown, speakers included Tracy Oulman, housing and neighborhoods coordinator for the city, and Tracey Yee, chair of the Community Involvement and Diversity Advisory Board.
Oulman, who assumed her post in November, has been walking the streets with neighborhood leaders and code compliance supervisor Todd Easton, another new member of the city staff.
“I wanted to get to know the neighborhoods from the ground up,” Oulman. “You can get a better understanding by just walking around.”
Oulman discovered that of those 30 recognized neighborhood associations, only 11 of them met the city’s basic criteria of having bylaws and officers, allowing all residents inside the association’s boundaries to participate and providing the city with contacts who will disseminate information.
Yee’s board is trying to help. The group pored through 17 requests from neighborhood and community groups for the $5,000 in neighborhood empowerment grants that the City Council put in the budget. Brown’s Tunison group received $876 to put on social and cultural celebrations, and the Job’s Addition Neighborhood Association used its $1,000 to paint the intersection at Northwest 11th and Buchanan as part of the city’s eclipse celebration.
A common thread at Tuesday’s discussion was the challenge of finding meeting space. Brown’s group used the community room at the Tunison fire station with the help of grant money, but when the grants expired the association could not afford the $45 per hour fee.
Schools also charge for meeting space, and Tuesday’s meeting participants noted that outdoor meeting spaces and churches might be options for those who are cash-strapped.