Homelessness and housing. If Tuesday’s Corvallis mayoral town hall is any indication you can look for a steady diet of those two issues as the fall election campaign picks up steam.
Incumbent Mayor Biff Traber, four-term Ward 2 Councilor Roen Hogg, retired community volunteer Dean Codo and Peacock Bar & Grill employee Riley Doraine participated in a 90-minute City Club of Corvallis session before a crowd of more than 80 people at the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis.
And although other issues came up, such as the Public Employee Retirement System, urban renewal and what subjects the city should be lobbying the Legislature on, housing and homelessness dominated the discussion.
Hogg was the most aggressive, noting on the homelessness issue that compared to Albany, “Corvallis is floundering. We have not made any progress in four years, and that’s one of the main reasons I am running for mayor. We’re not making progress. We can’t afford four more years of failed leadership or we’ll be back here in four years talking about the same problem.”
Doraine and Codo both spoke in favor of the plan by developer Rich Carone to use 11 acres of land near the intersection of Northeast Belvue and Walnut Boulevard for a shelter and other social services. The proposal, which came up during heated discussions about which men’s cold weather shelter proposal the city and Benton County should support, was withdrawn because of fierce neighborhood opposition to the site.
“They should have considered that site more," Doraine said. “It could have been a village with a community of standards.”
Key questions the homeless face, Doraine said, were “Where am I going to go to the bathroom or sleep and are the police going to mess with me?”
Codo said he was “thankful for the public interest in the discussion. Everyone involved in the conversation is compassionate and wants to solve the problem.”
Codo said he liked the Belvue site because it offered possible camping options and transitional housing as well as other services.
“Things have not gone well in the past year,” said Traber, who serves as co-chair of the Housing Opportunities Action Council, which is working on implementing the city-county 10-year plan to end homelessness. “We need to broaden the conversation moving forward, but it does have to be resolved. I’m committed to continuing the energy I have put in on this issue. It’s complicated.”
On housing, Doraine expressed concerns about the city’s building code and the permit fees that developers are charged. If the fees are reduced, she said, “it would make for more affordable housing. We need a condensing effort, not a sprawling one. We have to find a way to put more people in smaller spaces and leave a lower carbon footprint.”
Traber said the city is moving faster on housing issues in response to decisions by the Legislature.
“We’ve got a new process for annexations and we’re doing work on the BLI (buildable lands inventory),” he said, adding that the inventory is designed to answer the question “where in the city limits should we have more development?”
Traber also said the city has begun working on simplifying its land development code with help from a state grant.
Hogg said that given the extent of the city’s urban growth boundary, “we could build lots of housing. Unfortunately we don’t have a vision. Do we want to grow or not? We haven’t said. It’s more costly to build in Corvallis compared to Albany because it takes more time to get permits. It’s an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed. Developers hate building in Corvallis.”
Codo said he is looking to the state to help Corvallis move forward on a variety of housing types. He also wants the return of voter-approved annexations, which were limited by a state law signed by Gov. Kate Brown in 2016. Corvallis, with assistance from Philomath and the League of Oregon Cities, has challenged the law, with the case currently is under review by the state Court of Appeals.
“We need to have the right to decide for ourselves,” Codo said.
Other notes from the forum:
• Codo drew the strongest response of the forum from the audience, laughter and applause, when he noted that “Trump energizes voters” to answer a question on voter turnout.
• During one of her answers, Doraine used part of her allotted time to ask for a moment of silence for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
• None of the candidates made any comments — or were asked any questions about — plans by the city to increase revenue with a public safety fee, an expansion of the city’s local option property tax levy and the establishment of a special taxing district for 911 emergency dispatch service.