Video – HR Chamber of Commerce Forum. 10.07.2020

As a candidate for Hood River City Council, I have been involved in two forums this week to discuss issues in a round robin format.  Here is a link to the Chamber Forum.

At the bottom of this post I will list the questions asked and time stamps for my responses.

Generally, my contribution to City Council will be a focus on results.  I expect to improve our performance by establishing some minor, but important, changes to the way we view and then pursue our goals.  I will be defining action items and opportunities more precisely and then tracking them to completion.

My immediate concern for Hood River is the path we are taking regarding housing and I discuss this several times during the forum. I want to provide further context for those discussions. 

Let’s start with the acknowledgement that Hood River is going to become denser.  The question is, what do we want that to look like?  The City has a set of goals that reflect issues that many people care about, which I support.  Housing, being the number one goal for many years, has been a feature of forum discussions.  Something that is important to know about our attempts to address housing need, is that the City (current City Council) has ignored many of the suggestions of the 2015 Housing Needs Analysis. 

Particularly relevant currently are imminent code updates to address “Missing Middle” housing.  After failing to address the housing plan prepared for Hood River and adopted in 2015, we are now rushing to adopt new code guided by the provisions of Oregon House Bill 2001. HB 2001 rules are meant for larger cities.  I wrote about this previously and provided links to documents here.

This new process was not guided by council, but proposed by Planning Director, Dustin Nilsen.  This is an example of what can happen when we don’t make specific, measurable action items prominent features of our Work Plans.  I admire Dustin for taking the initiative to impose a solution that HE likes – imagine what good he could do for the citizens of Hood River if he knew what we would like?  We should ask the question, do we want Council to guide the path of our city, or do we want department heads to do it? 

Expect the new code to allow high-density development in every residential zone.  Current councilors have stated that they expect Dustin’s new missing middle housing code to also address “Cottage Code” and “Planned Unit Development” recommendations from 2015.  If adopted as suggested by the State, new development will not be required to provide parking on-site – the reason for this is that it makes more land available to house people.  Remember, HB 2001 does not apply to cities the size of Hood River, and this doesn’t make sense for Hood River in many ways, including:

  • Small city residents in rural areas need (and have) cars – they will be parked somewhere.
  • We already have parking issues near our business districts – this will negatively impact livability and harm businesses.
  • An increase in street parking will hamper attempts to expand safe bicycle and pedestrian routes – this negatively impacts our “Safe Routes to School” program, for example.

People that have lived in urban areas with highly functional public transit systems are familiar with the parking problems in those urban residential zones.  If you chose to be the optimist.., you will now have the opportunity to meet people from many blocks away that you didn’t know are your neighbors, because they will be parking in front of your house, and you in front of theirs.

I attend many council meetings and it is apparent to me that the current council does not see the solutions to our housing problems as I do.  I have been persuaded that this is because they are intimidated by the implications of Oregon Land Use laws and don’t understand how those laws are meant to guide development in small cities.

We have missed opportunities to expand housing opportunities in and near the City – I’ll post about that soon.  Another feature of a good Work Plan is that its goals be achievable.  Some of our current City Council have been responsible for making our decisions for multiple terms.  They, and all other Council members, should be held to account for opportunities missed and voters can now decide whether to take their word that “they’re getting around to it now” or if we need a new direction.

We are fortunate.  We have options.

Brian Towey

Questions provided in advance:

Intro – I start at 1:19.35.  Conclusion – I start at 2:30.40.  These questions are not necessarily in the order asked.

  1. 1:33.20 – What are your top priorities as a candidate and how to plan to achieve them?
  • 1:51.35 – 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment reminds us that transportation in the highest unmet need as part of our built environment in the Gorge.  Data on diverse populations show that about on in five (19%) people cannot access basic needs such as health care or food due to transportation barriers. What should be done to address that problem? 

The question, as originally submitted, concluded with, how will you demonstrate a commitment to supporting public transportation?  The chamber representatives decided to open the question to include, and are there other measures you would support to address the issue?

Other questions:

  • 1:59.30 – Should the city support small businesses in the heights by providing support for outdoor seating options, such as parklets or on sidewalks, as has been done on Oak Street?
  • 2:13.55 – Some people say that “livability” is Hood River’s competitive advantage. What does “livability” mean to you and what role does City government play in ensuring the benefits of livability widely distributed, for the benefit of all.

5) 2:06.55 – In your mind, what is the role of a city counselor?

6) 2:23.05 – If presented with the opportunity to allocate Covid Relief Funds, like the city did in September, what sectors are your top priorities in the second round.  For example, non-profits, housing or shelter support, business grants and support?