September 12, 2014
Starting out this week is a link to a thought-provoking article from last Sunday’s Oregonian about the unanticipated increase in power loading from indoor marijuana grow sites. This is of some concern here in Ashland, where the increased power consumption from indoor commercial marijuana grows could push us into BPA tier 2 rates. We are aware that there have been large (legal) indoor growing operations in Ashland in the past, but we don’t know if any are still operating. (The identities and locations of legal marijuana growers are kept confidential by the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.)
Management Analyst Ann Seltzer and I attended the League of Oregon Cities’ “City Hall Day” in Medford yesterday. The League holds 21 City Hall Day events around the state. It’s an opportunity for city officials to meet with legislators and legislative candidates to discuss the LOC legislative priorities for 2015, which are: transportation funding; property tax reform; clarifying the medical marijuana law; protecting city sovereignty with regard to right-of-way management; and enhancing mental health services. According to Senator Alan Bates, a proposal is in the works to expand the availability of mental health services to all Oregonians, not just Oregon Health Plan clients, and to administer the program through coordinated care organizations rather than through county governments.
In response to the complaints about problems in the area in front of the Black Swan and the rest of the downtown area, including another person being bitten by a dog last week, we have asked all of our officers to increase the percentage of patrol time in the downtown and to whenever possible patrol the area on foot. We have also increased the hours of both cadets from twenty to forty a week. The Shakespeare Festival has asked us to tell people to stop sitting on the planters in the area under their control but rumors that APD is not allowing people to sit on benches or to just hang out in the area are not accurate. The increased physical presence appears to have had a calming effect and we have received some positive comments about the change. There have also been complaints from people who think that we are harassing the homeless and/or wasting police resources. Several of the travelers who were causing problems have left town and much of the activity that had been occurring in the area in front of the Black Swan has been displaced; mostly to the front of City Hall or the area around the tree behind the bus stop. We actually encourage people to hang out under the tree where they do not block the sidewalk. As things are clearing up somewhat and our cadet budget is being depleted we will be cutting the cadets back to 20 hours/week next week and in early October, we will go to a winter schedule with each cadet working eight hours a week.
The following thank you card was sent thanking Officer Bon Stewart:
Despite the lowest snowpack in the recorded history of the Ashland Watershed, we’ve been able to make it to nearly the end of the summer with a completely full reservoir. This can be attributed to many factors, including the reduced daily use by Ashland water users, water conservation efforts, a reduction in use by several large customers, a few well-timed rain storms and also, in no small part, the extra effort put in by the Water Department staff. As of September 10th, the Water Division has pumped over 160 million gallons of TID water to the water treatment plant. That’s equivalent to 57 percent of the total capacity of Reeder Reservoir. Without this additional water, we would only have 19 million gallons of usable water available in the reservoir (water quality degrades below 35% of reservoir capacity, so 35% full is our theoretical low limit for treatment).
Pumping TID water to the water treatment plant is much more complicated than just turning on a couple pumps. The amount of water we’re able to pump is dependent upon how much water is flowing in the ditch at the pump station, precision control of the system to pump as much water as is delivered to the pump station and constant monitoring and maintenance of the pumps themselves.
Water Division staff also worked closely with our consulting engineers during the testing phase of the TAP system, which is now successfully concluded. During this testing, nearly 14 million gallons of water have been delivered to Ashland through the TAP system. We can now be confident in knowing that it will be a viable option in the future if we ever have an emergency situation that requires more water than our current watershed can deliver.
The testing phase of the TAP system also required a great deal of staff time, including (at least initially) 24 hour a day monitoring of the system. Several members of the Water crew were more than willing to work whatever hours were required to make sure this new system would function properly with as little impact to Ashland water customers as possible. Since the beginning of June, Water Division staff has logged a combined total of 938 hours of overtime. Most of this overtime has been used to maintain optimum performance of the TID water pumping and to get the new TAP system up and running. In total, the Water Division has 13 employees plus one supervisor for the water treatment plant and one supervisor for water distribution. All Water Division employees had at least some overtime and three employees have had over 100 hours of overtime so far. Without the extra effort put in by this dedicated group of employees, it’s likely Ashland would have had a very difficult and dry summer with water curtailment being almost a certainty.
The Weed Abatement Coordinator completed 591 inspections in the city this summer. About 45 complaints were received, including duplicate complaints for the same property. There were 117 notices to abate issued. Of those, 113 complied and three properties were abated by the city with citations issued to the property owner. The biggest challenge with weed abatement this year was that fire season restrictions came earlier, so those who were non-compliant late in the season found it more challenging to gain a window of time to abate. Bank-owned properties also present a challenge.
Community Development Department
Planning staff held a pre-application conference with the First Place Partners team to discuss remaining development of the First Place site across from the Post Office at Lithia Way and First Street. The first building, called Plaza West, is slated for completion within the next few weeks, and the applicants are looking into developing the remaining four lots as a single project within the next 12-18 months to avoid the complications to business operations and parking that would result from staging construction individually for each of the four lots over what might otherwise be a 5-10 year timeframe. As initially conceived, the remaining buildings would all be mixed use with a total of approximately 30 residential units, including 2-3 affordable units, over ground floor commercial space and basement parking. Planning staff anticipate a follow-up pre-application meeting shortly, and that an application will be before the Historic and Planning Commissions before the end of the year. The applicants have suggested they will be offering a tour of the Plaza West building to Council, Planning Commission and staff sometime in the coming weeks.
The Planning Commission has approved Ayala Properties’ proposal for a second mixed-use building in the neighborhood central area of the North Mountain Neighborhood. The building at 572-582 Fair Oaks will consist of ground floor commercial and parking with six upper floor residential units.
The adopted Regional Problem Solving (RPS) Plan included a requirement that participating cities adopt regional housing strategies within five years of the RPS Plan adoption. This item was specifically included in the plan based on a request put forth by Ashland. Planning staff from the six RPS cities, the County and the Rogue Valley Council of Governments have been meeting monthly with representatives of housing providers and social service agencies at the regional and state level, along with the Governor’s Regional Solutions Team based in Medford, to begin to craft a vision of what such strategies need to include to best address current needs, to craft a scope of work, and to begin looking at possible grants to fund the creation of a regional housing strategy for the six member cities. Staff from each city will be coming to their Councils for direction in moving forward with the development of an RPS-required regional housing strategies document in the near future.
Information Technology – Telecommunications Division
In the early morning hours of September 9th, Ashland Fiber Network, in cooperation with the City’s Streets and Electric Departments, removed the abandoned, overhead 144-count fiber spanning North Main Street at Wimer. The fiber had been previously rerouted underground as part of the North Main realignment project. The removal of the overhead fiber cable marks the completion of the project. After the removal of the fiber, five wooden utility poles were removed along Wimer and Hersey. Kudos to the cooperating departments for making this complex final effort happen so transparently and professionally.
Charter and Comcast have agreed to a service area swap for the Southern Oregon area. Pending regulatory approval, the swap is projected to be completed by the fall of 2015. According to J.D. Power’s most recent survey (2013) of residential wireline internet service providers, Comcast (Xfinity) is below average in overall customer satisfaction. When rated for strictly at customer service, Comcast was in the bottom third. AFN’s local, knowledgeable, and friendly customer service will serve AFN well when facing this next new competitor.
September 5, 2014