2015Nov13

November 13, 2015

Administration
City staff, in collaboration with the SOU Applied Business Research class, developed and recently sent out a survey to all retail businesses in Ashland to solicit feedback/input on the impact of the plastic bag ban and paper bag fee that has now been in place for just over a year (implemented Nov 6, 2014). In addition to the retail survey, staff, with assistance from the Conservation Commission, will meet with local grocers to collect their survey responses and obtain data regarding changes in the volumes of paper bag usage before and after the implementation of the ordinance. The final component of the input effort will be a consumer-centric survey that will be posted on Open City Hall. Results of the three public input efforts regarding the bag ban will be compiled and be provided to Council for the one-year review of the ordinance in January, as required by the ordinance.
 
Work will begin next week, probably on Wednesday, on the Siskiyou Rest Area – Welcome Center at milepost 12 on Interstate 5. ODOT’s contractor, Wildish Paving, will focus on sign installation and erosion control but will also start grading for roads and ramps and constructing retaining walls. Most of the work will take place off the northbound shoulder of I-5, however some work will take place near Crowson Road, meaning construction noise will be audible in the Oak Knoll neighborhood, particularly during the next two weeks.
 
Councilor Seffinger and I were part of an eight-member delegation from Ashland that attended the Oregon Healthiest State Conference in Portland earlier this week. The conference presented an excellent networking opportunity to meet with people who have been engaged in activities to promote health and wellness throughout the state of Oregon and who are working on Blue Zones projects in Oregon and elsewhere. (Klamath Falls has been designated as the state’s first Blue Zone project.) Oregon currently ranks 27th among the 50 states on measures of social, physical and financial well-being. Some 17% of Oregonians still smoke and one in four Oregonians is obese. The Healthiest State Initiative is designed to develop community-based approaches to health and wellness. The Blue Zones project is designed to get communities to make healthier choices and to make those choices more accessible to larger numbers of people. Shortly after the first of the year, the Chamber of Commerce’s Health and Wellness Subcommittee plans to do a community survey to determine Ashland’s readiness to adopt either the Healthiest state Initiative or to become a Blue Zone project.  (In the photo above, OHSU President Dr. Joe Robertson delivers the keynote address to the conference.)
 
A subcommittee of the League of Oregon Cities Finance and Taxation Policy Committee (of which I am a member), met this morning via conference call to discuss collection of transient occupancy tax from online travel companies (OTCs) such as Expedia. These OTCs have been vociferous in their complaints that different cities require different types of information in their reporting forms and have different deadlines for payment. From the cities’ perspective, we want to be sure that information and remittances provided to us by these companies is accurate and that it can be audited if and when necessary. (Given the size of these companies and the fact that they employ hundreds, if not thousands, of IT people, it shouldn’t be that hard to acquiesce to our information requests.) The subcommittee reached some general agreement on what information should be required from the OTCs, and the League will formulate potential legislative solutions to present to the short session of the Legislature in February. 
 
The city was notified this week that we have once again earned the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from the Government Finance Officers Association for the 2015-17 biennial budget. In the words of GFOA, the award recognizes the City’s commitment to meeting the highest principles of governmental budgeting. This is the 26th consecutive award for the City of Ashland.
 
I have a number of interesting articles to share with you this week. The first is particularly relevant to the recent discussions of downtown behavior issues. The Oregonian interviewed advocates for the poor about whether they give money to panhandlers and what they’d advise people to do when approached by panhandlers. Next is another article from the Oregonian that describes what happened in Vancouver, Washington, when that city lifted its ban on public camping.
 
Here’s an article from Governing Magazine: “In Oregon, Women Take the Lead.” And finally, there’s this article from the CityLab e-newsletter about the Willamette River in Portland. Having lived in Portland for nearly two decades, I can attest that the clean-up described in this article is a truly amazing accomplishment.

 
Police Department
APD was able to get our newest officer, Evan Westhelle-Grant, into the police academy that started on Monday. This is a great development as Evan was originally scheduled for the January academy, which would have pushed his solo-patrol start date out into late in the season next year. Now his training will be completed two months earlier, which will be a great help in helping get the City past some of the low staffing numbers.
 
Chief O’Meara was granted his Department of Public Safety Standards Training executive certification this week. This is the highest level of police certification in the state.

 
Fire Department
The Fire Department has a large neighborhood in the process of completing the steps to becoming fully prepared to use the Map Your Neighborhood program. Two of the three groups met this week and there are three more groups meeting within the next week to complete the mapping of an entire neighborhood consisting of nearly 70 homes, with more being built.

Darex requested CERT to provide an all-employee informational training session concerning actions to take for response to an earthquake. Nearly 150 employees attended the information session and received valuable knowledge in responding to an event in the workplace and beyond.
 
Fire Adapted Communities Coordinator Alison Lerch was a key presenter at the OSU Extension’s Fire & Fuels Day on October 31st. Alison led the defensible space portion of the tour, educating and engaging 29 citizens from Jackson County. Fifty Ashland citizens were reached this week through informational pamphlets, distribution of Ready, Set, Go! magnets, Firewise construction/landscaping and privacy screening booklets.

 
Electric Department
The Department recently received bids for the final phase of the Oak Street feeder project. This final phase requires trenching up the Chautauqua Walkway in order to install new electrical conduits, vaults and cabinets. The work will involve the preservation of the historical look of the area. The project (which started last year) adds feeder diversity to the OSF and downtown plaza areas, which increases reliability and reduces restoration times. The final phase of work from the curb to the top of Chautauqua way will begin in November, with project completion expected in February, 2016.
 
Staff recently completed the replacement of 1,600 feet of aged and deteriorating underground exposed ground primary cable with new jacketed ground cable. The cable was discovered as part of troubleshooting the September 29, 2015, outage that affected the Albertsons shopping center. The  replaced cable was located in the Audry Creek area along north Tolman Creek Road. Along with the new cable, two electric cabinets, one on each side of Tolman Creek Road, were replaced to provide better access (improve restoration times and safety) and to provide for system upgrades in the area. In addition, staff identified and plans to replace a section of similar underground cable in the YMCA Park area, again along Tolman Creek Road.  The YMCA Park area cable was installed around the same time as the Audry Creek cable and is showing signs of similar deterioration. Replacing these aging cables will increase system reliability by preventing cable related outages.
 
Thanks to assistance from the Public Works Facilities Maintenance/Cemetery Division, the Electric Department’s tree crew eliminated a badly overgrown section of right-of-way on the A2002 railroad feeder. The right of way, just south of the Nevada street substation, was overgrown with blackberries and other underbrush, making it difficult to access the line and routinely trim trees away from the power lines. Clearing the underbrush not only helped with access to the line and trees, but also  reduced fire risk under the power lines and around the power poles. The A2002 feeder serves the Railroad District and part of the downtown area.  (pictured: an excavator mounted mower).

 
Kudos from a citizen. The department recently received complementary feedback from one of our citizens.
 
NOTE: The Electric Department (along with other departments) uses an outside call/dispatch service for after-hours/weekend/holiday phone support/dispatch. The actual off-hour service work is provided by on-call City personnel.
 
On Nov 7, 2015, at 1:12 PM, Robert Bestor wrote:
 
Today we transfer 151 Church St to the new owners. They flew up this morning from SFO and we were to meet them at 4pm to show them how the house works and settle final accounts.  They will stay the weekend, do some measuring for furniture, and other planning. Prior to their arrival this morning Liz and I went to the house to replace a couple of ceiling lights and do last minute cleaning. When we arrived, however, there was no power, heat or water. We had told the new owners they needed to call the city to start service on the 7th because our billing ended on the 6th. So the city, probably not hearing from Kathleen and Michael, dutifully shut things down yesterday.
 
Without utilities this was not going to be a successful weekend for the new owners. I called the city and was quickly connected to a live person after selecting the emergency weekend assistance option. The woman who answered was great. No attitude, no “I’m sorry there’s nothing we can do until Monday;” she immediately went to work in our behalf. Two minutes on hold and she was back on the line to let me know someone was on the way. Within 10 minutes a very pleasant man named Dave showed up, asked how we liked our new house on Scenic (recognized our name as the new owners}, turned on the power and water, and reminded us to have Kathleen and Michael sign up for service on Monday. Saved the day.
 
Really great service by your team, John. It was something that one might imagine happening in a 1944 Andy Hardy movie; a sweet little town at its finest, full of friendly phone operators, milkmen and meter readers, all with a “hey, no problem” attitude.
 
If you can, please pass on our thanks to Dave and the weekend phone dispatcher (don’t recall her name) who put the deal together. Saved us from what would have been a most embarrassing situation (yeah, you flew up here for the weekend to get started on your new house but we [the Bestors] managed to have your water, heat and lights shut down).
 
Bob





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November 6, 2015

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