State of the City Speech
January 11, 2016
Tonight’s State of the City speech is probably the most important one that I have given in the seven years that I have been Mayor. The actual substance of it [is important] because I believe that the world is really changing and Ashland is going to be changing with it, and this is the year that we actually confront that. I am going to give you three examples of what’s in the works that is going to affect you and give you the possibility as citizens to participate in the transformation of our community – not losing its character but bringing it some important steps forward.
On a national level 2015 was what I consider a “tipping point” year. Here’s what I mean; there are a number of issues that came up where people were fed up – they were not going to put up with the status quo any longer one way or another. I’m going to mention four of them to you. The first is the Black Lives Matter that came from the trouble in Ferguson and has led to a movement to really change the whole way black people participate in our community as well as the way a lot of police departments function.
The second thing is ending gun violence. Some of you may have seen in today’s paper a picture of a very interesting quilt project that is tied in with that. We’re tired of having people get killed with guns and we’re tired of having our children be killed. That’s really appalling. In that quilt, incidentally, Jane and I have a panel which happens to be right in the middle of the picture.
The third one is climate change. It’s time, it’s clearly time in this community, it’s time nationally to deal with carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses. I’ll more later about that.
The fourth thing is gay marriage. Gay marriage was one of those joyful surprises. That the attitudes of a whole country, a majority of people in a lot of parts of the country went from negative to accepting and appreciative and humane. I think that’s very promising for our future.
So, now what I want to do is talk to you about three examples of projects for us that I consider “tipping point” projects. The first one has to do with community preparedness but it starts with preparedness of our city government. The July 20, 2015 issue of the New Yorker magazine contained an article entitled, “The Really Big One: An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.” Did any of you read that? In the moment that that article came out the theoretical possibility of a Fukushima-style magnitude nine earthquake in the Northwest, that had been discussed for decades by academics and emergency preparedness people, stepped on stage as an important danger for Ashland. Are we prepared to face this regional disaster for which we can expect little help from the outside? I’m quoting from the New Yorker, “OSSPAC [Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission] estimates that in the I-5 corridor it will take between one and three months after the earthquake to restore electricity, a month to a year to restore drinking water and sewer service, six months to a year to restore major highways, and eighteen months to restore health-care facilities. On the coast these numbers go up.” I-5 corridor - that’s us. This is considered one of contemporary sciences’ best achievements in the last decade or so – sleuthing this out and figuring out how, in this area where we’ve had very little earthquake activity, we’re really susceptible and past-due for a major, major quake.
We know there’s a problem. We know we need to be able to survive on our own for a prolonged period of time. We know we need to get ready for it. But July is already fading into the rearview mirror for many of us. That article catches your attention for a while, and then it just gets lost in all the fire-hose of other things that are going on. But this is one to remember.
The question for us is, if and when the big one happens, how is Ashland going to recover? This is interesting. The first step is to reestablish basic services and the City has an emergency operations plan. Here’s the part [in the plan] that caught my eye, “While all City agencies and employees are expected to contribute to the emergency response and recovery efforts of the community, employees’ first responsibility is to their own and their families’ safety. Each employee is expected to develop family emergency plans to facilitate family safety and self-sufficiency, which in turn will enable employees to assume their responsibilities to the County and its citizens as rapidly as possible.” The whole thing hinges on our City employees having family emergency prep plans implemented and in-place for their families. Think about it – if you had a job and you were worried about your family’s personal safety, at a minimum this would make you really conflicted and if you put the job first you would be wondering and really torn about what you had done. We have to have our employees with those plans in place.
How is this going to happen? I want to set a process in motion by which our Fire Chief works with existing committees – we have some in this area – to create an implement detailed, two-week shelter in place plans for all employees’ families and what it will take in terms of resources and support to make it a reality. Getting these plans in place is why I consider the situation seriously and the plans can serve as templates for the community. I don’t know how many of you have two-week survival plans in place, and I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, but I’ve been working on this for five or six years and my plan is really scattered and not reliable. If our employees work out something that has to work for them in an emergency we’re going to have a real leg up. What I want to task them to do is figure out the simplest, least expensive way to do it. This will make it easier for everyone and for people who can’t afford the cost of two weeks worth of K-rations or something like that it’s going to be a life saver.
There are a couple of more things. We need to consider how to transport employees between Ashland and their homes, because 70% of our employees live outside the city limits. We should explore how to use our airport and private planes and also even the railroad track to move employees and logistics back and forth. Have any of you ever seen the kit you can get for an SUV where you can put railroad wheels on it and it gets up on the track? We have a live track here, probably some of those bridges will go down and nobody will be using it except for us. This is the kind of thinking, this is why I am saying life is going to be different and we have to be prepared for this. One other thing is that we have some locally generated electricity; at the dam, the Greensprings power plant, the City of Ashland solar arrays, we have some big commercial solar arrays, we have a lot of citizens with them. We need to have these things adapted so we can use them both for emergency communications power and to charge up and re-charge private electric cars. There are getting to be a number of private electric cars. If we can use our own solar we’re going to be able to move things around. All this is the kind of thinking we have to do to make this real.
If you want to get started on your own preparedness you can participate in an Ashland is Ready program or a Map Your Neighborhood meeting. You can create a kit for yourself by going on-line to the City’s website, which has information about how to do it. But this has to happen. Just imagine what a fix we would be in if our employees can’t come back and take care of things and if we’re not ready. But if we do it together, we can come through the whole experience vastly better. There is a lot at stake.
The second thing [I want to discuss] has to do with the Climate and Energy Action Plan Committee, which is an ad hoc committee that I have appointed with Council confirmation that is in the midst of doing exactly what the national tipping point movement that I described at the start wants to do. That is, do a greenhouse gas emissions study for the entire community – all the sources of greenhouse gases – so that we know who is doing it and how much. That enables you to set targets and develop plans for how we’re going to back off and reverse this whole trend that is destroying our atmosphere and messing up our climate. Then, what we’re also doing is this committee is going to run a process that involves the community according to what particular sector has a distinctive way of creating emissions. So, if you’re all doing interior heating and air conditioning then that draws a group of people together. Another group may have to do with transportation. Another may have to do with water conservation. All those things will be involving the community in figuring out the strategies by which we will do two things; one is reduce emissions and the other is adapt to the effects of climate change. Process is the key here because if it’s just a top-down plan, people will look at it and will have no motivation to do anything about it. If you really care about climate change, this is your chance. This is also going to require resources and it’s going to be a long process. Getting the plan, which will be brought to the Council for approval, is only the beginning of the process. Implementing the plan is what makes the difference. If you have gotten to a personal tipping point on this [issue], this [process] is going to give you the opportunity.
The third issue is disruptive behavior on the streets and helping our local people in need. I say those things together because those things are paired and I want to talk about it a little bit. The two issues are linked. Disruptive behavior draws resources away from helping our local people in need and also undermines its public support. It stresses our volunteers. It causes divisions in the community. Helping out local people in need reduces the number of people living in the street and the corrosive live on the street and isolates those who for whatever reasons are harming our quality of life. These two things go hand in hand and if someone tries to tell you that what we’re working on is actually an attack on homeless people and our local homeless people, that is not true.
There were lots of people on the street this past summer, besides the usual tourists. Some of these, it’s hard to categorize whom, engaged in disruptive behavior that has been described in detail elsewhere. I’ll briefly list some secondary, but related, problems that have occurred. We had dogs in packs. Dogs we had reason to suspect may not be vaccinated for rabies. We had disrespectful behavior towards police department staff – tearing up citations that people had been issued. The county jail, in those instances in which someone is convicted by our local municipal court judge and sent to jail they go to jail and are simply triaged and back out. Visitors and locals giving generously to panhandlers I believe is diverting a stream of money that really we would like to put into helping our local homeless people. Camping and car camping, both in town and outside, in the watershed and along our water courses occurred and along with it littering and unsanitary conditions. We got complaints in general from the area around Exit 14. There have been reports of problems with guests at our Pioneer Hall shelter, both before and after shelter hours.
Ashland may be becoming known as an attractive destination for transients who increasingly utilize social media and smartphones. Transients aren’t in themselves a problem. Some of the people who come here and visit us, whether they are on the streets or they are panhandlers fit into the community and are friendly. That’s not the problem. The problem is, how many people can we absorb in a six-block downtown? Additionally, not all panhandlers are necessarily homeless as I learned when I observed some people who had been panhandling for weeks directly below my office at city hall climb into a van and then learned from somebody who works in our office that that van belongs to people who rent a house in her neighborhood. The point is not who’s good or who’s bad. The point is disruptive behavior is a problem and we need to tackle it in two ways.
The interesting thing about that is when you’re dealing with the behavior problem, you have to deal with individuals and behavior – with the disruptive behavior. When you’re trying to help people in need there is a whole range of things that fall into classes – mental health, substance abuse, assistance in housing, the possibility of getting work – a whole range of possibilities. We have this combined duality that is a path we have to go down into a very complex issue. Cities all over the country and in some other places in the world, particularly a lot along coasts and particularly along places like the I-5 corridor, are having to deal with this. I think that we have the capability to do that and I want to tell you how it’s going to start out.
Next Tuesday’s City Council meeting is going to be a Council meeting to pay attention to because we have asked the police chief and city administrator to bring us some options for how we could better deal with the immediate problems of disruptive behavior this coming season – because the season will be upon us and we don’t want to get caught way behind the eight-ball the way we were last summer. Here are some of the things you’re going to hear. They will tell us about the possibility of providing police or other uniformed presence downtown, probably either two new officers or two cadets. They are going to talk about renting two jail beds from Jackson County, which means that if someone is sentenced to jail for a bonafide conviction of breaking the law for which that is an appropriate punishment, and they go to jail they may actually stay there because we would have beds reserved for us. Medford does this. We’ve heard that Grants Pass did it and had a big decrease in the kinds of violations that are created by people who don’t think that there is any consequence. The third thing is education or signage downtown and this may be a way in which we try to create an environment to encourage people to consider giving their contributions to organizations that are going to channel it into our community. There is an ambassador program downtown, which I am not an expert in, but you will hear about it on Tuesday night and I won’t try to take an improvised shot at it. It turns out that we have had an aggressive panhandling ordinance until about 2010 and we are looking at it and reviewing it and making sure that it is legally sound and we may bring that back. That means that you may be able, if you’ve told a panhandler that you don’t want to give them money, they can’t chase you down the street and berate you and intimidate you.
This is serious stuff, I know what I’m saying doesn’t feel like how Ashland is but unless we get control of this whole situation, which also includes getting as many people as we can who do not want to be on the streets off the streets and out of that condition then life in Ashland, our quality of life in Ashland, is really threatened. Also on Tuesday night we want to talk a little about Jackson County Mental Health [Department] that is in the process of seeking a location here in Ashland.
When we do any of the steps we’re talking about Tuesday night, two principles are important; one is we do equal enforcement regardless of who you are – if were enforcing a law, we enforce it on everyone in town – and the second thing is we do not stereotype – we look at behaviors.
What I have just described is going to require resources, both financial and staff time and it’s going to require support from the community. This is situation in which your support is going to play a major role in how we do things and how we commit to doing them. What’s at stake for us is, if we can deal with any of these three tipping point issues, it’s going to make us stronger as a community. It’s going to bring us closer together. At the core of all this, I believe, at the personal relationship between people is what gives us the bonds that give us the strength to act as a community. Those relationships have to be truthful and have integrity to them. This is something that is threatened, interestingly enough, especially by internet sites and devices that allow us to treat each other in ways we wouldn’t face-to-face. On that note, I want to thank you for coming tonight and listening to these important topics.