2020 was a rough year – the Coronavirus and a pandemic, the likes of which the world had not seen since 1918; the sudden passing of one of our own City Councilors and friend Bob Ehler; wildfires which created the worst natural disaster in the history of Lane County; the smoke from all the fires around the west that shrouded our community; civil unrest around the country; and a very divisive state and federal political environment. As 2020 started, I had great hopes for the year. We had just recovered from the 50-year snowstorm and we had some amazing events and activities planned for the year.
However, through the rough year, I was so proud of the way the citizens of Cottage Grove responded to all of the challenges of 2020. It really makes me proud to call Cottage Grove home. We all came together, even with differing views, values and opinions. Even while facing our own challenges we stepped up and generously helped our neighbors.
2020 got off to a great start with the City purchasing 300 trees to give away to community members to plant during the year to help replace some of the trees that were lost in the previous snowstorm. EPUD gave a donation of an additional 50 flowering Dogwood trees to be included in the giveaway. The tree giveaway was a great success: 215 of the trees were given away with the remaining trees planted on City properties.
We also were excited last year to present the 2020 South Lane County Resource Guide which was a rebirth of the Resource Guide previously prepared and published by Dian Missar and had not been published for several years after Dian’s passing. The new resource guide even included a digital version of the guide available online. Over 2,500 copies of the Resource Guide were distributed with more copies wanted. Little did we know that the guide would become very valuable for our citizens to get in touch with resources as the things began closing down in March as a result of the pandemic. The 2021 edition of the South Lane County Resource Guide is currently being printed and will be out for distribution soon. What was amazing is that throughout the pandemic, when everything was changing or closing, digital versions were regularly updated to keep citizens informed and help them find the valuable resources they needed. As we start to recover the digital guide will again be a valuable aid in the steps to recovery.
We all made major sacrifices during 2020. We are all affected. To protect friends and families, handwashing, masks and social distancing have become the norm. Businesses have been closed or operations restricted. Schools closed. Events and activities canceled. Everything that makes life in Cottage Grove wonderful seems to have been quarantined.
We have found ways to stay connected with friends and families through cameras and screens. We conduct meetings, hold conferences and spend time with each other virtually. It is still not the same and we all long for the days when we can shake hands, hug, meet together or just stand closer than six feet of each other. It will happen, some of the changes we have made will likely endure beyond the pandemic.
One of the changes that I hope does not become permanent is the closure and damages to our local small businesses. Those small businesses represent real community members, parents, friends and neighbors to all of us. Whether they are the owners who had a dream to run a small business and serve a need in the community or the employees who make those businesses work, I hope that we can all step up and help them recover and restore our community back to what it was and better than before the pandemic hit.
I am happy that the City of Cottage Grove acted early and designated $100,000 loans and eventually used a portion to match State funding for grants for our local businesses. We were able to leverage a portion of our $100,000 to secure additional funding for our local businesses. As a result, in partnership with Lane County using State and County funds, we were able to provide 11 grants to Cottage Grove businesses totaling $85,000 and 3 loans totaling $30,000. Loan funds remain and we as a council may need to look at other ways to possibly use the remaining funds. More assistance is needed.
Our local businesses not only provide jobs but they are a big part of making all our events and activities in the community a success. They support the concerts in the park, youth sports, school athletics, Bohemia Mining Days, our museums and so much more. They make living in Cottage Grove wonderful. So as we begin to recover, let’s do all we can to restore our whole community. Tonight I want to start off by requesting the City Council to consider waiving the liquor renewal fees for those businesses in Cottage Grove that had to close operations during 2020. It is a very small start but I will be working with the City Manager to explore other opportunities to assist and hope to bring more back to the City Council for consideration. The City Council has already removed the license requirements and fees for taxi services in 2020 and tonight will be considering the Ordinance to remove the license and fee requirement for used merchandise businesses.
I am sad to say this just barely scratches the surface of the impact that our community members have felt as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions. I have voiced and will continue to voice my concern to State and County leaders regarding this impact. Our City staff has partnered with the Chamber of Commerce and Lane County to search and advocate for expanded support to our local businesses.
But 2020 was not all bad. Even through all of this the community has stepped forward with positive results that are addressing community needs.
Prior to 2020 the City Council had recognized the drastic need for housing in the community. The Housing Needs Analysis showed a dire need for additional dwelling units across all types of housing. 2020 saw great strides in addressing the housing shortage in our community. In 2020 we saw 29 single-family homes completed; 1 duplex; 1 triplex; 1 fourplex; 9 tiny homes from Cottage Village Coalition; 4 tiny homes from Homes For Good in the Legion Cottages (which I am proud to say are housing 4 veterans, one of which was displaced by the Holiday Farm fire): 3 Accessory Dwelling Units; 6 Land trust homes by DevNW; and then 37 new units at Magnolia Gardens. If my math is correct that is 97 new dwelling units – in the Housing Needs Analysis our goal was 69 new units a year.
2021 is looking even better for housing. We have 4 more tiny homes at Cottage Village underway; 14 townhomes are currently in the approval process; a 42-unit apartment complex is also in the process; and discussions are underway for an 84 unit development that plans on being complete before the end of the year. What a great start, I look forward to even more opportunities to continue to address the needs of unsheltered individuals.
Last Fall the City learned that Beds for Freezing Nights would not be able to operate this cold weather season. It is also exciting that after a short turnaround the City and Community Sharing have partnered to open a Warming Shelter. With the assistance of Lane County the project is now ready to go. Training was held last week and I believe we are waiting for a cold night to activate. Later in the meeting we may get a report from Councilor Fleck about the project since he is quite familiar with the project as director of Community Sharing.
In addition to the warming shelters, the City and Community Sharing have also partnered on a shower trailer. The trailer is under construction and should be here late this month or early February. The City purchased the shower trailer and Community Sharing operates the program to provide showers for those in need in the community. The Shower Trailer will also fill emergency response needs.
Our City staff has done amazing work during 2020. The staff took extra steps to stay safe and maintain services to the community. While many other government organizations closed and services became cumbersome to access, our employees innovated and found safe ways to interact and continue to provide valuable services. For example, when the community had no businesses providing notary services, the City staff continued and found ways to provide the service by appointment. In previous years, City Staff normally performed 180 notary services, in 2020 they performed over 385 services. Staff kept Court functioning. The library reopened with limited staff and is providing curbside service as well as delivery (Books of Wheels) to those that are homebound. Building inspections were done virtually with videos or photos. City staff are using the closures to perform major remodels at the Community Center and Armory to be ready when Senior Centers, Senior and Disability Services and the Genealogical library can reopen. In order to continue to safely provide services we have installed air purification equipment in all City buildings with HVAC systems. The equipment will address air quality under the current pandemic as well as provide another layer of treatment to remove smoke or other pollutants. This opens the Community Center and City Hall as possible locations for respite in the case of wildfire smoke.
Although the pandemic and wildfire smoke did slow a number of major projects they are quickly nearing completion. The Safe Routes to School project and related water, wastewater and stormwater work is nearly complete. Final paving should be occurring in the next couple of weeks, depending on weather. This was a huge project and had so many interconnected parts with other utility providers and the school district. It will be a major safety improvement for the youth of our community for years to come. As a result of the City’s efforts of acquiring grant funding local property owners will not be faced with costs except for special requested additional work. Even with a number of unexpected issues that were uncovered during the project it still continues to be under budget.
Many of you have probably noticed the large pond that has been constructed just north of the Cottage Grove Connector. The pond will store treated water from the wastewater plant so it can be used for irrigation. The Water Plant has also been expanded to provide an additional 2 million gallons of water treatment capacity. All these improvements were designed and implemented to responsibly and sustainably provide for the future needs of the community.
I want to close by thanking the Citizens, the staff and my fellow City Councilors for the time and efforts they dedicate to making this community a better place. Around the world and country the norm seems to be to just sit at home and fire off complaints on social media, to attack those who are trying to do something or in the extreme cases cause damage to private property. I am glad that that is still not acceptable behavior in Cottage Grove. When a need is seen, people here step up, they get together with others and they actually do work, they contribute resources and spend their time fixing, helping or supporting others. Thank you.
Like all of you, I look forward to the day I can remove this mask, go to the gym or a local restaurant or sit in the park and listen to a concert. Those days are coming. This will all be over eventually and by working together we will be better because of it.