SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield City Club rescheduled its mayoral debate to April 16 over Zoom and Facebook Live, to give the club an opportunity to submit questions of the candidates ahead of the May 19 election.
Incumbent Christine Lundberg and community leader Mike Eyster took turns giving opening statements and then rebuttals, before opening up to questions that were moderated by Keli Osborn of the League of Women Voters.
The video is still viewable on the City Club Facebook page.
Lundberg opened the debate talking about her extensive history in city government, around 30 years, and explained the importance of experienced leadership in the age of COVID-19, particularly in the time of recovery.
She said constituents have told her of their satisfaction with the direction the city is going. She even quoted Eyster during a city council meeting saying that he had complimented the Council for the work it was doing.
Eyster’s opening statements included an acknowledgement of front-line workers, and underscored healthcare and rebuilding as his top priorities. He asked the participants to envision a more vibrant and inviting Springfield that would encompass more than just downtown.
He said the city has been underperforming and it has untapped potential. He added that the city needs new business leadership and more follow-through on projects.
Lundberg responded by saying the community has reinforced that they are on the right track and needs like housing strategy, transportation and economic development are underway.
She also said it’s “a lack of understanding on how things get done that is leading my opponent to say that we’re not getting things done.” She said it’s a complicated process that takes years to work.
Eyster rebutted, and cited concerns with the Glenwood parking structure, a lack of public engagement in projects, such as the indoor track. He said that the mayor’s quote of him earlier was incomplete; he had gone on to criticize the city’s failure to have a plan for Patrician Park after the owner wanted to redevelop it.
Osborn posed the question: Springfield is the slowest-growing city in Oregon, why are people not moving to Springfield?
Lundberg said projections out 10 years ago were overly optimistic and the growth isn’t as slow as it appears. Eyster had pulled up numbers from Oregon Blue Book that stated between 2010-18, Springfield grew 2.5% in that time compared with surrounding areas, and added that Springfield “needs to have moderate growth or else the city will fail.”
Another question focused on development in Glenwood.
Lundberg said that Glenwood has its own refinement plan, and the city is working with Eugene on updating Franklin Boulevard. She added that the proposed indoor track and event house would put Glenwood on the map and expedite the growth process. She said challenges include the fact the county owns a lot of Glenwood and there are a variety of agencies the city has to work through.
Eyster’s response focused on the indoor track and event house. He said that he was at a Springfield Economic Development Agency (SEDA) meeting where the former chairperson made the case for more public engagement on the track, which the mayor was against.
The topic of affordable housing came up in multiple questions regarding Patrician Park, the decline in school enrollment due to a lack of affordable housing and actions that could be put into place to help young families afford to live in the city.
Eyster said that the city lacks housing on every level, especially affordable.
He said there are multiple mobile homes that could face the same fate as Patrician Park and the council needs to work with people to make sure residents aren’t forced out onto the street.
Eyster said the economy was fragile before COVID-19, but praised the entrepreneurs who have added living units on the second floor above businesses downtown, and said as mayor he would continue to incentivize and expand housing.
Lundberg said that as much as she appreciates those apartments, they aren’t considered affordable housing.
She also said the city has been working hard to address affordable housing in a variety of ways, from mobile home parks and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).
She added that the Marcolla Meadows housing will also be in the affordable range. As for Patrician Park, Lundberg said she is working with local agencies to build a new low-income park that won’t be redeveloped so homeowners won’t be displaced.
In closing, Lundberg said what Springfield needs now is proven and experienced leadership, which puts her at a distinct advantage to be mayor.
Eyster’s final comments were that Springfield has “phenomenal potential” but that has been true for years and the city has fallen behind and is growing too slowly. He said the city needs a mayor with energy, vision and leadership who will expand on that potential.