East Lane, District 5 encompasses the cities and communities of Creswell, Cottage Grove, Dexter, Dorena, Pleasant Hill, McKenzie Bridge, Blue River, Camp Creek, Churchill, Coburg, Goshen, Leaburg, Lowell, Marcola, Oakridge, Vida, Walterville and Westfir.

Chronicle: How would you address homelessness in terms of: Affordable inventory, mental health support, and job support in towns like Creswell, Cottage Grove and Pleasant Hill?  

Kyle Blain: I would create a public, private partnership to build facilities and bring in infrastructure, drug, and mental health services. Housing needs to be built around treatment for long-term success. 

Heather Buch: I advocate for a more regional approach to addressing housing and homelessness rather than our traditional siloed method. A strong start toward that effort would include the implementation of the county’s Affordable Housing Action Plan, one of my top priorities. It is a comprehensive approach that includes leveraging land for housing, public-private partnerships, local construction and trade development, rural innovation, and building capacity to sustain affordable housing programs. Mental health is addressed in the following question.  

Chronicle: Public health officials estimate that roughly 2,000 people attempt suicide in Lane County each year. Cottage Grove was identified as having more than twice the rate of suicide compared to the county overall. LCPH recently declared a public health emergency due to an increase in youth suicides since November 2021. How will you address mental illness in our rural communities?  

Blain: We need to focus on treatment, bringing in the people who can help with this crisis, right now we are not paying near enough attention to this issue. If we do not have crisis centers, drug treatment centers and mental health centers we are failing, that needs to change.  

Buch: Every day, all over our county, we have friends, neighbors or even family members that may be facing a mental health crisis. Time and again we see folks turning to our emergency rooms, law enforcement, substance abuse and, tragically, suicide to manage their suffering. However, there are better solutions that would not only relieve our emergency services, but also care for those experiencing crisis in a more dignified and holistic way. I’m proud to champion two very important solutions currently underway, citing a Crisis Stabilization Center and Cahoots ‘lite’ style of crisis assistance in south Lane.  

Chronicle: Our rural communities have different methods of policing – Cottage Grove has its own police force, Creswell contracts with the LCSO, and Pleasant Hill relies on LCSO response. What are the pain points with policing and how can they best be addressed to improve public safety?  

Blain: Funding, the County has cut funding for the Sheriff’s office for years. We are 42 deputies short of our 80’s-90’s levels. I would get back on the Association of O & C lands to bring back timber receipts. I would cut pet projects and excessive spending. We need to focus on public safety

Buch: Lack of resources to fund public safety has been and continues to be the predominant challenge for both the county and rural communities. As your Commissioner, I’ve recently been able to pass funding for 12 new sheriff deputies and detective positions to expand patrols in rural areas and fill gaps in coverage – without raising taxes. I want to build upon this progress.  

Chronicle: What type of support is needed to spur downtown business in Creswell and Cottage Grove?  

Blain: Reduce the overreaching regulations on businesses and building. Lane County has made it far too difficult and expensive to own a business here. I would be a partner with the small towns, find grants to help with main street projects, reduce the barriers to building or redeveloping properties. 

Buch: Rural businesses owners tell me the main street in their central business area needs to be reinvigorated as a destination location. Businesses also need dependable employees, help with marketing and sales, affordable high-speed broadband, child care assistance, and access to capital such as revenue-sharing loans that anyone can invest in. As Commissioner, we expanded our economic development department and increased investment in community-based organizations and entrepreneur catalyst agencies such as RAIN to address these needs.  

Chronicle: What are the takeaways from the county’s response to Holiday Farm Fire, and how can it better prepare wildfire responses for our rural and small towns?  

Blain: The county took far too long to act. The board voted to have staff review the emergency funding coming from the state and federal government which took an extra 4 months to get to the victims. The county voted to add additional regulation to the rebuilding process, floodplain regulation, geotechnical surveys which take more time and are more expensive to the victims. We still have over 100 people in hotels. The county should have immediately waived on planning and permit fees, they should have never taken the opportunity to add additional regulations and they should have staffed up the planning/building departments. We need to create a “how can I help you” attitude in the county and especially in the planning department. 

Buch: Communication and preparation are key to surviving disasters. To build resiliency ahead of future wildfires or other natural disasters, I am working to strengthen the network of cell towers that we rely on for 911 calls in case of emergency. I am also supporting communication upgrades to provide better equipment, speed, connectivity, and reach in the rural parts of our region.

– Compiled by Erin Tierney