COTTAGE GROVE – In a 4-3 decision Monday night, the Cottage Grove City Council moved to begin construction of a low barrier shelter at the Highway 99 site. The decision comes after four months of heated discussion, a town hall, numerous city council meetings, lengthy public testimony and hundreds of facebook comments. 

The motion was put forth by councilor Mike Fleck, who proposed to “authorize the development of the City’s property at 2205 Hwy 99 as a low barrier shelter location to assist in addressing homelessness in the community,” “reimburse the Street System Development Charges Fund 

(SDC) fund for the property,” and “solicit proposals for the management and operation of the low barrier shelter” while maintaining operation of the Community Center and City Hall campsites until construction is completed. 

Councilor Jon Stinnett “friendly amended” the motion, saying, “I prefer the 99 site to doing nothing.” 

The motion to “begin construction on the Highway 99 site” was seconded by Stinnett. Councilors Fleck, Stinnett, Chalice Savage and mayor Jeff Gowing, approved the vote, and councilors Greg Ervin, Kenneth Roberts and Candace Solesbee voted against. 

The amended motion was passed in a 4-3 vote. 

City manager Richard Meyers estimated that the low barrier shelter will provide 33 pallet shelters able to house 40 people. The preparation of the low barrier site on Highway 99 will cost $60,000, reimbursing the street SDC will cost $211,000 and 24/7 manning of the site will cost 200,000 per year. 

At the next city council meeting, slated for Monday May 9, Meyers will bring forth a draft of the request for proposal (RFP) that local nonprofits and organizations can bid on. This will include a detailed outline of how the site is run, the rules and regulations placed on individuals inhabiting the site, and the workflow of professionals who will be manning the property. 

At the end of the meeting, Solesbee announced her candidacy for mayor. 

“I am officially throwing my hat in to run for mayor,” she said. 

Claims of ‘starting construction early’ 

Last week, on the Facebook group “What’s really happening in Cottage Grove” photos were posted on construction equipment working at the proposed Highway 99 site prior to the codification of the cities proposal. Meyers addressed this directly at Monday’s meeting.

“There is work being done but it’s not for this,” Meyers said. “All of the work we’re doing right now is in preparation to sell the property and if anything, preparing some of those things will help prepare for the sheltering. We haven’t done anything associated with doing it for the shelter.”

Fleck’s ‘conflict of interest’

The general discussion on homelessness began with Solesbee addressing Fleck personally, saying, “Mike told me that he agreed with a lot of things that councilor Ervin and I were saying, but he couldn’t say it publicly because it was his job. Is that a conflict of interest?” 

Fleck denied this claim, addressing both the council and a few members of the crowd that called for him to recuse himself from voting on the homeless shelter.

“I work for Community Sharing Programs, an agency who could theoretically apply for an RFP to do this shelter,” Fleck said. “We have no intention of doing so, but I’m going to declare a ‘potential’ (conflict) as a result of that. I will be voting on this tonight. I have given more hours and more time to this community than many people in our town. How dare you judge me.”

Fleck went on to speak about his experience working with the unhoused population, saying, “I have to tell you that every unhoused person is like you and I. I think any time we loop a group into a class, we disparage that group.” 

Fire measures re-vamped

The Public Works and Development department proposed an amendment to the annual enforcement period of hazardous vegetation, pushing the start date up from June 15 to May 15. 

“We proposed this amendment following the last two years of enforcement that have been hampered by mowing and cutting prohibitions due to fire danger levels,” said Eric Mongan, Cottage Grove city planner. 

“This is just a way for us to start earlier as far as enforcement,” said Danny Solesbee, fire marshal at South Lane County Fire and Rescue. “This is about the big backyards or the empty lots or subdivisions where there’s a lot of grass that can spread the fire danger.” 

After a brief discussion, the council unanimously moved to approve the proposed amendment to the enforcement period of hazardous vegetation.

“We must remember what’s been in the news, the last two, three years. A lot of communities have been burned and gone. So I personally think anything we can do, to prevent that, we should,” said Roberts. 

County adopts plan 

At the county level, a new three-year strategic plan was approved in a 4-1 vote to help guide Lane County programs and services for 2022–24, some of which include affordable housing. 

“This road map will help guide us over the next three years and is critical to ensuring that we are using our limited resources – both financial and human – as effectively as possible,” said Lane County administrator Steve Mokrohisky. “Our new strategic plan will help us increase our overall financial stability while investing in the things that are most important to our residents.”

Four of the most critical service areas as identified by residents, community partners and employees are: affordable housing, public safety, community health and wellbeing and economic recovery. 

Examples of strategies within the plan to address those four areas include: implementing the Affordable Housing Action Plan; supporting rural communities to pilot community land trusts and limited-equity housing cooperatives; focusing on health promotion by expanding services, engagement, and access; and focus on economic strategies that improve business retention and expansion. The plan also identifies affordable and accessible broadband as a critical priority to help support the economic and educational vibrancy of Lane County communities. 

“This plan was created with our community for our community,” Mokrohisky said.