COTTAGE GROVE – What was sure to be a decisive evening on Monday turned into yet another stalemate: Cottage Grove City Council voted to suspend its rules in order to dodge a decision on the construction of a homeless shelter on Highway 99 near the industrial park. It will now head back to the drawing board, in the hopes of drafting an entirely new plan to support the homeless. 

The decision comes after months of deliberation, planning, a town hall, hundreds of Facebook posts, lengthy public comments, heated exchanges on the radio and in print, a drafted request for proposal (RFP), an agreement to build a homeless shelter off Hwy 99, an overturning of that agreement, a vote to suspend the “rules of the council” and now, a move to create a new proposal. 

After a brief discussion of the proposal to “begin construction at the Highway 99 site” Councilor Mike Fleck moved to suspend the “chamber rules” in order to allow the council to postpone the vote and promote further discussion. The motion was seconded and passed in a 4-1 vote. Councilors Candace Solesbee, Chalice Savage, Greg Ervin and Fleck, voted in agreement. Councilor Jon Stinnett voted against, saying, “We’re not getting anywhere by doing this. We have to give an alternative, or you need to openly disagree with what the council says we do.” 

Two weeks ago, The Chronicle reported that the vote Monday needed to be unanimous to continue moving forward. After further examination of Robert’s Rules, the city manager’s office determined that the vote on the proposal itself did not need to be unanimous – only items up for reconsideration meet that requirement. 

Twenty-four Cottage Grove residents spoke at the public comment portion of the meeting, notably, Arwen Maas-DeSpain, co-director and founder of Carry It Forward, a grassroots nonprofit addressing homelessness in Lane County. City Manager Richard Meyers has hinted repeatedly that Carry It Forward will apply to run the city’s homeless shelter and has referenced its leadership and programming in his discussion of the RFP proposal. 

Maas-DeSpain spoke to some key touch points in the RFP: the definition of “low barrier,” different strategies to prioritize unhoused Grovers, security and safety measures, as well as behavioral expectations. 

“I think there are some misunderstandings about what a low barrier is and what that means for this camp,” Maas-DeSpain said. “Particularly, that it means no rules or accountability. We do give people chances, people are having a rough time, that’s why they’re there. But we do have expectations and you aren’t allowed to stay if you can’t follow the rules.” 

Patrick Cartwright, owner of Northwest Customs, located in the Industrial Park off Hwy 99 near the proposed site, spoke to security concerns in the area. “I’m not opposed to a homeless shelter,” Cartwright said. “I’m opposed to where it’s going to be placed. If the city wants to support this, they should support increasing security in the industrial park. ​​We’re not prepared. The infrastructure is not here.” 

Destiny Durst, a member of Cottage Village Co-op, the first permanently affordable tiny home co-op in a rural community, said the housing-first model proposed at Hwy 99 would be “a great opportunity that I know the right people will take.” 

“I can’t express how thankful I am to be given a chance to have a place of my own,” Durst said. “I can’t imagine how many lives we could improve just by providing a safe and warm space. Everyone deserves a place to call home and can feel safe, whether it be low-income housing or shelter.” 

The original motion passed on April 25 to “begin construction at the Highway 99 site” is in limbo and available to be voted on at a later date, however, it’s unclear if or when that will happen. 

The council will convene for a work session Monday, June 6, to go over the legal language of ordinances Martin v. Boise and Oregon Legislature HB 3115 – in order to determine how the city will comply with statewide restrictions on public camping laws.