The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Willamette Valley from the digital home of Southern Oregon, from Wynne Broadcasting’s WillametteValleyMagazine.com
Monday, March 20, 2023
Willamette Valley Weather
Multiple Organizations Host ’Every 15 Minutes Program’ At Thurston High School
Every 15 Minutes is a two-day underage drinking and driving prevention program that challenges teens to think before drinking and operating any type of motor vehicle, riding in one after the operator has been drinking, or engaging in activities that cause them to become distracted such as cell phone usage.
Tesla Supercharger Station In Sutherlin Opens
On Saturday, Oregon’s largest Tesla supercharging center opened in Sutherlin, around 13 miles north of Roseburg.
The location at 116 Clover Leaf Loop includes 51 superchargers, also making it the largest center in North America outside of California (which boasts a 100-stall supercharging center in the Mojave Desert).
The chargers are now available for around-the-clock service. The Sutherlin Chamber of Commerce celebrated the grant opening on its Facebook page.
The supercharger station, which was selected as the site due to the city being located at the approximate halfway point between Seattle and the Bay Area in California, is the largest in Oregon.
“I think it’s a wonderful addition to our city,” said Sutherlin mayor Michelle Sumner. “We’ve been working really hard to enhance our downtown area…so that people from outside the area know we’re here. This is a place that people can stop and see what we have to offer here.”
Trash Bin Fire Slows Traffic on I-105
Eugene, OR. Eugene Springfield Fire crews responded to a large dumpster fire on the shoulder of Eastbound I-105 near the Willamette River in Eugene Friday afternoon.
The dumpster was carrying cardboard and other recyclables from Junction City. Crews had to call in extra resources for water to fully extinguish the fire. Evening commuter traffic was impacted during the operation. The cause is under investigation and no injuries were reported.
Lane County Human Services Opens 2023 Community Needs Survey
Lane County wants to hear from you! Lane County Human Services (LCHS) has opened the 2023 Community Needs Survey! The survey will be open from now until April 30th. This annual, community-wide survey seeks to inform LCHS about the needs and concerns that you may have for communities across Lane County.
The survey primarily focuses on issues such as housing, education, health, and rural services. Areas of concern identified through the responses will help to make sure funding is used to support gaps and needs for services in Lane County.
The survey takes about 15 minutes to complete, all answers are completely anonymous and confidential, and are available in English, Spanish, and Chinese by clicking the links below. Additionally, the attached flyer can be shared broadly to help encourage response.
Community Needs Survey (English)
Community Needs Survey (Spanish)
Community Needs Survey (Chinese)
Interior Secretary Haaland Announces Wildfire Risk Money on Visit to Southern Oregon
Deb Haaland, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, visited Southern Oregon on Sunday. She announced $21 million was on its way to Oregon to help reduce the risk of wildfires.
The secretary spoke at a media event in the Oregon Department of Forestry’s log cabin crew house at the department’s command center in Central Point.
Alongside her were U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, and Mike Shaw, chief of fire protection at ODF. Merkley sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee and chairs the Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.
Haaland said the money will go toward completing fuels management work on more than 170,000 acres in the state.
The funds come from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which contains $1.5 billion over five years to combat the wildfire threat on several fronts, from prevention and mitigation to firefighter response.
Since December, $278 million has been allocated. This includes a $50 million allocation announced Friday that will, among other things, pay for remote sensing equipment that detects wildfires; provide communities with slip-on water tanks that turn trucks into fire rigs; and boost the pay of federal wildland firefighters, whose fire seasons, year after year, begin earlier and end later.
“We’re like fire years instead of fire seasons anymore,” Haaland said. “I know that Oregon, unfortunately, knows this all too well, with so little room for error.”
Oregon is also among 13 states that will benefit from a pilot program supporting projects aimed at fuel reduction — that is, reducing vegetation that can fuel fires — on private lands.
“We must remain steadfast in our commitment to wildland fire preparedness, mitigation and resilience,” she said. “We at the Department of the Interior are doing everything we can to work with the states, Tribes, local governments to reduce these risks and support the firefighting workforce.”
Sunday’s event took place on day three of Haaland’s three-day trip to Oregon. She visited Bend Friday to discuss the Interior Department’s investments in the state’s outdoor recreation economy.
In Central Point, Shaw, the ODF chief, spoke first.
Though snowpack in Southern Oregon is higher than in recent years, he said, “I do project that we’re going to have another challenging fire season.”
Climate change has become inescapable in Southern Oregon, where drought conditions have persisted since 2019 and wildfires have become commonplace.
“‘All hands on deck’ is the approach that we’re taking, and all wildland fire agencies are working together,” he said.
In recent years, wildfire smoke has often covered the region in an orange-gray haze, forcing residents to stay indoors for days and choking off business and tourism.
The 2020 Almeda and South Obenchain fires that displaced thousands of people brought home the risks that wildfires and a warming climate pose.
Last summer’s Rum Creek Fire, sparked by lightning, torched more than 21,000 acres near Galice.
Haaland, the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet, had come from a briefing with fire response coordinators, state leaders and others who confront the wildfire threat. “‘Collaboration’ is the word that was most used in that briefing,” she said.
“One thing from our conversation is profoundly clear, that climate change will continue to make fires in the West larger and that we must continue to invest in conservation of our ecosystems. Nature is our best ally in the fight against climate change.”
Will it be possible to tell if the investment in combating wildfire is working when the climate itself is in flux? How will policy makers track progress?
In an interview afterward, Merkley said people can look at such markers as the number of acres that have been treated through prescribed burning, thinning or mowing. They can also look at the number of wildfires that erupt in Oregon, or to the amount of wildland fire personnel dispatched, along with their equipment, to the incidents.
“There are ways of measuring it, even with the ups and downs of fire season,” the Oregon Democrat said.
The public conversation around climate change has evolved in the time Merkley has been in office.
Years ago, in the town halls the senator conducts every year in every Oregon county, the subject produced consternation, he said. People would ask, “‘Is that really real?’ Because there (was) a lot of messaging coming out of the fossil fuel world saying it’s not real,” he recalled.
“But now I don’t get that reaction at all,” he continued. “In those forums, generally the conversation is about the impact that we see on our farming, on our fishing and on our forests. And people who live in rural Oregon see those impacts every single day. They see it through the drought. They see it through the fires. They see it through the beetles attacking our trees. Over on the coast, we’re seeing very significant changes in the warmth and the acidity of the ocean affecting our ocean ecosystem. So it’s everywhere we look.”
Haaland said, “The science is such in 2023 that it’s very difficult to deny that climate change is happening. And people who do deny it aren’t really looking at the science and the reality of the situation.” (SOURCE)
Home Share Could Help Oregon’s Housing Crisis
Oregon’s housing crisis has been front and center during this year’s legislative session as the state and its new governor, Tina Kotek, struggle to tackle a problem that has been years in the making.
The scale of the shortage makes it difficult for even aggressive solutions to produce quick improvements; it will take a long time to build the hundreds of thousands of housing units Oregon will need to not only make up for the exsiting shortfall but stay ahead of future population growth.
But there is one creative approach that can produce additional housing much faster, and without having to build anything at all: home sharing, in which existing homeowners rent out their unused rooms to tenants in search of affordable housing.
Tess Fields, executive director of Home Share Oregon, and Margaret Van Vliet, former director of Oregon Housing and Community services, were guests on this week’s episode of Straight Talk to discuss the state of Oregon’s housing crisis and the immediate impact that home sharing can have.
They were joined by James Dirksen, an Oregon homeowner who has rented out a portion of his house for more than 20 years, hosting a variety of tenants, to talk about his experience as a home sharing participant.
The conversation also touched on Oregon House Bill 3032, which would create tax incentives for homeowners who rent out rooms long-term at affordable rates.
A mix of problems have caused Oregon to fall behind on housing production over the years and fail to keep up with population growth, Van Vliet explained.
“One thing that stands out for me is that lots of industries have evolved and changed and seen a lot of innovation, but home building and home construction really has not changed much in many decades. So that’s one piece — the pace of construction really hasn’t changed much,” she said.
Local governments also need to be able to plan, zone and issue permits for building, she said, and that can often become a bottleneck. Financing for affordable housing can also become very complicated.
It’s also not just a question of affordable housing availability, she added. The shortage is more concentrated at lower levels, but Oregon is short on housing stock at all income levels.
The housing shortage has negative impacts on the state’s economy, she said, because it leaves employers struggling to recruit workers as those workers can’t find affordable housing nearby. First responders and public employees can also struggle to find housing.
Construction costs for affordable housing currently runs about $400,000 per unit, Van Vliet said. Apartment buildings will often use several sources of public money for financing, she said, creating added legal costs, and there are tough requirements for things like energy efficiency and quality building materials.
Home Share Oregon is a relatively new nonprofit that matches people who have unused rooms in their homes with people in need of affordable housing. The group just surpassed 900 homeowners signed up, Fields said.
“There’s about 1.5 million owner-occupied homes across the state of Oregon that have a spare bedroom available, and one out of every three homeowners are mortgage-burdened,” she said. “Our seniors specifically — 40% of our seniors are reporting that they’re at risk of foreclosure.”
Matching those homeowners with housemates could potentially house another 30,000 people, Fields said, without having to build any new infrastructure and while giving homeowners more financial resilience at the same time.
Home Share Oregon’s most common clients are women over the age of 50, many of whom have experienced the death of a spouse or a divorce, Fields said. The average homesharing agreement tends to be about $750 per month, but the agreements can vary significantly, with room for bargaining and negotiations.
The organization provides free screening technology to find compatible housemates and homeowners, she said, as well as free background checks and home sharing agreements, plus case management services for senior clients.
Those components are all important, she said, because the organization does get a lot of questions about safety. The screening process works both ways, making sure housemates feel comfortable too.
“Homesharing isn’t for everyone, and it’s absolutely not a decision that should be made impulsively,” she said.
Dirksen said he and his wife jumped into the home sharing world two decades ago, and they’ve hosted a wide range of housemates in that time.
“Right after the pandemic (began) I think we had 14 people in our home,” he said. “We had four college students, two high school students, a young family plus our own family, all living in various places in our big house.”
And a few years ago, during a summer of intense wildfires, the couple hosted a 75-year-old man who had been homeless in their neighborhood. The thick smoke made it unsafe for him to be outside, Dirksen said, so they initially hosted him for a few days, but he ended up staying with them for about two years until he found his own housing.
Safety concerns are important in the home sharing world, Dirksen said, so the background checks and home sharing agreements are important, and homeowners do need to be conscious of who exactly they want to invite into their homes.
“There’s a large demand for affordable housing right now, so homeowners are in a great situation to be kind of picky about who they want to come in, and make sure it’s a really good fit for them, for their lifestyle and for political choices, dietary choices, do they want dogs, do they not want dogs, do they want sponges or dish towels, those kind of things,” he said. (SOURCE)
Kotek and lawmakers want to speed home building, but Oregonians say they don’t want increased construction in their communities in a recent Poll
Oregonians overwhelmingly oppose speeding up construction of homes in their neighborhoods and across the state and half don’t like incentives for landlords – attitudes that could spell headwinds for Gov. Tina Kotek’s ambitious plan to vastly accelerate housing construction and availability across Oregon.
Only a quarter of Oregonians want to increase home construction in the community where they live, according to an online survey of 500 Oregon residents conducted by Portland polling firm DHM Research from Feb 24 to March 1. In comparison, 40% want to slow home construction in their community, while 28% believe the rate of construction where they live should remain the same.
Oregonians expressed similar opinions when asked about the state as a whole. Only 29% said that the rate of home construction should increase across Oregon, while 35% said they wanted to see home construction slow and just over a quarter said they wanted the production rate to remain the same.
“I think it’s understandable that people don’t want a bunch of construction next door. There are the noise and nuisance levels, and a lot of people move somewhere because they like it and they don’t want it to change,” said state economist Josh Lehner. “I think that sentiment is pretty easy to understand, but the flip side is what happens if we don’t build? … Prices rise faster, affordability worsens and as long as it’s a place that people want to live, it generally will lead to economic displacement.”
Oregon has the fourth highest rate of housing underproduction for its population in the nation, according to a state reportEditSign. Estimates suggest the state is short 140,000 houses and apartments, Lehner said. To make up that shortfall while also keeping up with current demand, Kotek and lawmakers are ready to make significant changes to how the state handles home construction.
Kotek’s new housing council met for the first time earlier this month to begin generating recommendations to boost home construction. Lehner said if the state doesn’t address its housing crisis it will have a cascading effect where people are pushed out because “we don’t have enough housing anywhere in the state.” To increase housing production, he said officials have to focus on making better use of existing land available for construction, as well as increasing the number of workers available to build, inspect and permit projects. If they pump money into the system without increasing capacity, he said that will just lead to more public sector projects and less private sector activity.
“We really need to be talking about increasing the whole capacity of the industry,” he said.
A proposal that’s quickly moving through the Legislature would call for the state to set yearly goals for the amount of new housing at various price levels needed in each city with at least 10,000 residents. State regulators would then hold cities accountable if they do not clear red tape or take other action to boost development to those levels.
Madeline Baron, a project manager at ECONorthwest who specializes in affordable housing, said setting policies at the state level will force local governments to adhere to state requirements even if there is local pushback, while still giving jurisdictions the authority to decide how to best meet housing goals. While people may oppose increased housing construction in their community as a gut reaction, Baron said where and how jurisdictions decide to build housing is more nuanced and might elicit different opinions from the public.
“What led the state to act is that the jurisdictions have not been able to or not been willing to ramp up the production,” Baron said. “There’s still going to be a lot of control with the local zoning, some design review can probably still exist and community input will never go away. It’s just that we can’t let that grind production to a halt or make production so challenging that it ends up dying, because we’ve seen the consequences of that.”
The legislative plan has been fast tracked in part because it makes no significant changes to the state’s urban growth boundary system, which limits development outside of cities. Fully 71% of Oregonians said they would oppose allowing local governments to permit housing developments in areas currently protected as farm and forestlands, according to the new poll. The poll, whose respondents were selected to match the demographic profile of the state’s adult population, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4%.
Several of the poll’s other findings appear to run counter to the state’s housing goals.
Oregonians were split on whether they wanted the state to divert millions to expand incentives for landlords, with 41% saying they opposed that policy, which is currently part of the Legislature’s plans. Part of the state’s plan to immediately house 1,200 people experiencing homelessness, primarily in privately owned apartments, is to guarantee landlords rent, coverage for tenant damages and free tenant-landlord mediation.
In addition, 53% of Oregonians said they thought relaxing building codes on new developments would be ineffective. Developers have said relaxing local land use regulations and expediting the process for approving developments will be key to accelerating housing production.
Two-thirds of the people polled own their own home, which is in line with the state’s owner-occupied housing unit rate of about 63%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Fully 68% of respondents who owned their own home said they want the price of their house to increase in the next five years. Only 38% of respondents overall said they want the price of the typical home in their community to increase in the next five years.
“I think there’s a real tension there as twice as many homeowners want to see their values increase but don’t want prices to increase broadly,” said John Horvick, senior vice president at DHM Research. “The self-interest there is evident, and policymakers are going to have to navigate that both in terms of what they put forward and what sort of risks they take and also how they talk about the policies and what benefits they are going to have to the community.”
Even if the state significantly ramps up housing construction, Lehner said that he would still anticipate home prices to increase over the next five years – albeit at a slower rate – assuming there is not an exceptional event that drives prices down.
Baron said ramping up construction will also be crucial to ensuring the state can address another crisis that Oregonians have consistently ranked as their top issue: homelessness. If the state doesn’t increase the housing supply, she said policies aimed at moving people living unsheltered into housing will continue to be less effective and more expensive. At the same time, continued housing instability will lead to more people falling into homelessness, she said.
Mike Wilkerson, partner and director of analytics at ECONorthwest, said it’s not surprising that most homeowners want the value of their homes to continue to increase. He was more surprised, in fact, that more than 30% of homeowners didn’t say they wanted the value of their homes to increase in the next five years.
He said that shows an awareness of the need for housing affordability within the state. “If you looked at it from an entirely self-interested perspective, that number you would assume would be higher than 68%,” Wilkerson said. (SOURCE)
2023 National Earthquake Program Managers meeting in Portland strengthens earthquake preparedness and collaboration
PORTLAND, Ore. – March 20, 2023 – The 2023 National Earthquake Program Managers (NEPM) meeting will take place March 21-23 at the Duniway Hotel at 545 SW Taylor St. The event aims to provide information sharing and capacity-building opportunities for state, federal, non-profit and private sector members of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP).
This year’s NEPM meeting is co-hosted by the Oregon Department of Emergency Management (OEM) and the Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup (CREW). OEM Geological Hazards Program Coordinator and 2023 NEPM Chair Althea Rizzo will lead the meeting, alongside 2023 NEPM Vice-Chair Scott Gauvin, who also serves as manager of strategic operations and preparedness with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
“It’s a privilege to work with people from across the country so passionate about improving earthquake safety,” said Rizzo. “Earthquake preparedness and mitigation is a vital investment in our collective resilience, safeguarding our communities and securing the future against nature’s unpredictable upheavals.”
The NEPM group is primarily composed of state emergency management agency representatives who actively plan and prepare to reduce earthquake-related losses in their states. While some states have a dedicated earthquake program manager, in others, the responsibility is shared. Collectively known as the National Earthquake Program Managers, the group holds annual meetings to develop programs, share best practices and foster relationships.
The NEPM group first began holding annual meetings in the early 1990s, and after a brief hiatus, resumed meeting in 2004 at the National Earthquake Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. Since then, the group has met yearly to continue building resilience against the high-consequence hazard of earthquakes.
For more information, visit EQProgram.net.
Scaled Down Permit System This Summer Will Focus On Congestion At Multnomah Falls Lot
Timed use permits will focus on the Multnomah Falls parking lot and not the Waterfall Corridor for summer 2023 in the Columbia River Gorge.
From Friday, May 26 through Monday, Sept. 4, 2023, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., a timed use permit will be required for each personal vehicle accessing Multnomah Falls from Interstate 84 Exit 31.
Project partners will target congestion at Multnomah Falls. The effort will help reduce congestion by:
- Reducing safety concerns and backups on I-84 with required timed use permits at Exit 31, the Multnomah Falls parking lot on Interstate 84.
- Using a flagger to direct traffic at the Historic Columbia River Highway/U.S. 30 crosswalk at Multnomah Falls.
- Using a private concessionaire to manage the small parking lot along the Historic Highway/U.S. 30 at Multnomah Falls. The concessionaire will operate this lot on a first come, first-served basis. There are six ADA parking spots at this lot for those with valid ADA placards. When the parking lot is full, vehicles will not be allowed to stop or wait for an open space.
Multnomah Falls (I-84) timed use permits will be available online at recreation.gov for a $2 transaction fee per vehicle up to two weeks in advance of your visit. A limited number of permits will also be available for pickup without a fee at the Gateway to the Gorge Visitor Center in Troutdale and the Cascade Locks Historical Museum.
Unlike last year, permits will not be required on the Historic Columbia River Highway/U.S. 30 Waterfall Corridor in 2023. Last year’s 2022 Waterfall Corridor timed use permit pilot was successful in providing a safer, more reliable, enjoyable experience for visitors within the corridor. However, without a dedicated funding source, partners cannot staff and operate the full system and will instead focus our limited resources on the main sources of congestion and safety concerns at the most visited site in the corridor: Multnomah Falls.
“We learned a lot in 2022 about visitor practices and that information will help us as we plan for the future,” said Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann. “Multnomah County, ODOT, Oregon State Parks, the Forest Service, and all our partners are continuing to look for ways we can reduce congestion and improve the visitor experience to this wonderful treasure.”
The most reliable way to see Multnomah Falls continues to be transit, by bicycle or by tour/shuttle. Avoid the congestion by planning your trip in advance. Permits are only needed if you arrive by personal vehicle at I-84 Exit 31 for Multnomah Falls.
If you want to visit Multnomah Falls by personal vehicle, the best way is to get a permit and take I-84 to Exit 31.
For more information on the program go to www.WaterfallCorridorPermits.org. — https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/ORDOT/bulletins/34eb59d