Students ask council to rethink Climate Action approach

Time ran out on a large group of red-shirted supporters from “Health Care for All Oregon” in the Ashland City Council Chambers on Tuesday, forcing them to wait until the next council meeting on June 21 to see if a ballot measure will be put before Ashland voters in November.

The group is hoping the city will allow voters to consider a resolution letting the 2017 Oregon legislature know solutions for healthcare are a huge priority for voters. It would be an advisory measure directing lawmakers to streamline insurance and make rates more affordable and accessible for Oregonians. 

The council told the group last month they are in favor of including the measure on the city’s November ballot but wanted to refine the language. They have until July to get it done in order to qualify for November’s ballot. 

The other major issue on the agenda, modifications of plans for the Verde Village home development on East Nevada Street near the Ashland Dog Park, also found itself moved to the next agenda. After nearly an hour of presentations and discussions seeking permission to make the houses larger, erect fences and modify the original open space plan, the council deferred a decision, also to June 21. 

The discussion became heated as developers and property owners told the council the development would be the only net-zero energy project in the state of Oregon and would continue to be a model of open space allotment, but would do so with more flexibility for home buyers and an expanded “front porch” environment. However, city staff told planners the modifications were not in the original agreement and these modifications needed a second look.

The council, seeing it was past 10:30 p.m., beyond the time when council meetings are mandated by ordinance to end, told the group they will consider it at the next meeting.

The council did, however, pass a host of other items, including a plan to expand permits for the Hargadine parking structure allowing for a night permit as well as a daytime option. The monthly permits would be $25 and $50 dollars and allow only 40 spaces for regular leasing.

Councilors also agreed to allow the Ashland Police Department to write a Department of Justice grant for a new officer. If successful the feds would pay two-thirds of the salary leaving the rest to the city of Ashland. 

The largest amount of testimony given by far, however, was not in relation to anything planned on the council agenda. A group of Ashland High School students identifying themselves as Ashland Youth Climate Action urged the council to create an ordinance outlining their energy goals and mandating compliance before completing the Climate Action and Energy Plan currently in the works.

“In 2014, Eugene passed the first recovery ordinance in the nation," said Allie Rosenbluth. "Three years before passing the ordinance, they created the energy and action climate plan.”  She went on to say that, as a result of passing the ordinance second, they had to re-write their plan to fit the ordinance. She suggested it was a backward process. “It is best to commit to the goals before creating a plan to reach them,” Rosenbluth said. 

She was backed up by fellow Youth Climate Action member Claire Pryor, who asked the council, along with half a dozen other members of the group, to first pass a legally binding ordinance. Pryor came at the problem from another angle, citing a conversation with a homeless student from her school who suggested a new energy plan is likely to drive up costs of living in Ashland. She urged councillors to codify the plan and prevent that. “We need to make sure people of color and those who are poor are not disproportionately affected," Pryor said. 

Councilors did not take action on the recommendations of the group at Tuesday’s meeting. However, two of the students who spoke are on the mayor’s ad hoc committee on the energy and action plan. They both said it’s imperative the city have some accountability. They don’t plan on dropping their call for an ordinance. The city has promised a plan by 2017.

Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at akinsj@sou.edu and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.

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