The City Council’s listening session drew about 50 people — a good turnout for 5:30 on a Monday evening. Those who attended had clearly thought about what they wanted city staff and elected leaders to focus on in the coming budget process.
In a new departure, the session was organized to allow one-on-one conversations between residents, senior staff members and councilors rather than the usual three-minutes-at-the-microphone public hearing model. Participants were still limited to four minutes at each table, but there was more opportunity to make personal contact with those who set city policy and those who carry it out.
The main points of emphasis were predictable enough: Residents want better public transportation, improvements in infrastructure and more affordable housing. They are also concerned about climate change, emergency preparedness and homelessness. Several mentioned a strategy for controlling urban deer and dealing with summer wildfire smoke.
One of the issues that generated the most criticism of the council in the past year came up as well: the sense that the city is living beyond its means. That dovetails with calls for developing businesses beyond the service industry that will pay higher wages so more working people can afford to live in Ashland.
A city that taps residents for more taxes and fees to pay for expanded services without addressing wages and housing costs will ensure that Ashland remains a haven for the affluent.
City Administrator Kelly Madding said attendees were pleased with the session and offered to organize more. That’s a good idea.