Here is my plan for 2017. It's based on our community's proven ability to collaborate, to be objective about the facts and to problem solve instead of becoming distracted by ideologies.
Top three priorities
Housing: Although we have 238 units of subsided housing, residents are being forced out of the community by rent increases, and families can't afford to buy into the Ashland housing market.
We need new rental and owner-occupied housing that is affordable for working-class citizens and our best opportunity is development of the Normal Neighborhood Area under our Annexation Ordinance. This ordinance allows the council to negotiate for specific community needs and apply new housing concepts included in the Normal Master Plan.
Cleaning up the railroad property will open up 20 centrally located acres zoned for mixed-use office space with 15 residential units per acre upstairs. These units could provide ideal workforce housing for employees of downtown businesses.
Quality of Life: We strive to simultaneously maintain order in our public spaces while providing for the needs of our local homeless population. Next steps include evaluating the effects of new ordinances and increased police presence downtown, to see what has worked and what needs adjusting.
We have the beginnings of a safety net infrastructure for our local homeless with services available from the Ashland Community Resource Center, a new Goodwill Employment Center, four-nights-a-week winter shelters, several informal meals programs, a county mental health crisis specialist, the Culture of Peace Commission coordinating with individuals and organizations, and models available from Eugene and Palo Alto for providing non-traditional shelter and innovative community re-entry respectively.
Climate Change: Implementation of the Climate and Energy Action Plan committee’s recommendations for greenhouse gas reduction should begin in early 2017. This will be complemented by efforts in the town that aim for an equivalent reduction in the risks of wildfire to those we are achieving in the watershed with the Ashland Forest Resiliency project.
In parallel we will be working on meeting the requirements and intent of the recently passed 10X20 ordinance regarding a source(s) of clean, renewable, locally produced electrical energy to start our move towards energy independence.
Past examples of collaborative success should give us confidence we can accomplish these tasks:
TAP (Talent Ashland Phoenix) emergency water line: In 2009 TAP had been the subject of contention for years. I recruited an ad hoc committee with broad community representation to work through the deep conflicts associated with the project. They produced a water master plan that won unanimous council adoption. The year TAP was constructed, we faced a serious drought, instituted voluntary water conservation and reduced consumption by 30-35 percent. This significantly surpassed other Oregon communities that resorted to compulsory methods.
Hospital merger: In 2009 Ashland Community Hospital was in severe financial decline. Eventually we turned to Asante Corp. Long, hard negotiations led by the late Doug Gentry and City Councilor Dennis Slattery produced a workable agreement that was adopted by the council after extensive public input. Today, Asante Ashland Community Hospital operates in the black under CEO Sheila Clough, generating high marks for both customer satisfaction and employee morale.
Ashland Forest Resiliency Project (AFR): When I first took office, AFR had been stalled for nearly a decade by sometimes violent conflict. The project finally got off the ground in 2010 with stimulus funding from the federal government . But in 2013, with that original money running out, I asked the City Council to commit city cash to the project in perpetuity and they did. Our community immediately united behind the venture. This crucial support convinced the Forest Service to provide $4 million in completion funding — plus $2 million more for key private lands adjacent to the Watershed.
The record is clear: When we work together, the results can be remarkable. We know the future will hold more challenges. But with good spirits, collaboration and mutual respect we will be prepared to tackle whatever comes our way
For more information visit: Stromberg4Mayor.com.
— John Stromberg is mayor of Ashland.