Mayor Jeff Gowing delivered the State of City Address at Monday night’s city council meeting, outlining the peaks and valleys of tumultuous year.
Gowing spoke of the city’s many challenges last year and noted that despite a historic pandemic, wildfires and the passing of a councilor, the community exercised resilience and adaptability as it found ways to move forward.
“I was so proud of the way the citizens of Cottage Grove responded to all the challenges of 2020,” he said. “It really makes me proud to call Cottage Grove home.”
Though starting 2020 off on a high note with the city’s giveaway of hundreds of trees to replace those lost in the previous year’s snowstorm and the rebirth of the South Lane County Resource Guide, this was soon starkly contrasted with a public health crisis which fundamentally changed the community’s social and economic architecture.
“Some of the changes we’ve made will likely endure beyond the pandemic,” said Gowing. “One of the changes that I hope does not become permanent is the closure and damage of our local small businesses. Those small business represent real community members, parents, friends and neighbors to all of us, whether they are owners that have a dream to run a small business and serve the needs of the community or employees [who work] at those businesses.”
The mayor entreated the community to continue supporting local businesses to help restore them to pre-pandemic stability.
Gowing also praised the city for swiftly moving to mitigate local financial insecurity as the pandemic hit.
The city designated $100,000 in loans last year and used a portion to match state funds for grants for local businesses.
“We were able to provide 11 grants to Cottage Grove businesses totaling $85,000 and three loans totaling $30,000,” Gowing said, adding that more assistance is needed. “Our local businesses not only provide jobs, but they are a big part of making all of our events and activities in the community a success.”
The mayor then appealed to the rest of the council to consider waiving the liquor renewal fees for businesses in Cottage Grove that hadn’t closed operations during 2020, a move which would follow the city’s removal of other licenses for taxis and used merchandise businesses.
In light of the many challenges posed in 2020, Gowing took time to recognize three members of the community who strived to bring the community together through difficult times.
Covered Bridge Brewing Group was recognized for its collaboration with other local businesses to work within the parameters of the pandemic restrictions and keep the local economy moving.
Gowing said it represents “an example of the type of business community that Cottage Grove is.”
Next, community member Ernie Olson received recognition for transformation of his lot on the corner of S. 16th and Main streets into a “unique piece of property” which now offers space for two retail businesses and an apartment.
In addition, Olson allowed for the use of his property in 2019 to establish a memorial bench for Clarence Kreamier, the iconic “Cottage Grove Waver.”
Lastly, Ethan Bearden-Tanton was recognized as “an outstanding youth” in the community for encouraging the city and Chamber of Commerce to organize last year’s drive-thru Halloween event.
“Ethan saw a need to think outside the box for Halloween since we were unable to have a celebration,” said Gowing. “It was a very successful event and allowed us to still provide a festival for the community.”
Gowing also praised Councilor Jake Boone for his role as President of the League of Oregon Cities during a difficult year.
Turning to housing, the mayor pointed to a successful series of projects which propelled the city beyond its stated housing goals.
In 2018, the Cottage Grove Housing Needs Analysis identified a deep need for more housing availability at all income levels and established a goal of creating 69 dwelling units per year to meet the city’s threshold of 1,379 more units by 2038.
With the completion of several projects such as Cottage Village, Legion Cottages, a DevNW project and new units at Magnolia Gardens Senior Living, 97 new housing units popped up last year, said the mayor.
“2021 is looking even better for housing,” Gowing continued. “We have four more tiny homes at Cottage Village underway, 14 townhomes are currently in the approval process, a 42-unit apartment complex is also in the process, and discussions are underway for an 84-unit development that plans on being completed by the end of the year.”
In addition, Gowing pointed to the needs of unsheltered individuals and expressed his appreciation for the quick action of the city and the nonprofit Community Sharing to establish a warming shelter when Beds for Freezing Nights announced it could not provide services this winter.
A mobile shower trailer is also scheduled to arrive in the community by early February to complement the warming shelter during its operation.
Gowing then turned his praise to city staff for managing to continue to provide services through the year such as notaries and access to library services.
City projects, too, continued through the year despite the pandemic and wildfires slowing some progress.
Projects like Safe Routes to School and the 12-million-gallon pond at the wastewater plant, Gowing said, are bringing safety and sustainability improvements to the city which will impact the community for years to come.
The mayor finished his address by stating his appreciation that Cottage Grove has remained relatively immune from the divisive and dramatic events unfolding nationally over the past year.
“I want to close by thanking the citizens and staff and my fellow city councilors for the time and efforts they have dedicated to making the community a better place,” he said.
In other council news:
attack on U.S. Capitol
The Cottage Grove City Council joined local leaders who have come together to issue a statement denouncing last week’s riotous events in Washington, D.C. in which the U.S. Capitol came under attack.
The statement was issued the day of the riot and calls for communities to come together to participate in civil democracy.
The statement reads as follows:
There are certain principles and rights that we, as Americans, have established. Those include the right to peacefully assemble and our right to dissent — both of which are critical to our democracy. We cannot mistake what is happening today in Washington, D.C. for lawful or peaceful assembly.
The actions that occurred at the U.S. Capitol today are an assault on our Republic and our Constitution; it goes far beyond the partisan politics that have so divided our nation in recent years.
We denounce these actions.
We can and must do better. Please join us in committing to working together to ensure our communities continue to participate in civil democracy where we come together to improve our communities for everyone.
Local leaders who have signed on to this statement include:
• Lane County Board of Commissioners Chair Joe Berney
• Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis
• Council President functioning as Springfield Mayor Steve Moe
• Cottage Grove Mayor Jeff Gowing
• Oakridge Mayor Kathy Nichols Holston
• Westfir Mayor Melody Cornelius
• Coburg Mayor Ray Smith
Councilor Mike Fleck, Youth Advisory Council member MJ Raade and Lane County Commissioner Heather Buch, who attended Monday’s city council meeting virtually, praised the move.
“This is about America and our democracy,” said Fleck. “And so I think it’s very strong that peoples of all parties and backgrounds support our country’s rules and standards; and if they disagree, to do it peacefully.”
Councilor Greg Ervin qualified his support for the statement by going on to specifically condemn the unlawful and destructive acts that occurred on Jan. 6.
While addressing concerns from council, Councilor Jon Stinnett made an appeal for individuals to reject the division, violence and vitriol which have characterized the country’s landscape.
“Now is not the time to withdraw from our neighbors or treat each other as enemies or others,” he said. “Rather, it is essential that we reach out to each other, reaffirm our common bond, our common goals and plan together for a prosperous and inclusive future.”
The city council held its second vote on used merchandise business licenses, adopting a new ordinance and amending city code.
The first vote on Ordinance No. 3135 amending Chapter 5.28 of the Cottage Grove Municipal Code regarding the business licenses was held at the previous city council meeting.
The ordinance removes the license requirement and creates a business registry that is maintained by the Cottage Grove Police Department.
The ordinance also reduces recordkeeping requirements, removes penalty provisions and adds cell phones, computers and other personal electronic devices to the list of items defined as used merchandise.
Councilor Candace Solesbee recused herself from voting due to her ownership of a used merchandise business.
Chloe Beckes and Beau Solesbee were appointed to the Planning Commission for three-year terms that will expire on Dec. 31, 2023.
On the Budget Committee, Donn Rust and Chalice Savage were appointed to full three-year terms, expiring Dec. 31, 2023, and Armando Garza will fill a vacated term, expiring Dec. 31, 2022.
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