Social justice and making sure city services are equitable for all people in Bend were central themes as the Bend City Council discussed what its goals will be for the next two years.
Bend city councilors spent last week discussing what goals they should set to address the issues that they believe face the city, based on community input. Specific goals will be discussed and finalized sometime in March.
Several goals mirror those of the previous council’s set in 2019: more affordable housing, improving transportation systems and maintaining or improving city services like water, sewer and road maintenance.
But in a departure from the former council, this council heavily focused on themes of social justice, including a goal that focuses on making government more accessible to more people.
Though specific actions were not decided at the meeting, Councilor Rita Schenkelberg suggested translating council meetings into Spanish and using American Sign Language interpreters.
Other ideas suggested included “restructuring city council meetings” and paying city councilors at least part-time wages to allow more people of different incomes to run for council.
Central to the housing goal is to make sure anyone who works in Bend can live in Bend.
Other housing goals include incentivizing building more homes for people making middle to low incomes in Bend, encouraging housing specifically in the core area of town around Third Street, and maximizing the vacant land left in Bend’s urban growth boundary, which is an invisible line that delineates where urban development can take place.
Another goal identified by councilors is to specifically have a housing-first model to address homelessness in the community.
“Homelessness is not a crime and it’s really important we don’t address it as such,” City Manager Eric King said in the meeting Thursday.
The council also emphasized the importance of making everyone in Bend feel like they can access services and feel safe — in particular, police services.
Some on the council wanted to move away from calling Bend “a welcoming community,” which is terminology the city has used during an event called “Welcome Week,” and instead set goals that are action-oriented toward making the city more inclusive of marginalized communities.
“Just because we say we are a welcoming community doesn’t mean we are a welcoming community,” said Councilor Megan Perkins in the meeting.
Councilor Anthony Broadman offered an example he heard discussed at a Downtown Bend Business Association meeting, where business owners reported having employees who are women or people of color feel uncomfortable parking in the Deschutes County Services building parking lot downtown at night.
“These are meaningful barriers to living in Bend right now,” Broadman said. “Business owners in our community see this as a critical goal in terms of economic development.”
The council also made addressing climate and environmental issues a separate goal, a departure from the previous council, which only featured “natural resource stewardship” as a point under the larger goal of “economic vitality.”
Some goals suggested include transitioning city vehicles to be electric and implementing the city’s Climate Action Plan passed in 2019.
The council also decided to rewrite the preamble, which is a statement that generally states the values and priorities of the council overall.
Though still in draft form, the preamble begins with saying the city’s prosperity should be for everyone, and honors the Native Americans that “came before us on these lands and acknowledge that the health of our community relies on the health of our environment.”