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Middle Housing: Respect the Process

May 5th, 2022 by dk

This is a column about how Eugene will meet the June deadline to allow more housing flexibility, as required by House Bill 2001 and passed by the state legislature in 2018. Except this is not a column about the policy changes which have been required, proposed or contemplated.

The policies are important but they obscure something that matters more — our societal order.

Strip away the policy details and a starker image emerges — one that looks vaguely familiar. It resembles the storming of the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Eugene City Council work session this week extended past midnight, because 125 participants gave testimony. Councilor Mike Clark said he’d never seen anything like it.

The City Council knew from the start that this was a hot potato. They delayed their deliberation for as long as possible. They used that time to extend the public outreach deep and wide. They added extra layers of inclusion with an Equity Roundtable, Healthy Democracy Panel, Middle Housing Review Panel, and other outreach efforts.

The Middle Housing Review Panel was designed to reach beyond “the usual suspects.” These were not policy wonks or growth management experts. They were citizens. They met 15 times over six months, carefully weighing how each policy change would effect everyday life. They wrestled with trade-offs, complying with legal requirements, as well as economic changes the policies could invite.

Their hard work was unanimously approved by the Eugene Planning Commission. The Planning Commission then launched its own process, including robust public comments, before sending to the Eugene City Council their unanimous policy recommendations.

City Council will continue to solicit public comment with two more work sessions. That’s an important part of the public process. The testimony that would be most useful to them at this point would be details and data that hadn’t been considered earlier in the process. There wasn’t much of that at Monday’s work session.

Councilors Clark and Alan Zelenka worried aloud about the strident tone in some testimony, as well as the unprecedented volume. Councilors should consider whether the last-minute intensity was evidence not of a failed process but of a deliberate attempt to inject fear and chaos as the decision deadline nears.

Those who stormed our Capitol on January 6 wanted to disrupt the democratic process for certifying the election. They insisted that their voice hadn’t been heard, but their only evidence was that they weren’t getting their way. Because that bullying was not immediately and unanimously condemned, it has provided a playbook that imperils democratic values and processes everywhere, including here.

Families of elected officials have been threatened at the front door of their houses. Volunteers have been disparaged and warned to watch their backs. Volunteers are essential to making our democracy work — the everyday citizens on the Middle Housing Review Panel, our Planning Commissioners, and everyone who made this process as robust and inclusive as possible.

Some will be unhappy with the final decisions. That’s inevitable — and all the more reason we should respect our democratic processes and trust the outcomes they produce.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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