TO: Friends of the Unsheltered
FROM: Rick Bowers
SUBJECT: Astoria Planning Commission work session on temporary emergency shelters
Thank you EVERYONE who was able to witness last night’s Astoria Planning Commission work session on temporary emergency shelters. I think almost ten supporters were present. Also thanks to those who were unable to attend in person but sent “good vibes.” The shelter discussion was second on the agenda after a LONG discussion of the impact of the recent state legislation, “HB 2001,” that directly impacts Astoria’s restrictions on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). This legislation will hopefully have a positive long-term impact on the availability and price of workforce / affordable housing which of course also directly impacts the homeless population. But on to shelters….
The shelter work session’s focus essentially turned out to be bringing everyone up to speed on where the shelter work sessions left off a year and a half ago. Three of the seven commissioners from 2018 are no longer on the Commission. Also, Planner Nancy Ferber, the city staff member assigned to the effort, no longer works for the city. Barbara Fryer, “recently” hired, has taken Nancy’s place. There are a lot of new faces and perspectives to integrate. At one point, Brett Estes, City Manager and acting Community Development Director, stepped back and framed the shelter topic in the larger context of homelessness discussions in Astoria. He specifically mentioned the drop-in resource center and potential zoning discussions. Commissioner Cindy Price, also on the mayor’s Homelessness Solutions Task Force (HOST), indicated HOST is involved in the wider discussion. From my perspective this led to a general sense of “no urgency” to push through a recommendation for changes to the Development Code on shelters and instead factor all of this into future discussions. I believe they will take the issue up again at the next planning meeting in January. I’m grateful the Commission did not rush to make a recommendation at this point to the City Council.
Last July I wrote a letter to the City Council urging a “brief” update to Astoria’s Comprehensive Plan (CP) to include a vision around homelessness and very affordable housing. The Comprehensive Plan is designed to provide the vision that the Development Code “implements.” I appreciated both Brett’s and Cindy’s insight that the shelter discussion is only a small part of the overall issue. I am going to continue to encourage the City Council to do an update of the CP.
And again, many many thanks for the presence of so many people. It may seem like the role of witness has little impact but I have been told by multiple city leaders that when we are in the audience, the energy shifts. Metaphorically, officials “sit up a little straighter.” I also have to specifically acknowledge the “non-anxious presence” of Jan Mitchell, former Astoria Planning Commissioner and current member of the county’s Citizen Advisory Committee for the review & update to the county’s Comprehensive Plan. She is used to sitting in long meetings. At one point I looked over to see her peacefully threading a needle to quietly work on sewing while taking in the proceedings. I can learn a lot from her – hopefully including patience.
In Joy, Rick