On January 9th, a new era will begin in Salem city government. Three new progressive City Councilors will be sworn in to begin their four year terms. Cara Kaser, Matt Ausec and Sally Cook will join progressive Tom Andersen to form what we hope will be a new progressive caucus. Veteran Councilor Brad Nanke, who ran unopposed, will also be sworn in, as will our new Mayor Chuck Bennett.
So what should the new Council do to try to make Salem a better place for everyone? There are lots of solutions to consider, some that have been talked about for years that now have a chance to move up on the priority list. There are other new ideas that are emerging, and are deserving of consideration.
Here’s our list of ideas we hope the new Council will consider over the next year or two…
1) Put a bond measure for a new police station and seismic upgrades of City Hall and the downtown library on the May 16th ballot at a cost $20-30 million less than the measure that failed on November 8th.
2) Create a Salem Sustainability and Resiliency Commission led by knowledgeable citizens who will advise the Council on ways the City and its citizens can work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take other initiatives to make Salem a model for sustainability and resiliency.
3) Remove the Salem River Crossing Preferred Alternative from the Salem Transportation System Plan and Comprehensive Plan and withdraw from all regional planning activities on the 3rd Bridge, working instead to advance low cost and no cost ways to reduce peak hour congestion problems on the approaches to the Marion and Center Street Bridges downtown and in West Salem.
4) Engage our Legislators and ODOT to work to fast track a seismic retrofit of the Center Street Bridge so that it will not collapse in the next Cascadia megaquake, thus preserving a vital lifeline to West Salem.
5) Renew the City Council’s commitment to Salem’s 18 neighborhood associations as the primary means for citizen input into the decisions of the City Council; provide better staffing and budget support for the work of the neighborhood associations.
6) Create an Urban Tree Commission along the lines recommended by the Shade Tree Citizens Advisory Committee in 2015 and empower them to advise the City Council on ways to strengthen prohibitions against tree removal on both City property and private property and to improve the tree canopy throughout the city.
7) Increase the transparency of City government by ending the practice of exorbitant costs for public records requests, by taking and disseminating minutes of all public meetings, large and small, and encouraging citizen observers at public meetings.
8) Take immediate action to provide more temporary housing for the homeless, with priority on homeless women, children and youth.
9) Work in partnership with the Transit District to find creative funding solutions to restore weekend and evening bus service; then work on longer term plans to bring transit service in Salem up to the level of quality and affordability common in other Oregon cities like Eugene and Corvallis.
10) Direct the Public Works Department to place a higher priority on improving biking and pedestrian infrastructure in the city, including more funding for sidewalk repair and sidewalk construction on all residential streets.
11) Develop and implement a plan for a branch of the Salem Public Library in Northeast Salem to serve underserved children, families and seniors who live far from the downtown library, with support from the Salem Public Library Foundation; consider the old Borders/Book Bin location on Lancaster Drive.
12) Reform the Water-Wastewater Task Force: it should be made up entirely of citizens (no Councilors) representing a cross-section of the community, including mostly ordinary rate payers, and it should make recommendations directly to the Council, not to the Public Works Director.
13) Improve City communications with citizens, including a greatly improved City website and social media presence that allows for respectful dialogue with and among citizens; make a special effort to reach out to Salem’s large and growing Latino population to engage them in City issues.
14) Create a special City task force to look at compensation for the considerable time spent by Salem City Councilors and the Mayor on their civic duties, as a way to allow a more diverse group of citizens to hold public office.
15) Dust off the Salem downtown “streetscape” project developed in 2012 by the Salem Downtown Partnership and begin to implement it to make Salem’s historic downtown the best in the state.
16) Create an Emergency Services Streamlining Task Force to examine best practices in other communities to reduce the cost of police and fire services that now consume 58% of the General Fund — this, given the City’s declining crime rate and declining incidence of fires.
17) Revisit the City’s streetlight fee: evaluate its effectiveness in increasing road maintenance and installing more streetlights in the neighborhoods that want them; consider changes to the fee structure to make the fees more fair for ordinary homeowners.
18) Create a Revenue Reform and Enhancement Task Force, with members from throughout the community, to consider ways Salem can have the revenue to invest in improved livability in our city, including many of the improved services mentioned above.