Council candidates weigh in on growth, safety, economy

Candidates for the Keizer City Council and Mayor Cathy Clark took part in a candidate forum sponsored by the West Keizer Neighborhood Association Thursday, Oct. 8. 

Candidate Kyle Juran missed the forum because of other commitments, but all others participated. The forum focused on three main questions. Keizertimes has collected responses from all candidates for this article. Some responses have been edited for clarity. 

Question: How would you facilitate growth in Keizer with or without Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) expansion?

Cathy Cark: We need to be able to provide both housing options and employment options for the people of our own city within our own boundaries. I don’t believe that we are going to be able to accomplish that. And the data is showing that we are not going to accomplish that without some change in our urban growth boundary. And we are still in the process of making sure that we have appropriate data to inform those decisions that will involve all of us in any final changes that are urban growth boundary. 

Laura Reid: One of the things that I think we did really well in our last round of studies was we invited specific voices to the table to be able to tell us how people want to grow. We do need to get more family wage jobs in Keizer, and we need to be able to promote that and partner with developers and to see what we can get done through an employment lens. We need to be able to do our best to promote home ownership, even within multifamily development, because it’s really important to our community. That will involve working with our state agencies, working with various resources looking into ways that we can help people with down payments and so forth.

Mike DeBlasi: Expanding the UGB means more miles of roads and other infrastructure. The tax revenue from those properties do not cover the costs. When we do more infill, it doesn’t destroy the character of the community, we’re being more efficient with our land. We’re allowing for the natural evolution of a community that goes from rural to urban. At this point, I would say we’re not ready for a UGB expansion, the strongest case we can make is to spend the next 10 or 20 years being more efficient with our land.

Ross Day: Do we have to grow? I believe we do. We’re going to have to do it smart, make sure that we don’t overburden our existing infrastructure and our existing systems. If we’re not able to expand the UGB, one of our biggest issues in this city is we basically have no industrial land supply. We’re going to have to, at a minimum, look at that and hopefully bring better, higher paying jobs to the area. We need to increase not only the land supply, but increase the housing options. Our price point right now makes it cost prohibitive for a lot of different types of people to move to Keizer.

Dylan Juran: There’s opportunity in growing to provide new homes and have an impact on the availability of affordable housing as well as bringing in jobs with industrial zoning. I think the question is more what do we do in the short term to address the options. I disagree that the one path to living is home ownership. I think that is a great option for many people. I took that option, but many people my age and younger simply don’t want to own homes. We need to have affordable and plentiful options for people to choose to live in an apartment or a rental as well.

Michele Roland-Schwartz: 

I think you have to be ready for the next chapter. If that means adjusting our growth and growth boundary, that I think is a conversation that the city and the council needs to have. I appreciate the study that the city has done, where we looked at what were some of the challenges that other cities experienced when they expanded. I also am a fan of housing density and looking at how we can fill more affordable housing. I think that the city has been proactive and wants to address this issue in a way that is smart and careful.

Question: What do you think are the main concerns related to traffic, livability and community safety and what do you propose to address them? 

Michele Roland-Schwartz: 

I think just the safety, particularly on River Road and elsewhere in the city are issues that I heave heard about repeatedly especially in terms of walk-ability the ability to ride bikes in the area. Those are conversations I want to hear more about and what residents and community members would like to see to improve safety. 

Dylan Juran: I live in west Keizer close to Cummings and we’ve seen some improvements that I don’t feel great about. Getting kids to the middle schools from either side of the city can be very scary. I definitely want to see some focus on improving the sidewalks around the city, the question for Keizer is how do we do things on a responsible budget. I’ve been part of doing those types of things when it comes to parks and I believe there are ways to improve safety and livability in our town with simple improvement measures. 

Ross Day: As more people move to Keizer and work in Salem, we have one north-south corridor that has gotten congested, and it can be dangerous at times. The easiest solution would be to develop a new north-south corridor. Several times, the city has pursued those options and then abandoned them, but I think it is inevitable. We need to pull cars off River Road and release that pressure so we can have a better experience getting through and around Keizer. 

Mike DeBlasi: There’s a thing called the 15- or sometimes 20-minute neighborhood where you can do your shopping and recreating in that 15-minute neighborhood. The point is not having to go far to do those things. Currently, we design streets using the highway-type standards, but we should be considering our cities in the context of an urban environment. There is basically a cookbook for how to make streets safer for bikes and, when you do that, you relieve traffic and congestion on the streets. 

Laura Reid: One of the things that we’ve done as a city is we bring in these mobile flashing speed tracker signs. I’ve been impressed with how well they work, but things tend to go back the way they were once the signs are removed. I would like to see us expand that program with more permanent flashing signs. As far as community safety, I’m very confident that with the Keizer Police Department’s problem-oriented policing, they do their best to build relationships, but we also need to make sure that all people feel safe. That is an important conversation that we are beginning to have more widely in this part of our discussions on inclusivity and equity.

Cathy Clark: Neighborhood traffic is a lot about design, but it’s also a result of how our community is continuing to evolve as we do more infill, increase density and so forth. We are underway with two studies right now, on Verda Lane and Wheatland Road. We are looking at both from a multimodal point of view and considering what designs need to be put in place as we upgrade to make sure that they work safely and completely for walking, biking, and the vehicle transit that uses both of those corridors. 

Question: The local economy has suffered through the COVID-19 pandemic, what can the city do to support the businesses we have and attract new business?

Cathy Clark: A lot of the work that already been previously done in our local area has positioned Marion County and Keizer is in a surprisingly strong space. As we’ve moved through this pandemic, our unemployment rates have continued to drop dramatically over the course of the last several months. We control how our economy is going to do in this pandemic because we control how we are going to participate in that economy. We can do that for the businesses that we support, through the employers that we support, through the education that we support for our workers to be well prepared for these well paying jobs present and in the future. 

Laura Reid: One of the things that this local crisis has really brought out is the strength of Keizer. Yes, I’m going to bring up pride, spirit and volunteerism and how that works in a day-to-day situation and how that is fundamental to the fabric of our community. I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished. Yes, there’s more we can do to get support funds out that are still available. And, no, they are not a lot of money, but they are some kind of relief. We can be creative in our solutions to step up and get through this crisis together. 

Mike DeBlasi: Shopping local is a great thing that we can all do to help our local businesses. We have to look at all the ways we are subsidizing big box businesses to the detriment of River Road and local businesses. We need to make sure that we are engaging in Latino-owned businesses in the community, and it shouldn’t be an afterthought. We need to be engaging especially youth, who are entrepreneurs of the future. When when we have these high costs for space in commercial buildings, they end up leaving for more affordable communities. 

Ross Day: Our community has done an outstanding job, our leadership has done an outstanding job of preparing for a catastrophe like this pandemic and we’ve had in place the systems and processes necessary to help. We need to be compassionate and understand that our businesses are going through a tough time. We, as a city, as a community, can get out of their way, let them open their business, let them run their business, let them earn a living, let them hire people, let those people start earning away again and get back to what we used to call normal. 

Dylan Juran: We can fix a lot of problems with technology. One thing I think we could do a lot better at is communication. We need to do better about communicating to people about how we can get support for businesses, but we also need to do better about communicating to people about how to be prepared and how to access resources when something comes up. One of my pet projects that I’d love to see happen is improving access to the internet. I would love to see Keizer establish a municipal internet utility that would bring new kinds of businesses to Keizer and drive innovation. If we can make the internet more accessible to more people, at a much greater capacity than we currently have, I believe that we can do a lot better in emergencies and in everyday life by taking advantage of these new kinds of technologies. 

Michele Roland-Schwartz: I think it starts with doing what we need to do to return to what is normal as quickly as possible, like wearing masks, to get our businesses back up and running. I think we should work closely with Marion County and the state to make sure what we’ve experienced doesn’t happen over and over again. We can also be thinking about the ways that we can bring the kinds of businesses, nonprofits or other organizations to the area based on our proximity is really exciting opportunities.