Fire Preparedness and Recovery
The Almeda and South Obenchain Fires have taught us how much is involved in fire preparedness and how painstaking recovery can be. Disaster preparedness is a team effort, requiring complex coordination, emergency plans, and incisive communication—areas where the County has a crucial role to play. We must test and retest our county-wide alert and communication systems. We should fund and train volunteers for firefighting and evacuation support. We must continue to improve coordination between state and local firefighting bodies. We must be diligent about fire prevention strategies in the form of controlled burns and maintaining and cleaning up county lands. Fire recovery should include fire-hardening structures, incorporating fire-wise landscaping, and restoring native vegetation in riparian areas for fire resiliency.
We cannot control the drought, but we can come up with more efficient ways to collect and use water. This is not just a rural issue. We all need to conserve water whenever possible, whether it is replacing or upgrading inefficient irrigation systems or employing water-saving measures in urban areas, like shifting to xeriscaping, implementing water catchment systems, or installing means of repurposing gray water. I will reexamine ordinances that may limit the ways that we can address water efficiency and work to update them as needed. When there is not enough water coming from the lakes and streams to maintain our way of life, we need to work quickly to develop new and innovative ways to use the water that is available to us. And we must get tougher on enforcement against water theft.
The housing crisis in Southern Oregon has gone from bad to worse. Many people were out of work due to the pandemic and then 2,600 homes were lost in the 2020 wildfires. Housing prices continue to climb. Rents are out of reach for many. We need to build more low- and moderate-income housing, find new ways to create and locate manufactured houses, and provide true wrap-around services that help the homeless get off the streets. Some of the hardest hit by the housing crisis are students, young families, the elderly, farm workers, and those in low-wage jobs. There is little available affordable housing, and the number of people experiencing homelessness is climbing daily. Shelter is a basic necessity. We must do better!
We have a mental health crisis in Southern Oregon. In 2021, Oregon ranked 41st in the country for mental health based on a system that encompasses both prevalence of mental illness and availability of care. Yet our mental health budget has been slashed. And when mental health collides with incarceration and addiction, we all pay the price. (Oregon has the highest addiction rate in the country according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.) The community benefits when access to services, housing, and treatment is available to persons with behavioral health-related conditions, especially when they are homeless, picked up off the streets, or re-entering society from jail.
While climate change is a global problem, responses at a local level play a critical role. Oregon House Bill 2021 establishes a goal for the state to achieve 100% clean energy by 2040. It prioritizes the decarbonization of the electricity grid to ensure that all public transportation vehicles and all-electric buildings are zero emission. Here in Jackson County, a fund that provides incentives to improve efficiency and cut costs for powering homes across the County—similar to what’s currently in place in Ashland—is one of several promising ideas. Jackson County would lead by example, putting these practices in place in County-owned facilities.
The County has ordinances that address zoning and land use — and Code Enforcement (CE) is there to ensure compliance. However, CE operates as a complaint-driven system with limitations that make it difficult or impossible to enforce its own ordinances. The system keeps honest people honest, but it has not been effective in preventing illegal activities that harm residents, harm the land and natural resources, and reduce quality of life. Multiple crises have arisen surrounding illegal marijuana grows across the County. In 2015, Code Enforcement dealt with 605 cases, none of which were cannabis related. In 2021, they had 1,878 cases, and 1,094 involved complaints about cannabis operations, mostly illegal. We must strengthen existing, or create new, ordinances that safeguard our land and natural resources and protect our quality of life.
Engagement and Transparency
In order to stay informed and connected with the residents of Jackson County, I will hold monthly town hall-style meetings across the County to hear constituents’ concerns and ideas and to stay in touch with the residents, both rural and urban. In order to build trust and working relationships, it is important that the Commission make every effort to be responsive to the needs of the community at large, to be more transparent in its decision-making, and maintain open and honest communication with the electorate.