HERMISTON — It was three city councilors’ first meeting in office on Monday, Jan. 11, and several city residents wasted no time in getting in front of them to encourage the council to do something about the COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the state and enforced by state agencies.
Allen Aichle said he feels for all the business owners struggling right now, some of whom he knows personally.
“We’re looking to our local governments to help this thing along and we’re not going to get this done looking the other way like they’ve done on the federal level and the state level,” he said to applause from audience members.
A man identified as Steve thanked the city for the grants it has partnered with Umatilla County to offer small businesses impacted by COVID-19, but said it was frustrating to live in a state with so many restrictions. He said he wanted to see Oregon open up and “get this thing behind us,” citing South Dakota, Florida and Texas as examples of states he felt were doing things right.
“Right now, business owners don’t feel served, they feel strangled, so what is it we can do to open this up?” he asked.
Some at the meeting mentioned the mayor of Sandy, Oregon, as an example of a city leader they said had “opened up” his city.
Mayor Stan Pulliam encouraged restaurants and other closed-down businesses in Sandy to protest state mandates by opening and following the “high risk” instead of “extreme risk” rules on New Year’s Day, despite Clackamas County being classified as extreme risk.
In a Jan. 5 follow-up post on his Facebook page he noted that he was hearing reports from some participating businesses that they are now “being contacted by the governor’s enforcement agencies about possible fines and other punishments” and encouraged people to donate to his political action committee, Main Street Mayors, for a legal defense fund.
City Councilor Roy Barron responded to the group at the Jan. 11 city council meeting by saying while he is tired of the pandemic too, the state COVID-19 mandates that businesses face are not enacted or enforced by the city.
“As a city, we cannot override stuff that’s going on in the state and federal government. That’s just the way it is,” he said. “We appreciate everybody coming here today because you guys are the reason why government runs, absolutely. We’re here to hear you, absolutely. But when there’s something that is out of our control we can’t simply do it.”
During council comments later in the meeting, other councilors expressed similar views, and said while due to the council’s rules they had not engaged in a back-and-forth discussion with the commenters during the public comment period, they had heard their views and would continue to consider how the city might find ways to help.
“We’re not going to solve this thing tonight,” Councilor Rod Hardin said, before encouraging people to speak with Umatilla County officials, since the state’s COVID-19 levels are broken up by county rather than city.Other businessA planned mini-storage facility took another step toward reality when the city council approved several land use decisions during their Monday, Jan. 11, meeting.
Steve Richards, of Eastern Oregon Development LLC, had requested an 11.5-acre piece of property at 455 E. Elm Ave. be annexed into the city, changed from medium-density residential to commercial on the city’s comprehensive plan, and from multi-family residential to neighborhood commercial overlay on the zoning map.
Richards plans to build a large mini-storage facility on part of the property, similar to his existing business Highland Mini Storage, and save the rest for future commercial development.
The council passed the ordinance unanimously. Richards said his purchase of the property in question was contingent on the council’s actions, and later he will have to return to the planning commission to request a conditional use permit for the storage facility.
On Jan. 11, the council also approved the annexation of about 1.4 acres of land on 1030 S.W. 17th St. into the city, at the request of the owners. Spencer said they wish to pay to connect to city water and sewer services rather than repair their septic system.
The council voted to name Doug Primmer as council president for the year, replacing Rod Hardin. The council president conducts city council meetings in the absence of the mayor, who was absent on Jan. 11.