By Representative David Gomberg, House District 10
Practical Responses to Parkocalypse: Last week I wrote about the Parkocalypse at the Beach. In hindsight, it may not have been clear whether I was talking about our public parks, or the cars parked everywhere in and around them. Both were on my mind when I met with decision makers from State Parks, ODOT, Oregon State Police, and our local sheriffs and county commissioners.
One reader wrote to say that meetings are all well and good, but what is actually being done about the problem?
Steps are now being taken to increase enforcement of illegal parking, ticketing “unsafely parked cars”, and towing vehicles when needed. I encouraged ODOT to share temporary highway signs that are now advising travelers to keep driving when lots are full. More than a dozen new advisory and “No Parking” signs will be installed along U.S. 101. Some parking lots may be re-lined to more clearly show where people are and are not allowed to park.
The great majority of visitors are behaving well, exercising health precautions and spending money that our local small businesses sorely need. Clearly some are proving terrible guests, leaving behind piles of trash and dumping garbage inside portable toilets.
The parks department had to cut back the frequency of its trash pickup following a severe budget shortfall and layoffs in June. Park officials have been asking visitors to pack out their trash instead of relying on trash bins. Sadly that effort has had limited success.
In response, some parks on the north coast will now see increased trash and restroom service where money and staffing are available. Aside from parking legally and packing out trash, park officials are also asking people to consider visiting mid-week and early in the day, and to use restrooms before arriving or after leaving the park.
Some people are calling for public parks to simply close. I’m encouraging the opposite – to open those few waysides still closed and relieve a bit of pressure. Closing parks or parking areas moves the problem from one area to another, and often drives traffic into residential neighborhoods.
Summer is always busy at the beach and this year that has been exceptionally true. The surge in traffic creates quality of life issues for people who live here as well as environmental and health issues. Simply put, trash and illegal parking cause stress for people who live near our parks and a lousy experience for visitors who arrive to a crowded, overused spot.
“If you love the coast, show it,” State Parks Director Lisa Sumption said in a news release Friday. “Take care of it and yourselves with some very simple steps.”
Emergency Money Went Fast! I also wrote last week about a legislative program to provide $500 emergency relief payments to Oregonians still waiting for unemployment benefits. Not surprisingly, that money went very quickly. The program details were announced Wednesday and by Thursday, it was clear all funds would be accounted for by Monday.
Funds were distributed by 150 banks and credit unions that volunteered to participate. As soon as we had the locations, my office emailed every single person who had been in contact with us asking for help with benefits. We sent out a special newsletter that morning and also informed local media. I urged people to act quickly! As far as I can tell, our office was the first to share this information.
Whenever a new program, however well-intended, is rolled out fast, there will be problems. I was concerned that in many of our rural communities, people had to drive an hour to reach one of the few participating banks. I was concerned that people needing the money the most would be least able to make those trips. Banks were not “means testing” which is to say that anyone claiming financial hardship got a check and not just people with dire hardships. Smaller banks were taking appointments while larger banks allowed applicants to line up. I was worried money would run out before appointments could be held. And finally, I worried that those larger banks were in our larger cities and would process more applicants more quickly.
Early on I reached out to the legislative office managing this program and asked them to hold back funds for people with appointments. I asked the project not operate on weekends since smaller banks tend to be closed on weekends. I asked about distribution patterns and was told on the first day, 60% of the funds were disbursed outside the metropolitan area.
Thirty-five million dollars has now been distributed to 70,000 Oregon claimants. If you have an appointment, you can still get a check. If you don’t have an appointment, you have waited too long. I’ll be looking at the details of this distribution program to see how well it worked in rural and coastal communities and how we can do better if there is a next time.
Again, appointments for these funds through August 31 will be honored. If your appointment is scheduled for September, please call the financial institution you applied through to verify.
If you need assistance, there are several options available:
- NEED HELP PAYING RENT? The Legislature has allocated over $40 million to help individuals who are struggling to pay rent due to the financial impact of COVID-19. Funds are distributed by local community action partners (CAP). You can learn more about eligibility by calling 211 or visiting www.caporegon.org/find-services/ to find the nearest CAP.
- NEED HELP PAYING UTILITIES? Your local CAP may also be able to help. Please see: www.caporegon.org/find-services/ Many utility companies are waiving late fees, suspending disconnections, and making payment plans available. Please see https://www.oregon.gov/puc/Documents/OregonEnergyAssistance.pdf for information about what your specific gas, electricity, internet, or telephone company may offer.
- NEED HELP PAYING YOUR MORTGAGE? The Oregon Legislature has released $30 million in mortgage assistance. If you need or anticipate needing mortgage assistance, please sign up for Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) updates at https://www.oregon.gov/ohcs/about-us/Pages/news-updates.aspx. You can also contact OHCS at (503) 986-2000. You may also be eligible for foreclosure protection through September 30th under legislation passed by the Oregon Legislature.
- NEED ADDITIONAL ASSISTANCE? Dial 2-1-1 or visit 211info.org for additional information about COVID-19 test sites, eviction and foreclosure prevention information, how to access free food services, and more.
Hints of Recovery, For Some: The Employment Department compiles snapshots of unemployment broken down by county every month. The reports for July were just released.
Broadly speaking, a couple trends stand out. Leisure and hospitality industries in our counties are seeing more growth than anticipated. That’s good news for restaurants and bars which were among the hardest hit by this pandemic. However, local government employment in education is unsurprisingly down given the unlikelihood of returning to in-person school this fall.
I hear regularly from coastal business owners saying that they are having trouble finding employees. That is always the case in the summer. But it is exceptionally true this summer. Sadly, I believe too many are struggling to return to work given the lack of affordable child care options in our district and ongoing health fears.
To reiterate a point from last week, please take a look at the emergency child care provider application if you have the ability to look out for our kids. The more child care options we have, the better our recovery can proceed.
Thumbs Up of the Week: The Sheridan Revitalization Committee is making plans and raising funds to paint new murals in the downtown area. I’ve joined several meetings and a walking tour of town. Main street is struggling but has a wealth of potential. Good things happen when good people step forward.
Toledo Elks Lodge #1664 recently donated $2000 from the National Elks Foundation to the Toledo Food Share Pantry.
The Pantry began in 1995 with volunteers from Trinity United Methodist Church. Over the past twenty years as the need for food assistance has grown so has the Pantry. It now operates with over 100 local volunteers. Their mission is to provide food assistance to those in need living in the Toledo/Elk City/Sawyers Landing areas.
There is plenty of good news during these challenging times. Each week I’ll try to recognize a local individual or group that is working to make life in our district better, safer, or more resilient. If you have a nominee, please let us know.
address: 900 Court St NE, H-471, Salem, OR, 97301