Saturday, January 9, 2021

City Council, January 11th - Cemetery Path Again

The new Council, including three new Councilors, will be sworn in at the first meeting of the year on Monday the 11th. The long-simmering debate over a path connecting the Candalaria and Fairmount neighborhoods through the cemetery block will take another round.

I'm not sure there's anything very new to say on the prospect of a path connection through the cemeteries. It is difficult. There are matters to resolve, and it will take a negotiated agreement that addresses a path, cemetery security, enhanced historical interpretation, as well as funding, and it seems highly unlikely that Council will be able to resolve anything on Monday. The best that can be hoped for is to continue conversation and exploration of common ground. No unilateral decision is likely to work. 

At the same time, some criticism of the prospect of a connection is unfounded or unwarranted.

Fear & Risk in Proper Perspective

At least in 2020, there was more harm to cemetery monuments from trees than from human vandalism.

Damage from tree removal in August

More damage from a different tree in December

The Friends of Pioneer Cemetery doubtless feel beleaguered and there is a good reason for this. The City has underinvested in the IOOF Pioneer cemetery, off-loading basic maintenance and caretaking to volunteers. Volunteers have to do too much.

The Friends have gathered 250 signatures on a petition that asserts no specific danger, only the fear of potential danger:

We would regret to see thirty-five years of painstaking effort in rehabilitating the grounds and repairing weathered, broken, and vandalized monuments of Oregon pioneers, military veterans, government leaders, citizens and community-builders at risk of being undermined by introduction of a public short-cut or pathway through the cemetery...We believe a throughfare path would increase the cemetery's vulnerability to vandalism and misuse. Rather than add to the burden of maintaining this hallowed place, we would like the city to continue to protect the cemetery with only its current public access.

It's still not clear why the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery here in Salem is more vulnerable than the Eugene Pioneer Cemetery right next to historic Mac Court on the UO campus, the Eugene Masonic Cemetery on a hill in a residential neighborhood, or Corvallis Crystal Lakes Cemetery. A substantial chunk of opposition, not all of it to be sure, but a meaningful part of it, is based on non-specific fear, even fear-mongering, and not based anything rooted in empirical fact or actuarial risk. 

And if the cemetery is truly "hallowed," we should think more about the negative impacts of cars on the cemetery. Rhetoric defending the cemetery selectively highlights some risks and elides others.

Just saying "no" to a path connection doesn't actually address enough of the real risks the cemeteries face.

City View or Pioneer Cemetery

City materials use a suboptimal concept sketch

Here it has seemed a path on the City View side with a direct connection in line with John Street was, apart from ownership considerations, the best and least disruptive option. The City keeps repeating "the owners [of City View] continue to have no interest in having a path cross through their cemetery" but also say the "issue is security along the northern boundary." (Previous notes on the City View alignment here.)

Questions about resources for security rather than "do you want a path?" may be more productive.

In presenting to Council concept sketches, the Staff rendering for a City View alignment inexplicably uses the disputed east-west alley rather than turning the corner inside the cemetery and making a direct connection inline with John Street. They do not seem to make the best case.

Minimalist Gate or Bundle of Enhancements?

If we say we value the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery, we should put more municipal parks budget behind that. One reason Friends of Pioneer Cemetery resist a path connection is that other needs would remain unaddressed. A package of improvements, rather than a single change for a path connection, is nearly certain to be a key part of any real solution.

Mark Wigg asks: Why the redundant drives?

In comments submitted to Council, trails advocate Mark Wigg has proposed a hybrid concept that consolidates the separate north-south drives into one shared drive. This is the kind of thinking that is going to land on a good solution. (See a few notes on the proposal here in December.)

The debate needs to move away from the question, do you want a path here? and instead move to ask things like:

  • What do you need for better cemetery security? 
  • What resources do you need for better maintenance?
  • What would improve the historical interpretive materials and make the cemeteries better understood as the resting place for "Oregon Pioneers, military veterans, and government leaders"?

An approach for a maximalist solution will take longer and cost more, but it is far more likely to balance the needs of multiple user groups and interests.

Some have said, "just put a gate in and leave the graveled path," but there does not seem to be a way to make that work in practice, and this is why a bundled solution seems preferable.

Altogether the Staff Report does not seem designed to chart any way forward but instead seems to be designed for maximum frustration and to guide Council towards abandonment of the project.

Hopefully Council will instead say, "keep talking."

See a decade's worth of previous notes here.

Other Items:

There's a quarterly Economic Development report, and there's a weird disconnect between the breathless recitation of new permits, which on the surface sounds good -

New development and redevelopment projects were active citywide. According to City of Salem (City) permit reports, there were 597 issued during the months of July, August, and September with a total valuation of $152,943,286. During the same period last year, there were 539 permits with a valuation of $98,116,329. Included in the total permits for the quarter were 19 new commercial/industrial permits with a total valuation of $19,001,578. During the same period last year, there were 15 commercial/industrial permits with a total valuation of $26,418,929....

And our Pandemic reality. There's a paragraph on the sidewalk/parklet dining program, but no attempt to assess its magnitude relative to the permit numbers. They say without comment, "an additional $200,000 was approved for a new program," but maybe the magnitude difference of $200K vs. $150M deserves more analysis and comment. One is permit value, the other City investment, but there is still the fact that the Pandemic economy distributes costs and benefits unequally, and the City should be more explicit about this in any analysis.

There's also a geographical difference that is elided.

Businesses continue to show interest in the Salem Business Campus and the Mill Creek Corporate Center. The subdivision for the Salem Business Campus has been modified to reflect City Council’s charge to balance development lots with Oregon white oak conservation areas. There are purchase and sale agreements in place on nearly 20 acres and staff are proceeding with the design of Gaia Street SE to accommodate new development.

From July 1 to December 30, 2020, staff and SEDCOR responded to 13 inquiries from site selectors and brokers regarding new business or expansion of existing businesses locating at the Mill Creek Corporate Center or Salem Business Campus. To meet the demand for new development, a new internal road, Truax Dr SE, has been constructed off Aumsville Highway SE to improve circulation and access in the corporate center. The sewer conversion project is also complete, and progress continues with the establishment of a new 26-acre wetland to serve as wetland mitigation and stormwater support for the surrounding parcels.

Is this investment on the edges sucking resources from investment in downtown or other more central areas?

The Economic Development reports generally read more like uncritical propaganda than self-critical and self-aware reports designed for iteration and improvement. They are also missing a climate lens. There's never enough in them to answer the question, "are we actually doing the right things? Are we getting what we want?"

Bullets for the rest:


Gary said...

Thanks for highlighting the upcoming council discussions on the cemetery path. Mark's concept of just a single gravel drive to serve both cemeteries sounds great. The gate into each cemetery could be placed ~halfway down the path. There could be decorative fencing and landscaping along each side of the drive to separate the drive from the cemeteries.
One point of debate...should a new single drive be gravel or paved? I think it should be a compacted gravel/stone/granite surface in keeping with the other drives in the cemeteries. All but the skinniest bike tires will be OK on a drive like that.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added note on Councilor Leung's motion on racism.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The City published today a release on the resolution on racism they passed:

"The resolution, brought forward by Mayor Chuck Bennett and substantially amended by Councilor Tom Andersen, was approved unanimously by the City Council. The resolution commits Salem to welcome every person regardless of their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, disability, source of income, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity....

The resolution further condemns and rejects 'the belief system of white supremacy and racism, and [remains] committed to the elimination of all forms of racism everywhere it exists, including institutional racism.'

The resolution followed a lengthy discussion in council comments about the issue of racism. Councilors Jackie Leung and Jose Gonzalez shared some of their personal experiences with racism.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

On the January 25th agenda is the formal adoption of the anti-racism resolutions.

On "condemning racism and white supremacy" and "affirming racism as a public health crisis."