North Eugene’s Unsung Hero

Eugene’s Northern neighborhoods look to their community organizations to provide equal representation to the city, and behind those groups is Jerry Finigan.

Sam Stites

The neighborhoods of North Eugene have had a long and difficult integration into the city. Over the past 20 years, Santa Clara and River Road have battled for their representation in Eugene, and it’s taken the work of neighborhood leaders like Jerry Finigan to get their voices heard.

Finigan has been a North Eugene resident for over 45 years. He began working with the

Neighborhood leader Jerry Finigan has worked with community organizations in North Eugene for over 30 years. (Courtesy of Jerry Finigan)

Santa Clara Community Organization (SCCO) in 1979 when he moved there to teach history at Kelly Middle School.

“As a history teacher, I enjoyed the politics and decision making process as well as helping my neighborhood,” he said.

Finigan’s love for teaching led to a job at North Eugene High School teaching english and history. He eventually became the head of the english department before retiring circa 2000.

In the mid-80’s, Finigan’s role in SCCO increased, leading him to expand the organization’s function in the city’s political landscape.

As the city expanded it’s utilities into the Santa Clara and River Road neighborhoods, the residents of North Eugene feared they would be made to pay city taxes despite not wanting to be part of the city. In 1984 the city made official moves to try and annex the Santa Clara and River Road areas.

A wave of opposition met the cities attempts, including state legislation proposed by locals in 1989 to block the city of Eugene from annexing their communities. As a result, the city sidestepped the state and went to Lane county to try and gain more control of the area.

“The county decided to turn over planning jurisdiction to the city and a lot of men, older men, wanted to keep decisions local,” Finigan said. “It made it so that if you wanted to build a new home or improve yours significantly, you have to annex.”

Finigan says that the reason it has taken so long to become part of the city is because it happens one lot at a time, resulting in a peppered cartogram of the small incorporated areas.

Wanting to help moderate the battle between the city and the people of North Eugene, Finigan joined every single community group that affected his neighborhood, leading to his involvement in over 18 different community organizations, committees, councils, stakeholder groups and projects.

“Networking is key to everything,” he said. “You can’t get anything done without connections.”

Finigan’s tenure led to several leadership positions including chair of both the SCCO and Neighborhood Leaders Council. According to other neighborhood stakeholder, he is a revered leader with a deep understanding of the areas issues.

Jerry Finigan is a listener, facilitator and stellar neighborhood leader,” said Ann Vaughn, a member of the Santa Clara Community Organization. “He is very knowledgable about the history of Santa Clara and understands the issues of its residents better than anyone.”

He says although he does his best to calm tensions between the city and the people, many remain skeptical due to a long history of the city stepping on toes.

“When the city makes a misstep, it gets people really upset, then people come into neighborhood meetings fighting mad,” Finigan said. “You have to tell them, ‘if you really want to do something about it we have to follow the process,’ but no, they’re just mad, so it takes a lot of skill dealing with that.”

Finigan points to his years as a teacher as credit for his leadership and organizational skills.

“I notice that when others are trying to become neighborhood leaders they have difficulty because they haven’t had experience being in front of the group, organizing the whole thing, setting up an agenda and dealing with emotions during the meetings,” Finigan said. “All those skills are things you have to use in the classroom.”

Although he recently won an award for his service to the community, Finigan said that his greatest achievement is getting more people involved. His current venture — the Santa Clara/River Road Outreach and Learning project — aims to educate more local residents on the happenings in their neighborhood.

“When I first started, nobody ever came to the meetings except for the seven of us or so that were in the group,” he said. “Today we have one of the best attendance in the city.”

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