By: Sam Stites
Carleen Reilly has been a resident of North Eugene for over 30 years; she moved into her River Road home in 1979 and has lived there ever since.
Once a small rural community in Lane county, now a bustling suburb within Eugene’s urban growth boundary. With time came change, and Reilly’s home moved closer and closer to the city without itself physically moving. As the city expanded and growth boundaries were rewritten, her home was eventually engulfed.
While still unincorporated, Reilly’s location imposes a bit of a problem for her and her family: they can’t develop on their own land.
A spare bedroom, a shed in the backyard or even significantly improving her old bathroom are all projects that are off the table. As much as she’d like to improve or extend her home, she cannot.
Reilly’s inability to improve her home stems from the fact that development and planning within the unincorporated neighborhoods of North Eugene (River Road and Santa Clara) is handled by the city. For her home to become part of the city she must first annex and to annex she would have to get her adjacent neighbors to do so as well, creating a very confusing and frustrating process.
It started with a plan to extend the cities sewage system into the Northern neighborhoods in the mid-80’s. Oregon’s department of environmental quality mandated that with a growing amount of development in Santa Clara and River Road, more septic tanks would cause groundwater pollution.
The city of Eugene lobbied and received federal grants for the project and implemented it. Afterwards the city attempted to annex North Eugene entirely in order to gain their tax kickbacks from the sewer system but were blocked by local residents who wanted to maintain their independence from the city.
In the early 90’s, Lane county faced major financial cutbacks and was forced to turn over planning jurisdiction to the city. This made it so that when residents or commercial interests want to develop they are forced to annex.
Reilly says she would personally like to annex but doesn’t want to force her neighbors to just in order to satisfy her own interest. As an active member of the River Road Community organization, Reilly deals with the annexation issue a lot and sees varying opinions.
“I live in a sort of bubble, and my bubble is pro-city and pro-annexation,” Reilly says.
She believes there are many benefits to annexing including increased Eugene Police presence, city voting rights, and other services run by the city like water and electric. Increased police presence is a big factor for residents like Reilly, who over the years have seen an increase in crime due to EPD’s lack of jurisdiction in the area.
Reilly says that concerned residents who attend community organization meetings argue that annexation would lead to increased taxes with little to show for it.
“Some [people] have some pretty good reasons for not wanting to annex,” she says. “They want to be able to burn in their backyards and others want to preserve the rural feel of the community or want to keep their farmyard animals. Some think that we would lose our neighborhoods volunteer library or our special recreation and parks district that takes care of our parks and community center.”
According to the neighborhood data services, the percentage of incorporated addresses in Santa Clara is 53 percent. The percentage of incorporated addresses in River Road is only 29 percent.
Officials in the cities’ planning department say that a major deterrent for North Eugene residents in annexation is higher taxes.
“River Road residents who annex pay [approximately] $322 more per year than in the county and for Santa Clara it’s about a $943 difference,” says Rene Kane, head of the Eugene’s Strategic Neighborhood Assessment and Planning (SNAP) program. “A lot of the resistance is towards more government and wanting to be independent of the city.”
Kane and her department provide residents with information breaking down all the different taxes and
Santa Clara Community Organization chair Jerry Finigan has seen first hand how resistant some North Eugene residents can be to the cities growing presence in Santa Clara and River Road.
“Some people come into meetings hopping mad,” Finigan said. “They usually just want to fight what the city mandates. It’s hard to explain to unincorporated residents that they have to follow the city’s rules and processes.”
Despite there being only a small amount of residents annexed in River Road and Santa Clara, relations between the city and the two neighborhoods have improved significantly since City Manger Jon Ruiz took over in 2008.
“A lot of the progress we’ve seen in the community’s relationship with the city is because of Jon Ruiz,” Finigan said. “He actually cares about the issues we bring before him and does a good job communicating.”
Reilly says that she has personally sent friends and neighbors to Ruiz when they have a problem with the city, particularly in cases of annexation.
“I agree that things have gotten better, and I think it’s a combination between Mayor [Kitty] Piercy and Ruiz,” Reilly says. “They’ve set a friendly tone and have not been aggressive at all.”
Both Reilly and Finigan serve on an advisory board to the city called the Santa Clara River Road Outreach and Learning Project (SCRROL). Their mission is to survey area residents and identify priorities for the future development of both neighborhoods. They completed a report in June that the city will use as they move forward in making policies for annexed properties.
“The City of Eugene appreciates the hard work and dedication of members of the Santa Clara and River Road community organizations in bringing the issues of urbanization and service delivery to their neighbors through SCRROL,” Ruiz said in a prepared statement. “Their recent efforts have broadened the community’s understanding of this complex and often confusing situation and have deepened avenues of communication between neighbors and the City.”