[EW will be updating this post as new information becomes available. Last update at 5:40 pm Monday, Feb. 29.]
Did the city of Eugene truly forget or were city officials just hoping the public wouldn't remember?
The city of Eugene was aware of the 1971 deed restriction on Kesey Square well before City Manager Jon Ruiz brought to the City Council a private offer to purchase the public parcel, which is "forever dedicated to the use of the public," in October 2015.
One of Eugene Weekly's observant readers pointed out the obvious in an email this morning. In the Register-Guard article "Revival on the Ropes" dated Dec. 1, 2013, Sherri Buri McDonald writes:
"Because Kesey Square is designated by the city as a public space not a park, it is not subject to the more restrictive park rules," [Sgt. Larry] Crompton said.
The area’s designation as public space dates back at least to the early 1970s when the downtown pedestrian mall was built, said Laura Hammond, spokeswoman for the city’s planning and development department. In 1971, Eugene’s Urban Renewal Agency officially transferred ownership of the site to the city. The site was 'forever dedicated to the use of the public,' according to the deed."
The full article can be found here. Hammond, however, tells EW the following:
"The first sentence of the second paragraph is attributed to me - which sounds right. To my knowledge, the following sentence regarding the deed was not provided by me. Sherri must have found that information on her own. While I probably read the article back in 2013, I didn't remember the deed information from that time. It came to my attention most recently when the Register-Guard asked about it."
In the past few weeks, many councilors did not respond to requests of whether they knew the deed existed. In a Feb. 16 email to EW, Mayor Kitty Piercy responded to the question of whether she was aware of the deed:
“It would have been good if we had received a memo on this prior to it being discovered by the R-G and actually prior to council deciding to take a look at the merits of the application for development.” (See full story, "Kesey Square: Forever dedicated to public space?" here)
Piercy was quoted in the R-G with a similar statement Feb. 16:
“It certainly adds a new twist to the discussion,” she said. “It would have been helpful to have had that information earlier, and I am glad we have it before any council deliberation occurs.”
So what exactly is going on here?
This morning, Feb. 29, EW asked for the mayor's comment once more on this "revelation" that the city actually was well aware of the deed.
Mayor Piercy responded:
"Yes I was unaware or did not remember any council discussion of the deed, but of course we had not even begun discussion where it would have been brought up. I do remember the park discussion although council never moved forward with the park idea."
It should be noted that EW asked the mayor if she was aware of the deed prior to Feb. 16, not if there there had been any City Council discussion on the deed. When EW asked for clarification on this point, the mayor responded:
"Sometimes I think I must be speaking another language. I will try again.
1. I did not know about the deed.
2. It is likely that when we had a work session, staff would have shared the information about the deed and it is likely that council would have asked.
3. I stated I would have liked to have known this before it broke in the RG.
4. I think the deed restrictions change the discussion.
I cannot think how I could be clearer. "
Yet EW found a public Facebook post Piercy made on Dec. 1, 2013, sharing the R-G article that discusses the deed restriction on Kesey Square. See screenshot below. Piercy responded to EW about this Facebook post saying: "That's interesting. I don't recall it but as you see the information was out there."
Did City Manager Jon Ruiz know of the 1971 deed restriction when he recommended City Council look at a proposal to privatize Kesey Square and put a building in its place and not inform the council? Did the City Council know? It's clear that city employee Laura Hammond — a communications and policy analyst for the city and spokesperson for city planner Nan Laurence — knew of some of the history of Kesey Square since 1970.
Additionally, if the city knew about the deed as early as 2013, why did the city issue a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEIs) in late November including the option of "sale or lease for private development"? Three separate, private groups submitted proposals, investing time and money, for a piece of public land that had a deed restriction that it seems they were not informed about.
[Above: City Council, Mayor Kitty Piercy and Denny Braud, the city's community development division manager, discuss Kesey Square publicly for the first time during a work session Feb. 22.]
As the deed states that Kesey Square is forever dedicated to the use of the public, the public has a right to know who knew what when about the 1971 deed restriction and why the city of Eugene would consider private proposals for the space when at least some of its staff were aware of the restrictions in place.
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