Although she admits it’s challenging, City Councilor Emily Semple says she loves her elected position enough that she wants to do it for another four years.
Semple is seeking re-election, representing Eugene’s Ward 1, which covers most of downtown Eugene. She says she has gained momentum in working on homelessness, downtown safety and climate change, and she wants to see how the projects pan out.
“I want to continue some of the things we’ve been working on for a long time, and we are on the cusp of some results,” she says. “And I want to get there and see what happens with those results.”
If elected to a second term, Semple says climate change is the biggest topic of them all, and the City Council’s present list of climate action doesn’t cover all of the council’s desires. Semple says she would love to see plastic recycling in the city again.
“I am especially proud of our ordinance for single-use service items,” Semple says. “It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time.”
As a representative for downtown Eugene, Semple wants to see substantial changes when it comes to helping the homeless. The social aspect of homelessness is something she wants to address, she says, because people don’t have anywhere to hang out or sleep.
“I’ve been asking for a day center right from the get-go.”
The City Council opened up Camp 99 in early 2019. It quickly closed when St. Vincent De Paul’s Dusk to Dawn shelter program started. Semple says it has been frustrating not to have any type of shelter downtown.
“The other part is, there is nowhere to sleep, and advocates have been asking for a shelter for forever,” Semple says. She hopes they can get some traction in these areas, especially because the city and county’s TAC report on homelessness lists a day shelter and central navigation point for services as steps towards helping end homelessness.
Semple says, ideally, the city would also re-evaluate the no-camping ordinance, and although she wants legitimate and legal places for people to go, criminalization is still an issue.
“I would love that for us,” she says. “It costs so much to hassle the homeless. And you know, if someone’s asleep in a corner at 10 o’clock and nobody else is around, can we just let them stay there until six?”
Another side to this is housing. In 2022, controversial Oregon House Bill 2001 will go into effect. It eliminates single-family zoning and allows for higher residential density in the state’s urban areas.
Semple says because of the hills in Eugene, the city lacks buildable space. HB 2001 gives the city the opportunity to maximize the developed areas of town.
Downtown safety and revitalization are also a high priority on Semple’s list. During her time as councilor, Semple says she advocated for the payroll tax that the city passed, which increased the number of police officers patrolling around town as well as the number of calls they respond to.
“Now, I did get some pushback that I was wanting more cops to arrest the homeless, which is absolutely the last thing I wanted,” Semple says.
She adds that part of making downtown better would be to build a newer City Hall that has spaces available for the public to rent out.
As the incumbent, Semple says she now understands the council process better, and wants to address some of the criticisms the Eugene City Council has received.
One of these problems is the speed at which the City Council accomplishes projects. She says this slowness can be attributed to the number of topics, the time it takes to develop ideas and research and that sometimes the councilors need to settle on a timeline.
“It’s tough,” Semple says. “So, yes, I would like us to be more efficient. At the same time, it’s just not always possible.”
Another area of improvement she wants to take on, if re-elected, is communication. Some ideas Semple has for this include increasing outreach, meetings at schools, more surveys and more accessibility to council meeting agendas and meeting discussions. She wants to create a Facebook page called “What’s up Ward 1,” where people of her ward can discuss issues and she can answer questions.
“So yes, I think we have made improvements and, yes, we will see more.”