Biff Traber handily won reelection last year in a contest that could easily be seen as a referendum on housing and fiscal policies. Traber has strongly advocated for a broad spectrum of new housing builds, and stabilizing city finances. Though the latter of those priorities could be considered by some as a leaning towards austerity, make no mistake — our current mayor was a heavy supporter of the livability levy earlier this year, which funds our parks and library beyond what other communities are sometimes willing to support.
Beyond housing and refining how city operations are funded, a number of other issues arose during last year’s debates, and many since. Here are Mayor Traber’s answers to some of our burning questions:
Q. Currently, our city councilors are unpaid, and they serve two year terms. The idea has been floated that the terms should be longer, and staggered, so the council always has some returning members. Also, the idea has been floated that councilors should be paid. What do you think of these proposals? Do you anticipate there will be a review of the city charter, and if yes, when?
A. The subject of charter amendment was raised in the last council term. Councilor Penny York worked with a variety of community members and produced some working papers that describe the possible changes, rationales, and views on the possible changes. Both council restructuring and counselor compensation are in those documents.
All alternatives for each topic have reasons for the change and possible disadvantages. For example, will longer terms become a disincentive for those considering council position for the first time? Resolving these questions is the work to be done in preparation to take a charter amendment to the voters. In this council term, we have been carrying a future city council work item to address this topic. We are currently considering it as a potential work activity in 2020.
Q. What process do you envision for working through the changes called for in HB 2001, which seems to end single family home zoning?
A. First, we need to have a clear and complete picture of what is called for in HB2001. That will require the state’s rules, which are not scheduled to be published until late 2020. In the meantime, staff will be following the state’s work, working with them where possible, and staff and a council legislative committee will be working with legislators to achieve what is best for the city in the context of HB2001.
Q. In general, how do you believe Corvallis could best approach its current housing needs? What do you envision coming, in terms of housing, during the course of your current term as mayor?
A. We have a broad housing shortage across all income levels. I am not simply referring to a lack of low-income affordable housing, which we have. I include all income levels in my statement. Too many people who work in Corvallis cannot afford to live in Corvallis, or even find available housing to consider. We must, and do, have a broad approach to deal with this lack of available housing. The city, planning commission, and council, have a number of projects underway to deal with this.
We upzoned several parcels to create more vacant land for high-density residential housing. We completed an audit of the land development code and now have a work list of items to simplify and improve it. We are proceeding with a new approach for annexations. For low income affordable housing, we have built up the funds from the construction excise tax and are now examining programs to incent affordable housing development. And we created the South Corvallis Urban Renewal District. A major element of URD’s plan is to incent low income affordable housing. During my term, I want these efforts to be completed and bear the benefits we have in mind — greater housing availability for those who want to live in Corvallis.
Q. What are your views on the 911 taxing district that will go before voters in November?
A. I think it is critical that it passes. The current funding structure has not kept up with the need. The current 911 Center is able to dispatch within 60 seconds for only 71 percent of its calls. The industry norm is 90 percent, a target we were exceeding 10 years ago. The district will fund an increase in needed staff and technology upgrades.
Without new technology, the 911 system is not able to locate cell phones, and cell phones are the source of the overwhelming majority of calls.
Q. There are some in the community who believe police are not providing enough enforcement, others believe they are too heavy handed. What do you believe is currently the case in Corvallis?
A. We have a tremendous police force in Corvallis, well trained and recognized with the highest levels of international certification. The major challenge for the CPD has been staff funding limits. The council and staff have started to remedy that with the use of the new Public Safety fee. This will enable the department to increase staff and increase its community policing operation.
Q. What do you believe are the most serious challenges and best opportunities for business growth in Corvallis?
A. Both the challenges and opportunities are part of the city’s economic development strategy. It guides the work of the Corvallis Benton County Economic Development Office and is regularly updated by our Economic Development Office. To me, the key aspect of our approach is to support the startup and expansion of local businesses.
Q. Thinking about our community’s response to homelessness, what do you believe would be important next steps towards progress?
A. We need to form the HOPE board [Home, Opportunity, Planning and Equity Board] and get it functioning as soon as possible. It is intended to be a critical forum for the community to discuss and collaborate on issues and solutions for our local version of a nationwide growth in homelessness.
I would point out that a key task for the city is to make sure we have sufficient housing to avoid exacerbating the current situation, work I described above.
Q. In regards to the climate crisis, what do you believe the city should either be considering or doing?
A. The city’s Climate Action Plan and the supporting Climate Action Advisory Board are the source of answers to this question. We need to move forward quickly on the elements of the plan and recommendations of the board.
Q. As mayor, what are your goals for this term?
A. When I campaigned, I identified two priorities: 1) “Sustainable Financing for Vital Services” and 2) “Affordable Housing for All”. We have been moving forward strongly on both fronts.
Q. What plans do you have for after your term? Have you considered running for higher office?
A. Who knows. My term does not end for three and a half years. I have lots of work to do now and will consider what comes next in a couple of years.
Q. What do you dig about Corvallis?
A. I dig many things: the community feel, size and location; the people with their values, commitment and involvement; downtown with its riverfront, restaurants, and brew pubs; walking and hiking trails in and around the city; the university; and overall, being in Oregon.