Creating strife in Sisters
Last updated 8/8/2023 at 9:53am
There was a heated meeting at the Sisters Fire Hall Community Room on Tuesday, August 1, concerning plans to establish an emergency homeless shelter on Barclay Drive in Sisters. The State of Oregon is responsible for a lot of the heat in that room.
The shelter is poised to be established under legislation designed to get around local land use planning and public input. HB2006, passed in May of 2021, requires local governments to allow siting of qualifying emergency shelters by qualifying entities, notwithstanding land use laws and regulations.
Set aside for a moment the merits or demerits of the proposed shelter (see related story, page 1). The process itself — such as it is — was guaranteed to create strife. Most of those who came out to the meeting at the Fire Hall on Tuesday are business owners in the area where the shelter is proposed. Many of them have had to go through exacting land use processes to establish and/or conduct their business. The State is telling them that there is a different standard for a project that offers the State a desired outcome. The State is telling them that their concerns are irrelevant and that their voices don’t matter.
That’s guaranteed to make people angry. Really angry.
Opponents of the shelter would probably be opponents of the shelter if it was proposed in a locally controlled process. But at least there would have been a mechanism for their concerns to be heard and hashed out. Their view might or might not prevail, but it’s one thing to lose an argument and another thing entirely to be told that you don’t have standing to make an argument.
The State has put the City of Sisters and other Oregon municipalities in a terrible position, removing local control and most local input. The only recourse for appeal is the courts, so the City will potentially be sued whether they approve the application for the shelter or not.
City staff had to stand and take the slings and arrows of an angry crowd in a situation not of their making.
This is not a matter that can or should be dodged with a shrug of resignation because there’s supposedly nothing the City can do. Staff and elected officials need to be very clear about the parameters for making a decision on this project, and they also need to ensure that all voices are heard, regardless of those parameters.
The City Council is set to hold a workshop on the matter at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, August 9, followed by an opportunity for the public to weigh in during visitor communications. This is at least a good faith effort to try to find a way forward through a minefield sown by state overreach, one that threatens to blow up the civic life of Sisters.
Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief