1. Establishing a Vacation Home Rental Task Force
Certainly one of the most contentious issues of the year, vacation rentals occupied a significant portion of City Council's time in the latter half of 2014. Council took a step in the right direction when it voted to create a 23-member Vacation Home Rental Task Force, including residents in affected neighborhoods, rental owners, and representatives from the tourism and business community. While some residents (and at least one city councilor) bemoan that the Council did not taker swifter, more decisive action—by either declaring a temporary moratorium on vacation home rental permits, or by making the rentals a "conditional use" requiring some community feedback—a process is now in place. And though it remains to be seen what the task force will recommend, it's likely some stricter policies and clearer regulations are in store for 2015.
2. Approving the OSU-Cascades 10-acre site plan
Oregon State University cleared a second legal hurdle when City Council voted to uphold a land use officer's approval of the site permit for the pending 10-acre expansion of its Cascades campus. The westside location has been the subject of prolonged objections, with the citizen-led Truth in Site coalition leading the charge. Those challenges have delayed the project by at least a year, but the expansion project pushes on. Next up, the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). If the board follows suit and approves the expansion, Truth in Site could appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court.
3. Boosting the Bend Police Department's Community Response Team
In October, City Council approved a bevy of new staff positions, including three additional full-time staff for the Bend PD to create a Community Response Team. With the new team, which uses intelligence-driven policing to addressing mental health and other recurring issues, Bend joins a national trend toward prevention.
4. Adopting a water and sewer rate structure that incentivizes conservation
This year, City Council tackled both water and sewer rates as well as the way those rates are structured. With the new structure, residents will be charged a flat service fee, plus a per use charge. Currently, users are charged a flat monthly fee that covers the first 400 cubic feet used, and then billed $1.68 for every additional cubic foot. This structure incentivizes conservation and gives residents more control over their utility bills.
5. Affordable housing projects
As it has each year since 2006, City Council voted to approve a slate of affordable housing projects funded by the affordable housing fee. Despite its lack of novelty, this decision is important because it marks one of the most direct actions to address Bend's crisis-level shortage of affordable housing, and rental housing in general. The approved funds serve as a loan, and will be dispersed to Bethlehem Inn, Families Forward Construction Financing for Affordable Housing, Housing Works (Central Oregon Regional Housing Authority), Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, Bend Area Habitat for Humanity, and Saving Grace.