In his first State of the City address as Salem mayor, Chris Hoy looked to a future with shelter for all who need it, a more vibrant downtown and improved public safety.
The majority of his speech, titled “A New Beginning,” focused on examples of the efforts and investments the city has made that he believes will address the biggest concerns for residents: homelessness, the housing crisis and public safety.
Beyond that, Hoy also hinted at an imminent update for the Salem Municipal Airport. He concluded by asking Salem residents to come together and embrace change.
The theme of a new beginning, he said during the speech, comes from several new faces in city leadership. Hoy, City Manager Keith Stahley, and Councilors Linda Nishioka, Deanna Gwynn, Julie Hoy and Micki Varney all stepped into their roles last year.
Change was also visible with the season, he remarked, as cherry trees prepare to bloom.
“It’s a time of fresh ideas and for an earnest look at what we have achieved, and where we have more to do,” Hoy said.
Read excerpts from the speech here.
Hoy grew up on the Oregon coast, and had a 30 year career in law enforcement where his work focused on drug treatment programs and trauma informed care. He retired from his role as undersheriff at the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office in 2019.
Hoy was first elected to city Council in 2017, and served as its president for several years before being elected mayor in May 2022.
Hoy gave the address on Wednesday, March 22, to an audience at the Salem Convention Center. The Salem Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the event, which also had support from the Salem City Club and Rotary Club of Salem.
Before the speech, the convention center’s Willamette River room filled with the sounds of scraping utensils and lively chatter from around 200 attendees. In a corner, juniors and seniors from the McKay High School string quartet performed classical pieces to set an elegant tone.
The menu options for luncheon included vegetarian lasagna and chicken cordon bleu. City councilors dined at a long table with a navy blue tablecloth at the front of the room.
Salem Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Hoffert and President Wendy Veliz made opening remarks and Cheryle Kennedy, chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, led the room in a prayer.
Hoy is Salem’s 60th mayor, and leads the first city council to have a woman majority. It comes at a time when women face discrimination, pay equity issues, sexual harassment and barriers to reproductive care across the country, he said.
“As women across the country continue to fight for equal rights, I think this milestone is worth celebrating,” he said. “I am committed to being an ally to these women and to do all that I can to remove the senseless barriers to equality.”
READ IT: State of the City
Much of Hoy’s speech focused on the city’s efforts to improve homeless services and expand shelter.
“Decades of under-prioritizing behavioral health services and access to housing have compounded year after year, and now the need is so great that we see it every day, on almost every corner,” he said.
He said every person deserves a home where they feel safe.
“For too many Salem residents their home may be a tent on the side of a road, a mattress in a warming shelter, or the cold fear of staring into the darkness with nowhere to go. People who live on our streets live in fear of being victimized, of not knowing where they will sleep. Fear of their belongings being stolen and of declining health. We must be better stewards of each other,” he said.
Hoy listed the recent investments by the city, including micro-shelters and staffing for outreach services.
In January 2022, the council approved three micro shelter sites to be managed by Church at the Park, which Hoy said allows people a place to sleep and store their belongings. During the following year, over half of people who stayed at Salem’s micro-shelters moved on to more permanent housing or inpatient care.
The city has also invested to expand the Safe Sleep shelter from 19 to 45 beds. The low-barrier women’s shelter opened in 2019 and is operated by the United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley. Hoy also mentioned the city’s investment in Mosaic, a converted motel shelter available to survivors of domestic violence, stalking and trafficking.
Hoy also noted the continual use of the Safe Park Program which gives people who live in their cars access to bathrooms, storage and security. He introduced the concept while on city council in 2019. He also noted the city has put more money into the Salem Warming Network.
Last year, he said the Salem Outreach and Livability Services Team continued to build relationships with people who are homeless in the community.
That team worked with city police and the department’s two Homeless Services Team officers to contact 1,675 people at 974 encampments in the past year, and reported 377 referrals for services.
He said the team removes an average of 44,000 pounds of trash from public spaces each month, and works to respond to camping complaints.
Hoy said that the team’s goal is to build trust, and connect people to services rather than arrest them.
“Developing relationships can build trust in the police to encourage the reporting of crimes which, in turn, can reduce victimizations within the encampments. Arrest is always a last resort and in limited situations,” he said.
Using state and federal American Rescue Plan funding, the city has allocated $23.33 million dollars for shelters and their services, he said. Those are one-time funds that will run out in the next year.
If the city cannot find other money, the micro-shelters and the new Navigation Center set to open on May 1 won’t stay open, he said.
“We have been lobbying our state and federal elected officials for financial support so that we may keep these beds available for as long as possible. I ask for your support in these efforts,” Hoy said to applause.
Hoy also listed upcoming housing projects, and said the city is working to remove barriers for developers.
The city saw an increase in inquiries to build multifamily housing in 2022, he said, with around a third of the 1,700 permits submitted classified as affordable housing.
Hoy cited several housing projects in the works, with construction of 162 units underway at the former Nordstrom downtown, and Yaquina Hall scheduled to open April 5, with 52 apartments with supportive services on State Hospital grounds.
Hoy said the city is in early discussions to turn the Truitt Brothers’ property into over 300 units of multi-family, mixed use development at the waterfront north of downtown.
“This development will embrace the river and waterfront and revitalize the area north of downtown in historic fashion,” he said, drawing applause.
Hoy listed several other recent or upcoming projects bringing over a thousand total units, including:
-The Mahonia Apartments in the Battlecreek area, breaking ground March 23 for 313 units of affordable housing.
-27th Street Apartments, 96 units serving low-income and Latino families.
-Recent renovations to the Southfair Apartments, adding two units and subsidizing 32 additional apartments.
-The East Park Village, which plans to add 670 single-family units and 370 multi-family units.
-Construction of 60 units of permanent supportive housing at Sequoia Crossings, which will include onsite services.
Downtown parking and development
Hoy said that business owners, workers and patrons have asked the city to address the lack of parking and security issues downtown.
The city recently added 24-hour security in all downtown parking garages, he said.
“We’ve made Marion Parkade safe again by removing residents from stairwells and elsewhere, and staff is working on a proposal to institute paid parking on-street downtown. Stay tuned for more on that,” he said.
Paid parking is inevitable as downtown grows, he said.
Hoy also listed property development downtown, such as Holman Hotel that opened the day of the speech.
Buildings that once housed the Union Gospel Mission, Saffron Supply and ABC Music have been demolished and will be ready to develop soon, and the city is looking to transform the former Wells Fargo Bank site and Liberty Plaza.
Hoy described bringing commercial air service to the Salem Municipal Airport as “a little bit of a battle,” pushing city staff and the community.
The city approved $2 million in funds for renovations in January to bring the airport up to federal standards for commercial flights. During his speech, Hoy said the city is contracting with its first airline, which he didn’t identify. He said flights to the Los Angeles area could start by July.
“While we understand it is a risk, this public-private partnership with the city, the Chamber of Commerce and Travel Salem is providing a rebirth at our airport. We are attracting new businesses and the school district has purchased a hangar and we will soon have an airport-based CTEC drone program,” he said.
Hoy applauded the work of the Salem Police Department and Chief Trevor Womack.
He noted Womack’s investment in body cameras and requiring procedural justice training for staff. He also mentioned the online portal the department launched in January which publishes police reports and data.
Hoy listed the police department’s arrests and seizures in the past year, including 416 drunk driver arrests, 493 illegal firearms and 237,000 fentanyl pills.
“Chief Womack and his officers have done a tremendous job with limited staff, but they simply do not have enough resources to adequately address the needs of our growing city,” he said.
Hoy said that a recent study concluded the city needs to add 70 officers to manage calls and shorten response times. That drew some murmurs from the crowd.
“We can’t afford it, but we need to,” Hoy said. “Let me be clear: If we want to increase the safety of our city and see a reduction in crime, if we want relation-based policing, if we want safer neighborhoods and safer streets, we need additional funding for public safety.”
He didn’t describe the source for such funding.
He noted the city now has money to upgrade fire vehicles because of the $300 million city bond voters improved in November.
That won’t pay for more firefighters and the city is short by more than 100, he said.
“We are in desperate need of them,” Hoy said. “Since 2010, our population has increased 15.8% and call volume has increased 86.7%. The firefighters available to respond to that near doubling of calls has not increased.”
‘We cannot stay a small town forever’
Hoy closed with remarks about the city’s ongoing transformation.
“Salem has a small town feel that is integral to our culture, but we must also face the reality that we cannot stay a small town forever. As the state’s capital and its second largest city, it is inevitable that we evolve. Adapting to this 21st century reality will allow us to shape it, rather than it shaping us,” he said.
Hoy noted the recent trials the city has gone through, such as the pandemic and climate change. He said issues have brought “unprecedented levels of tension and mistrust of our neighbors, our schools, and of every level of our government.”
In Salem, he said, people came together during the pandemic to support small businesses and provide health care to the community.
“Change can be a difficult thing, but it also provides an opportunity to adapt and to grow. If we choose to harness this momentum, we can shape it to create the change that we’ve always wanted. If we condemn hate and embrace equality, if we condemn ignorance and celebrate reason, and if we reject divisiveness and demand a return to civility, then our city will bloom,” he said.
Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.
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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.