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Talent residents call for retaining town character in rebuild

Talent’s character must be preserved by making sure residents displaced by the Almeda fire are not priced out in rebuilding efforts, said participants in a Thursday evening online town hall.

Concerns about immediate needs, longer-term rebuilding and handling of the fire and evacuation emerged during the session. Lack of evacuation notices, access to sites, need for assistance, communication with the Hispanic community and more were also voiced by participants.

City officials were joined by utility representatives and others to answer questions and hear concerns of residents. More than 300 people took part in the 3.5-hour session.

City Manager Sandy Spelliscy moderated the town hall, and Nancy McKinnis provided Spanish translation.

“I’m requesting of the council and Planning Commission ... look at a possible moratorium, particularly in the burned areas, if it would be a different character than what was there previously,” said Daniel Wise. “Look at how we can maintain a vision of affordability. If it’s possible, maintain a moratorium so we don’t get any rushed development or speculators, so we don’t change the character.”

Planning Commissioner Felicia Hazel said she does not want to see manufactured home parks converted to other uses, because they provide affordable housing.

“Our primary goal is to keep our community intact and bring our community members who lost homes back to town,” said Susan Bradley Krant. “Planning should be through an intensive lens, not a quick construction fix. Include moderate, medium and even expensive housing options.”

“Talent needs transitional housing right now,” said Hana Sohl. “Elsewhere, existing residents have been excluded by rebuilds.”

Talent Urban Renewal Agency’s 4.3-acre Gateway site is being looked at to accommodate 60 temporary residential units, said Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood. The agency acquired the land in 2016, but it remained vacant as redevelopment efforts stalled.

Residential sites in the Oak Valley subdivision and the Mountain View Estates manufactured home park, which are in the floodplain, will need to have raised foundations for rebuilds to meet newer federal rebuilding standards. Development Director Zac Moody said the city will determine which sites are affected. Both sites, which house 55-and-older residents, were destroyed.

Subdivisions with only one access in and out were criticized as unsafe. Moody said the Planning Commission will look at changes to building codes covering access after it completes work on affordable housing codes. Old Bridge Village off Talent Avenue, which was destroyed, was one subdivision with just a single access point.

Morea Dickason and others called for warning sirens in town, and several speakers cited failures of the emergency communication system to get out alerts and information.

“We need warnings in town like tsunami warnings. Cellphones and the internet cannot be relied on,” said Dickason. “A lot of us were listening to scanners, going on Facebook.”

Ben Garcia called for sirens, and signs for designated evacuation routes. He was among speakers who noted that roads were backed up, calling Wagner Creek Road a parking lot.

“Eighteen-wheelers had come into town completely blocking the (traffic) circle,” said Wise. Roads should perhaps be set up into one-way configurations to aid evacuations, and the emergency communication should be specific enough so people can move out in an orderly fashion, he added.

“Semis need to be off the road and parked,” said Spelliscy. Post-fire discussions need to be held with ODOT and others on what happens when Interstate 5 is closed, said Spelliscy.

Needs of the Hispanic population both during the fire and in rebuilding were stressed by several speakers.

“How horrible it is to be in a life-and-death situation and not be able to learn about what is going on,” said Lidia Niria Alicia. “Language access is a matter of life and death.”

Lara Quintero called for the city to put all information into Spanish and estimated that 70 percent of the Hispanic community does not speak or understand English.

“(The population is) 17% Hispanic in Talent. It’s imperative to keep these families here. They are the backbone of the community,” said Ali French. “How are we communicating to the Latinx community. When will the city have a Latinx person on staff to facilitate that outreach?”

City hall has a native Spanish speaker on staff as well as two Spanish-speaking employees, said Spelliscy. In addition, a Spanish-speaking police recruit is in training at the state police academy.

Councilor Daria Land, who worked to set up the town hall, said she felt efforts to communicate about the event to Hispanics fell flat. She said she will work to arrange a Spanish-language online town hall.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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