The Hermiston City Council unanimously voted during their Monday, June 22 meeting to authorize Hermiston City Manager Byron Smith to finalize purchase of two lots on the east side of city hall.
The narrow lots contain a strip of parking spaces and the offices known as the Lanham Building. Smith told the council that the negotiated price for the property was $400,000, but “if the appraisal comes in differently we can renegotiate the price based on the appraisal.”
If the purchase is completed, it would connect city hall to a city-owned parking lot further down the block, creating a large block of property stretching from the festival street to Affordable Family Eyewear. The city is working on designs for a new, larger city hall where the current one stands, and would use the Lanham property to accommodate that design and the necessary parking.
“It really does help us, even adjusting that existing lot, to add more space to make it more efficient,” Smith said.
Monday’s council meeting was at its fourth location since the beginning of the year, this time in the large banquet hall at the Hermiston Community Center. Chairs were spread out six feet apart, the microphone was sanitized between users, and three city councilors — Roy Barron, Manuel Gutierrez and David McCarthy — were wearing masks.
During the meeting, the council made changes to the city’s food truck ordinance and discussed the future of its food truck pod.
Currently, mobile food vendors in Hermiston city limits can either join the pod on the corner of Third Street and Orchard Avenue, or can apply for one of six mobile food vendor licenses if any of those six licenses is available for use. The council added two new temporary license options.
The first is an event license, that would allow a food truck to set up for a one-time event such as a customer appreciation day at a business. The other is a “lunch truck” license that would allow a food truck to park at a construction site or industrial work site between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
In a work session prior to the council’s regular meeting, City Planner Clint Spencer presented options for continuation of the city’s food truck pod, which is in its second summer of operation. After its pilot program in 2019, the council had directed staff to come up with recommendations for a more permanent setup.
Spencer told the council that staff and the mobile vendors had examined 13 different sites around town, and the top three options were improving the current location on Orchard Avenue, moving the trucks to Newport Park or moving them to Butte Park off Seventh Street.
Spencer said Newport Park was the least viable option as only four trucks would fit in the space available, and it would move them to a residential area with relatively low traffic.
The Butte Park alternative was the most expensive option, Spencer said, based on the paving and utility work that would be needed, and would bring the trucks to a less visible location. But vendors would be able to keep an eye on the splash park and Funland playground there during the day, and could do good business when the park is crowded during soccer games.
The third option would be to turn the parking lot on Orchard where the trucks are currently into an RV park style set-up where each food truck would have its own designated space with utility hookup, and the city could add further improvements such as shade and restrooms.
Spencer and Parks and Recreation Director Larry Fetter said Orchard was the recommended location because it was the most visible, customers were used to it, it would cost less to upgrade and it helped create a more “robust” downtown district.
“There are definitely seasonal advantages to (Butte Park), but from a year-round point of view and then the opportunity to bring people downtown, at least from a staff point of view, it really kind of grew to be our favorite,” Fetter said.
Patrick Hunt, owner of Southern Twain BBQ and the current manager of the pod, said that was the option he and the other vendors favored. He said said Butte Park started out as his favorite but he realized it was “off the beaten path” and they might lose customers. He supported enhancing the current site with utility hookups, shade and a better parking setup.
“Anything is subject to change, but I’m just a little worried that if we move right now the clientele won’t move with us,” he said.
Mayor David Drotzmann said he liked the Butte Park idea, because it was surrounded by grass and trees instead of a “streetscape.”
The council will vote on a proposal at a later date.
On Monday the council also chose a design for the wayfinding sign program that the Urban Renewal Agency is launching this year, using money raised from the urban renewal district downtown. The city has been working with consultants from Merje Environments and Experiences on a project that will create a unified, decorative look for signs around town directing people to features such as parks, trails, schools, public parking lots and the library.
Hermiston Chamber of Commerce Director Kimberly Nevil said she appreciated the city’s work on the project and was glad the chamber had been asked to participate in planning. She said when visitors come to town for sports tournaments and other events, the chamber gets a steady stream of calls from people asking where things are.
“I truly believe the wayfinding signage will increase the livability of Hermiston and help with tourism,” she said.
During the time for councilor remarks at the end of the meeting, Councilor Roy Barron asked the council to consider providing some sort of support, such as a letter or official resolution, for the Oregon Worker Relief Fund.
The fund provides financial support to undocumented immigrants and their family members who have been impacted by COVID-19 but are not eligible to receive stimulus checks, unemployment insurance and other benefits provided through the federal CARES Act.
Barron said he was nervous bringing up the topic, since he knows the subject of undocumented Americans can be controversial, but it means a lot to him and to many members of the community.
“If we can endorse the relief fund I think it sends a very powerful message to the state that even rural areas like Hermiston understand have a lot of people in our agricultural sector and just in our community that mean a lot to us,” he said.
Drotzmann said he applauded Barron for his bravery and conviction in being willing to start a public conversation about something that can be controversial, and said he thought it was appropriate to send a letter to state Rep. Greg Smith and Sen. Bill Hansell thanking them for their work on the state’s relief package that included $10 million for the relief fund, and voicing support for continued state aid to the fund.
Councilor Jackie Myers also said she thought thanking Smith and Hansell was appropriate. Councilor Manuel Gutierrez said many of the people the fund helps work hard in difficult circumstances to provide for their families but haven’t been able to see the same relief from the government that other Americans have.
“People don’t realize how hard you work in the fields,” he said. “I used to work in the fields.”