Saturday, May 26, 2018

Downtown Riverfront Park

Downtown Riverfront Park Public Open House #1 - May 24, 2018

I attended the City of Eugene’s public meeting this past Thursday evening. Like everyone who attended, I was there to learn more about the proposed Downtown Riverfront Park project and express my preferences for what the park might be. I was pleasantly surprised by the well-attended event, which featured a room full of citizens who care about Eugene and wanted to have a say about how to make the new park an inclusive, active, and attractive place that truly connects downtown Eugene with the Willamette River. 

The project is perhaps one of the most extraordinary design opportunities ever available in Eugene. Our city can trace its origins to the banks along this stretch of the river. The Kalapuya peoples were the first to draw upon its resources. It’s where Eugene Skinner platted the city. “Skinner’s Mudhole” would be the locus of the settlement’s early industrial activity and central to its identity. The Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) controlled the riverfront property for most of the past century. 

Eugene has largely developed away from the significant river that flows through its core. The Downtown Riverfront Park and the contiguous redevelopment of the former EWEB property promise to reconnect the city to the waterway. Revitalizing, enhancing, and preserving the riverfront will restore its historic importance to the city. Done right, a new Downtown Riverfront Park would resurrect the primacy of the Willamette River in the collective Eugene psyche. It would contribute toward a cultural landscape that is uniquely Eugene’s—a special place that both teaches and inspires. 

The meeting featured brief presentations by Emily Proudfoot, Landscape Architect with the City of Eugene, and by members of the team led by Chelsea McCann of Walker Macy, the prime design consultant for the project. The presentations were followed by the public input segment, which solicited responses to a series of questions about the participants’ preferences for the future look and feel of the park, how it might be used, and how public art might be incorporated. The feedback from the audience was tabulated in real time, anonymously, using polling software by ParticiPoll (everyone voted via web browsers on their phones or tablets). The process was easy, quick, and fun. 

The Downtown Riverfront Park; the area of the park is highlighted in green.

I was pleased to learn Walker Macy has yet to put pencil to paper. The meeting truly represented a kickoff for the design team’s efforts. The cynic in me feared the public forum was merely window dressing, a token action the City could point to, to withstand questions regarding community engagement in the design process. It’s clear to me this was not the case. The City sincerely values what citizens have to say. 

As the polling unfolded during the meeting, a partiality toward certain features became clear. People want access to the river for everything from recreation to simply enjoying the views. They don’t want those views obscured by an impenetrable wall of trees. Most expressed a desire for a more active kind of space, an urban park at the river’s edge, as opposed to a completely naturalized environment. I’m pretty sure there are many who weren’t present who strongly believe the river should only be restored to as natural a state as possible (read: humans are not welcome). They might be reassured to know the project’s guiding principles include developing habitat for species on and near the site, aligning riparian restoration with the river and site hydrology, and recognizing the property is a part of the greater Willamette River watershed. I fully expect the City and Walker Macy will strike the right balance and provide a park that is at once both an active, people place and an exemplary model of environmental stewardship. 

For those of you who weren’t at the meeting, a link to an online survey is available on the City of Eugene’s Riverfront Park webpage. The survey, which includes the same questions administered during the public session, should only take about 5 to 10 minutes to complete. The survey will be open until June 14. 

It’s important to point out the meeting’s focus was exclusively upon the narrow, 3-acre portion of the redevelopment site that will be the dedicated public park. It is the remainder of the 16-acre parcel that will be owned and redeveloped by Williams/Dame &Associates, the Portland company with whom the City of Eugene has signed an exclusive negotiating agreement for the property. This distinction wasn’t entirely clear to me before the meeting. If I have any reservations about separating the design process for the park from that of the Williams/Dame development, it would be the risk that plans for the park might get too far out in front of the Williams/Dame work. Ideally, the designs for both would take cues from one another with a synergistic intentionality. The whole should be greater than the sum of its parts. 

The next steps for the Downtown Riverfront Park project will witness Walker Macy incorporating the public input into the development of conceptual design options. Walker Macy will present its initial design concepts at another public meeting on Thursday, July 19. They will ask attendees at that meeting to provide feedback. The conceptual design phase will conclude in the fall; the City is planning a September 27 celebration unveiling Walker Macy’s final design concept. The overall goal is to have the park ready when Eugene hosts the 2021 IAAF World Track and Field Championships

If you’d like to stay up-to-date on news about the Downtown Riverfront Park project, follow the City’s efforts on Facebook or Instagram. You can also join the emaillist for project updates.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Update: BCD Delegation Ruling

Unsealed pipe penetration in 2-hour concrete block wall: Smaller Oregon communities require timely inspections of the kind private, third-party inspectors can provide to identify code violations like this.

Royal Mortier sent me an update regarding the proposed program delegation rule governing local municipalities’ use of third parties to provide the services of a building department. In a fit of uncommon good sense, the Oregon Building Codes Division has decided to rescind the emergency rule, choosing instead to give the matter more consideration and analysis before determining exactly how to proceed, if at all, with its application. This stay is a definite win for the numerous smaller jurisdictions who were subject to the ruling.

The League of Oregon Cities, which represents many of the affected communities, reports work remains. When all is said and done, it’s conceivable the BCD may reassert its authority based on the Oregon Department of Justice interpretation. The Oregon Administrative Rules make a distinction between “ministerial” and “discretionary” actions. BCD’s interpretation, affirmed by the DOJ, views the assignment of discretionary powers to private contractors as unlawful. Interpreted most narrowly, this means the current practice wherein private third-party building officials, plans examiners, building inspectors, and electrical inspectors render decisions may be unconstitutional. As I suggested in my previous post on this topic, the arguments posed by the BCD in support of the delegation rule appear specious and motivated by reasons other than constitutional fidelity.

Everyone is interested in reaching a considered and legally defensible solution. I believe it would behoove the BCD and the DOJ if such a solution would continue to allow cash-strapped small communities to contract with third-party “building departments” for services these smaller cities and counties cannot otherwise provide for themselves in a cost-effective manner.

The League, as well as the Association of Oregon Counties, thanks all interested stakeholders for their efforts in keeping this issue in the news and in front of state policymakers. I’m happy to do my small part by reporting this news here on my blog.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

CDT: Certificate vs. Certification

The Construction Specifications Institute developed the Construction Documents Technologist (CDT) program decades ago to provide training in construction documentation for architects, contractors, contract administrators, specifiers, and manufacturers’ representatives. Since then, it has become the cornerstone for all of CSI’s certification programs, which presently include Certified Construction Specifier (CCS), Certified Construction Contract Administrator (CCCA), and Certified Construction Product Representative (CCPR).

Despite being a longtime CSI member and current chair of the Willamette Valley Chapter’s Certification Committee, I wasn’t aware the CDT credential is not a true certification; instead, CSI regards it as a “certificate.” The distinction between being “certified” and merely a “certificate holder” may appear arcane to some but in practice it is about to have significant implications for current and would-be CDT holders. Starting on July 1, 2018, CSI will transition the Construction Documents Technologist (CDT) program from a certificate to a certification.

Certification implies attainment of qualifications in accordance with established requirements and standards. However, in addition certification also implies those qualifications are contingent upon their ongoing upkeep, most often involving fulfillment and verification of minimum requirements for continuing education. While CDT certificants have successfully completed a rigorous examination, prior to now CSI had not placed further conditions upon maintenance of CDT stature.

The CSI Certification Committee believes its initiative to transition from credentialing to true certification will ensure the CDT designation can withstand industry scrutiny by upholding prevailing standards for certification. The main change to the program is the addition of modest prerequisites and a continuing education requirement. As CSI looks toward promoting certifications, it believes it must be able to represent them as such. The need has long been acknowledged and expressed by many within CSI’s membership. 

This transition has apparently been in the works for the past three years, prompted by CSI volunteer leadership serving on the Certification Committee and the CSI Board of Directors. Supporting professional success is one of CSI’s primary reasons for being, and the CDT credential is an important professional accomplishment.

How will the change impact current CDT certificate holders? While the change to the CDT will take effect on July 1, 2018 no immediate action is required; your credential remains valid. Renewal won’t be necessary until June 30, 2021, so you will have three years to prepare for this change. Renewal of the CDT certification is only necessary if you wish to continue to use the CDT designation. Beginning in Spring 2021, you will see renewal notices from CSI reminding you of the June 30 deadline that year.

The continuing education requirements will be consistent with those associated with similar industry certifications or professional licensures and match those of other CSI certifications:
  • Certificants must report 24 hours of eligible continuing education
  • 50% of the education topics must be related to the professional practice of the certification being renewed
  • Up to 50% of the hours may accrue from serving on a standing or ad hoc CSI committee or task team
  • 100% of the hours must be related to the construction industry or the construction process
Click here for CE Reporting Instructions

CSI is in the process of establishing professional development plans directed to current and aspiring CDT certificants.

The current renewal fee for other the other CSI certifications is $140 paid every three years. The CDT certifications will carry a similar renewal fee and cycle. CSI has not yet established the 2021 renewal fee amount, which may be different than the current renewal fee. Note that professionals holding upper level certification (CCS, CCPR, and CCCA) are not required to also maintain CDT status even though the CDT is a prerequisite to the others.

I believe the changes to the CDT program will boost the perception of the CDT credential within the construction industry. If you’re a current CDT, or wish to become one, the increased rigor demanded by certification can only enhance your professional stature. Becoming a CDT is no small achievement because it reflects your fluency with the language of construction, its underlying principles and terminology, and the critical relationships between all the participants in any design and construction undertaking.

For additional information regarding CSI certifications and renewal view CSI’s Frequently Asked Questions page, download the Continuing Education upload instructions (PDF), or contact CSI Member Services at (800) 698-2900 (Monday-Friday, 8am-8pm ET), or at

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Fifield Research Presentation

University of Oregon Professor Michael Fifield, FAIA, AICP will present an overview next Monday evening of the research he conducted during his recent sabbatical leave in Portugal. His work, supported by a Fulbright Research Scholarship, focused upon how lessons he learned there may be applied to the future of housing in this country.

The learning objectives for Michael’s presentation (which qualifies for 1.0 AIA LU /HSW credit for AIA members) are as follows:
  • To learn how smart growth practices and smaller residential units in both the U.S. and Portugal are important considerations in achieving true sustainability
  • To describe the methods with which Housing Programs in both the U.S. and Portugal have promoted a safe and healthy living environment for its occupants
  • To identify the core principles in achieving sustainable communities through smart growth and small unit design practices
  • To gain an understanding of various housing types and block morphologies, and their principles in achieving sustainable communities by examining a variety of case studies.
Given our current shortage of affordable housing options here in the Eugene-Springfield market, Michael’s presentation promises to be both timely and germane. See you there.

What:  Fifield Research Presentation

When:  Monday, May 14 at 5:30 PM to 6:45 PM

Where:  Room 206, Lawrence Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene

Cost:  Free

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Third-Party Building Departments

Back in 2016, I reprinted a letter by Royal Mortier of Mortier Ang Engineers and Northwest Code Professionals that addressed the State of Oregon’s Building Codes Division’s (BCD) proposed changes to administrative rules regulating the certification of building inspectors, plans examiners, and building officials. His letter took exception to the proposed changes, which as implemented weakened certification requirements and over time will adversely impact the quality of the permitting and inspection processes.

Two years on, Royal has brought to my attention further news from the BCD with significant implications for many of the smaller communities in Oregon who have long relied upon third-parties to provide the services of a building department they cannot otherwise afford. In a February16, 2018 memorandum, Katharine Lozano, Assistant Attorney General with the State of Oregon Department of Justice, asserts the State possesses the exclusive and ultimate responsibility for the delegation of building programs to municipalities who use private third-party contractors. From that perspective, such delegation is fine to the extent they do not violate the Oregon constitution; however, the effective outcome will be the abolishment of third-party permitting and inspection services.

The underlying premise of Lozano’s interpretation of the state constitution is founded upon the distinction between “ministerial” and “discretionary” functions. Her memo contends that delegation of building programs to private third parties is unconstitutional because such delegation necessarily involves giving discretionary governmental powers to private entities, and because “adequate procedural safeguards to provide government accountability do not exist.” Additionally, because some of the third-parties providing building services also have “private financial interests in the decisions made by the building departments they serve, the adequacy of procedural safeguards would receive heightened scrutiny, which the programs would not survive.” These private financial interests include commercial engineering services owned by the same individuals who operate the third-party plan review and inspection businesses. Through this lens, Mortier Ang Engineers and Northwest Code Professionals are public enemy Number 1 because Royal is an owner of both companies.

Pursuant to Lozano’s analysis, the state updated its program delegation and renewal standards to be consistent with the Oregon constitutional restriction on delegating discretionary decision-making authority to a non-governmental employee. Under a proposed program delegation rule, cities and counties will be required to either hire a building official or cede their programs to a larger jurisdiction with a building official on staff, such as a larger county or the state. Up to three cities can share a building official. Third-party contractors may continue to review and conduct inspections on behalf of cities based on list of standards, statutes and rules; however, they are prohibited from issuing or denying building or electrical permits, issuing stop work orders, resolving disputes or providing code interpretations, so the net effect is to emasculate private contractors.

Why is the use of third-party plan review and inspection services now a question? Smaller municipalities who cannot afford their own full-time building officials, plans examiners, and inspectors have long relied upon private contractors to provide the necessary services. Private companies provide fill-in support as needed, assist with large influxes of work, and are a cost-effective alternative for smaller jurisdictions. Note that third-party contractors are used in every other state in the nation. Oregon will be an anomaly once the new delegation rule is in full force.

As a private contractor, Northwest Code Professionals assists its clients in various capacities ranging from plans review and inspection services to full building programs for 30 jurisdictions throughout Oregon (in addition to communities in Idaho and Washington). Without the services of Northwest Code Professionals and other third-party contractors, Oregon’s small cities and counties will assume the burden of new expenses without the budgets to pay for them. The fact most public building departments are already beyond their capacity to meet obligations is not helpful. The upshot of the new rule will almost certainly be poorer service at greater cost.

The League of Oregon Cities (LOC) and the Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) both take exception to the new program delegation rule. They cite as objections the prospect of increased costs, swelling of bureaucracies, lengthier permitting processes, and inspection delays. Both have lobbied hard for granting cities and counties the freedom to use whomever they see as the best certified building program option for their respective communities. They’ve done so because they know how important the use of private companies is to smaller cities and counties, not only in Oregon but elsewhere as well.

Perhaps I’m overly cynical, but I believe the motivation for this narrow interpretation regarding statutory authority has less to do with constitutional requirements as it does the monopolizing of building department functions under agency control, specifically at the BCD or state level. Citing protection of safeguards and government accountability as further rationales seems disingenuous given that third-party contractors have performed this work for decades without significant prior challenges. How are the third-party services Northwest Code Professionals provides philosophically different than those licensed engineers or architects furnish their clients? Don’t they also have private, financial interests in the decisions they make in their work as design professionals? Should all engineering and architectural work for public agencies only be performed by government employees? The arguments posed by the Building Codes Division in support of the rule seem spurious. Am I missing something here?