Rep. David Gomberg talks to Philomath citizens during a Saturday afternoon appearance at City Hall. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

On Saturday afternoon at Philomath City Hall, Rep. David Gomberg met with the community to provide a legislator’s view of the state’s current session, answered questions of concern and just got to know folks a little bit better in a city that’s new to his district.

Gomberg (D-Otis), who represents House District 10, opened his talk with a rundown of what’s going on in Salem at the legislative session. Speaking before an audience of about 30 people, he covered several topics that included the state’s budget process, rural-centric legislation and being prepared for natural disasters.

Most of the 90-minute meet-and-greet involved a Q-and-A and Millpond Crossing housing development issues took center stage. A resident read and delivered a letter to Gomberg about the challenges that many homeowners in the subdivision have experienced, ranging from the discovery of methane and incorrect property lines to a lack of communication and what was described as a broken system.

“We have concerns that Millpond Crossing may never live up to what it was intended to be and we question if the development will ever be completed. We feel let down and exploited,” Millpond Crossing resident Chelle Krantz told the legislator. “Affordable housing should not equate to unsafe housing; growth should not be sought at the expense of our citizens’ health, safety and livelihood.”

Millpond Crossing’s developer, currently under a stop work order issued by the city for an out-of-compliance grading plan on new construction, has received heavy criticism from residents for several months through the various issues that have surfaced.

“The system in Philomath feels broken,” Krantz said. “We need reform and some accountability when it comes to affordable housing planning and land-use practices. We need a local government that demonstrates care for its residents by placing higher standards on developers before projects turn sideways.”

Krantz added that laws and processes need to be developed to protect current and future residents. Among her comments were criticisms of how the city has handled issues related to the project.

“The city is working on the behalf of residents,” Mayor Chas Jones said in defense of how the city has responded. “We are not simply putting the situation off. There’s a lot of legal things going on behind the scenes. … It is my understanding that we have started to communicate more through the lawyers so that there is a requirement for a response.”

Rep. David Gomberg responds to comments from Mayor Chas Jones (foreground with back to camera) during his appearance Saturday in Philomath. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Gomberg listened to the Millpond Crossing concerns and although he really could not respond on the spot, the legislator said he would take a closer look.

“As I’m sure you understand, some of this is a state concern and some of it is more in the purview of local government,” Gomberg said, adding later, “If there are things that you and your neighbors think that I can do in Salem that’s going to make a difference here, please let me know that. I’m confident that your city leadership is aware and concerned as well but I’m not seeing easy solutions on the near horizon and I wish that were not the case.”

The legislator said the issue serves as a classic example of a need in Oregon.

“We need affordable housing and we need it quickly,” he said. “We’re talking about trying to produce 36,000 units of housing a year but as quickly as we need them, if we move too quickly, then we discover that steps may have been missed that result in problems further down the road.”

In an interview following the event, Gomberg said the most common subject that comes up in his interactions at the community level involves similar concerns.

“We certainly hear about housing and homelessness a lot,” Gomberg said. “That didn’t come up to the same degree here today but I hear about it almost everywhere I go.”

Former councilor Catherine Biscoe did ask about the Gov. Tina Kotek’s emergency declaration that allows cities to expedite things like permitting to be able to respond quicker to the homelessness crisis.

The issue struck a nerve with Gomberg, who said that while the emergency declaration was welcomed, its application is flawed with how regions were designated. They were split up, he said, into seven areas with six of those centered around larger cities. The seventh area, which includes Philomath, is called the “rural continuum” and covers the rest of Oregon.

According to the emergency declaration, there is a requirement for an area to be eligible that homelessness must have increased by more than 50% between 2017 and 2022. Gomberg said if all of the rural areas are together in one such calculation, that 50% level is not reached “even though Lincoln or Benton county may have a 50% problem.”

“That’s a long bureaucratic way of saying we got left out,” Gomberg said, who added that he responded right away to the governor’s declaration with concerns from rural legislators.

“I’m glad there’s an emergency declaration, I’m glad we’re tackling housing and homelessness,” Gomberg said. “I’m really, really frustrated that we’re not included and I’ve tried to find some means to open the door there to get us included.”

Rep. David Gomberg is Philomath’s new representative following the redrawing of House district boundaries. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

As for other topics that came up during the Q-and-A portion of the program, those included firewise communities, the recession component to the state’s budget, transportation and infrastructure, education funding, emergency preparedness and helping with the financing of community-level projects, such as the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo’s grandstands. 

Philomath had been represented in the House by Rep. Dan Rayfield through the end of last year but legislative district lines were redrawn and the city was placed in House District 10. Rayfield was popular among many locals with the work that he had done for Philomath and Gomberg’s relationship with him even came up during Saturday’s talk.

“He’s got a lot more influence than I do so I think you should be sorry to lose him,” Gomberg laughed while referencing Rayfield’s role as House speaker. “I get along with the speaker very well and I want to continue his legacy of taking care of Philomath and other important parts of the district.”

Philomath was the second of three stops for Gomberg on Saturday — starting in Corvallis and ending in Monroe. The legislator has made several appearances in Philomath and he described himself as an “in-your-face” legislator.

“I like showing up and meeting people and I think it’s the most effective way to find out what’s really on their minds and building those relationships,” Gomberg said following Saturday’s talk. “I want people to feel like when they’ve got a concern, if they’ve got an issue or if they’ve just got an opinion on something we’re dealing with, that they know me and know they can reach out to me.”

Gomberg has a long history of talking in front of people with a past that includes running auctions.

“And you know, I enjoy interacting with people about some of the stuff that’s really hard for these folks,” he said. “They’re looking for answers and how to wade into the bureaucracy of the government that seems like a brick wall when in fact, it’s a wall made out of a lot of separate bricks.”

Reflecting on his talk with the Philomath community, Gomberg said, “I think awkwardly, I tended to focus on some of the challenges but there’s a great deal of optimism and goodwill in these communities.”

Brad Fuqua

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.