Rainforest Reserve

The North Coast Land Conservancy’s purchase of the Rainforest Reserve above Arch Cape and Oswald West State Park was one of the highlights of 2021.

The end of a year brings retrospection. That involves the blessings of 2021 as well as the pains and struggles.

The coronavirus pandemic dominated life on the North Coast. The summer surge of the virus, driven by the delta variant, led to the highest numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Clatsop County so far.

As Erick Bengel reported in The Astorian in late December, the summer surge revealed the fragility of the system that cares for the elderly. His report also illustrated the gaps in virus data shared by the county and the lack of aggressive oversight by the county Board of Commissioners, which makes it difficult for the public to see a full picture of the pandemic’s local impact.

For being on the front line of the pandemic, our county Public Health Department and our region’s private health care professionals deserve gratitude, especially as they face a new wave of infections from the omicron variant. The many volunteers who help with vaccination clinics and phone banks are also essential to the county achieving among the highest vaccination rates in the state.

Looking back, beyond COVID-19, many positive things happened:

• The opening of the Merwyn Apartments showed a creative approach to affordable housing and revived a historic building near City Hall that was once nearly demolished.

• The Astoria Nordic Heritage Park broke ground off Marine Drive downtown near the riverfront, a project that will celebrate the city’s Scandinavian heritage.

• The North Coast Land Conservancy took ownership of the Rainforest Reserve, an iconic coastal rainforest above Arch Cape and Oswald West State Park.

• A new warming center in Seaside reflected the urgency in South County’s response to homelessness.

Moving forward into 2022, we recognize it is hard to keep focus on the pressing issues facing the North Coast in the shadow of an unpredictable pandemic.

But many of these issues were identified as priorities before COVID-19, so policymakers have a roadmap.

Homelessness: Astoria should pursue a year-round homeless shelter. The idea has been discussed by the city’s homelessness solutions task force for the past few years, but federal court rulings and a new state law make it difficult to enforce restrictions on public camping unless there are adequate shelter beds.

Housing: Several housing projects on the North Coast have the potential to bring hundreds of new apartments into the market. We believe we need even more units so more workers, particularly in the service sector, can afford to live here.

The county and cities should lower the regulatory barriers for apartments and other multifamily housing and raise the barriers for vacation rentals and second homes.

Child care: The lack of child care cripples the potential for job growth. The county and cities have to reach out to the private sector to find both short and long-term options to expand the number of slots.

The collaboration between the city and a new nonprofit on the future of the city’s Sprouts Learning Center in Astoria has promise. But the slow pace of action at the government level countywide over the past few years is distressing.

Mental health: Too many crisis response calls to police involve a small number of people going through mental health or drug- and alcohol-fueled breakdowns.

Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, the county’s mental health and substance-abuse treatment contractor, and other social services agencies should collaborate with law enforcement to shift a portion of crisis response calls away from police.

Economic development: Everyone should be encouraged that the Port of Astoria and the city are completing a waterfront master plan in Uniontown and the county is seeking development bids for the North Coast Business Park in Warrenton.

Even small-scale data, manufacturing, assembly and industrial projects have the potential to create living wage jobs and reduce our reliance on tourism. Our region’s economic security depends on diversification.

The pandemic presents significant challenges to our government and business leaders, but COVID-19 should not be used as an excuse for inaction.

Our hope is for measurable progress on these issues in the coming months.