Councilors give city manager positive six-month review
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
The city of Ashland has put out the welcome mat for psilocybin treatment within city limits, following the lead of 80% of Ashland voters who voted in favor of Measure 109 on the 2020 ballot.
Ashland City Councilors were unanimous during their Tuesday evening meeting in voting to not refer a permanent ban or two-year moratorium on Measure 109 to the ballot in November, allowing psilocybin centers to proceed within city limits as soon as next year. The measure, which passed by a statewide margin of 56-44%, allows for psilocybin use in therapeutic settings with the guidance of licensed facilitators. It calls for the state to begin processing license applications on Jan. 2, 2023.
The measure passed 51-49% in Jackson County, with “yes” votes about 3,000 ahead of “no” votes, on the strength of a 8,366 vote margin out of Ashland, where voters approved the measure 11,191 to 2,825.
That was reflected in Tuesday’s public testimony, when councilors heard from a variety of speakers in favor of allowing Proposition 109 to go into effect instead of taking the “opt out” provision allowed by the measure for local governments.
Michael Novak, who plans to be a psilocybin treatment facilitator, was among several individuals who shared their interest in the new therapy. He gave personal testimony that a big motivator for him is his recovery from alcoholism due in part to using psilocybin treatment.
“It doesn’t treat the symptoms like a lot of other medicines,” Novak said. “It actually digs deep into the causes of the problems, it digs deep into the trauma that we can then heal and actually get into a state of recovery.
“I think this is something the people of Ashland really want,” Novak added.
Eli Jaxon-Bear, who leads The Leela School of Awakening, an Ashland-based international school for hypnotherapists, says he worked with Vietnam veterans who took psilocybin in San Francisco in the 1980s. He said he has seen lives turned around in just one session.
“Someone who has been dealing with sexual abuse her whole life … One session, she experienced a healing that has lasted her for the rest of her life,” Jaxon-Bear said.
City Manager Joe Lessard said Tuesday was the council’s last chance if they wanted to place a moratorium or prohibition on psilocybin centers on this November’s ballot.
“I included a recommendation for a moratorium because I felt that was a more appropriate action versus prohibiting it outright,” Lessard said.
Councilors opted to not place a moratorium or prohibition on the ballot, which allows psilocybin treatment facilities in city limits after the state has finished formulating a regulatory framework.
“I would much rather work with our community and our constituents to see how we can work together,” said Councilor Gina DuQuenne. “It’s groundbreaking. It’s a low impact for businesses that are much needed in Ashland. Addiction is at an all-time high, no pun intended, and we have a solution.”
Councilor Tonya Graham shared two of the things she loves most about the city of Ashland — That it’s a place of healing and that it innovates.
“I have personal experience in my family with people who have struggled and struggled and not been able to find anything that works to alleviate their mental health problems,” Graham said. “I’m confident that the state is putting in place appropriate regulations.”
Councilor Paula Hyatt noted that Measure 109 doesn’t allow retail sales or offsite consumption. She added that measure requirements include provisions that say psilocybin treatment centers may not be located within 1,000 feet of a school and manufacturing facilities cannot be in residential areas. Prior to a session, Hyatt said clients set up a safety plan with a facilitator, which includes transportation to a medical facility.
“I felt that those things are important information for our community to have,” Hyatt said.
Mayor Julie Akins spoke directly to Jackson County Commissioners, and shared her hope that they don’t ban or place a moratorium on psilocybin treatment.
“We can’t wait two years. Some people are in a situation where they need help today,” Akins said. “I hope that Jackson County does not do that, but if they do, we will be here in Ashland holding it down.”
Council approves participation in water sharing agreement
In other council business, councilors unanimously approved the city of Ashland joining an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the Medford Water Commission and partner cities of Talent, Phoenix, Central Point, Eagle Point, and Jacksonville.
The IGA includes certification strategies for the city’s water rights, which establishes a timeline when municipalities will go through their certification process with Oregon Water Resources Department, explained Scott Fleury, public works director for the city of Ashland, on Wednesday.
Fleury said the city of Ashland has rights to 1,000 acre feet of water, but if there was ever an issue, under the agreement the city wouldn’t need to obtain a larger water right to get more water.
“We could utilize excess water between all the partners, sharing off their water right,” Fleury said.
Fleury said the IGA has been in process with partner cities since 2020.
Prior to the IGA, Fleury said each municipality was required to obtain their own water rights.
“A lot of municipalities have and haven’t done certain things with their water rights over the years and now … there’s that traffic jam of water rights at Duff (the Robert A. Duff Water Treatment Plant in Medford).
“In order to protect everyone’s water rights, you want to make sure that you don’t over-certify or try to over-certify what you have that Duff can deliver,” he added. “We’re the last city to approve (the agreement) other than the Medford Water Commission.”
Councilor Hyatt said the city has benefited from almost a triple dependency between Reeder Reservoir, Talent Irrigation District, and the Talent Ashland Phoenix (TAP) intertie, which connects water supply between the communities. Given the recent years of reduced water flow from the Talent Irrigation District, she said that puts “more onus on TAP and highlights the importance of highlighting that redundancy.
“More and more, we are looking at ourselves regionally and I think this is a great way to step out on those connections with other municipalities that we share the southern end of the valley with.”
Medford Water Commission General Manager Brad Taylor will present the IGA to his board for final approval on Aug. 3.
“The board has already generally approved it but they requested that everybody else approve it before they formally adopt it,” Fleury said.
City manager review positive after six months on staff
Ashland’s City Council gave Lessard a glowing review following his first six months at the helm of the city, a review called for in his contract.
Councilors met in executive session prior to the regular session to review Lessard. The session, which started at 5:30 p.m., was extended to 7 p.m., pushing the start of the meeting back by about one hour. Journalists were not allowed to attend the first half of executive session, as it involved labor negotiations, but were allowed in for Lessard’s review. Executive sessions are closed to the general public but are accessible to journalists under some circumstances under Oregon law.
Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ashland.news Executive Editor Bert Etling contributed to this report.