July 23, 2024

Casual setting, serious topics: Citizens share coffee, concerns with councilors

About 30 people participated in the city's second Coffee and Conversations session at Rogue Valley Roasting Company on a drizzly Tuesday morning. The next session is scheduled for Nov. 14 at a location that has not yet been determined. Bob Palermini photo
September 26, 2023

Preparedness for evacuations and overdoses among wide range of topics at second ‘Coffee and Conversations’

By Damian Mann for

Ashland’s second “Coffee and Conversations” with city councilors and about 30 local residents on Tuesday morning was more coffee klatsch than coffee clash.

While the first Coffee and Conversations in July was marked by testy exchanges and emotions, the second was more conversational, with residents breaking into smaller groups.

Still, many of the issues were similar, such as an emergency evacuation plan, homelessness and ornery deer.

Councilors Gina DuQuenne and Jeff Dahle were joined by Deputy City Manager Sabrina Cotta and other city officials at Rogue Valley Roasting Co. at the corner of East Main and Eighth streets, meeting outdoors after the rain began to clear.

Dahle said he appreciated the chance to get to speak to residents directly.

“It’s my favorite part of what we do,” he said.

DuQuenne said she appreciated the asked received by residents on topics such as the proposed Croman Mill housing development on the south end of town or about the unhoused.

“I would like to see it happen more often,” she said.

The next Coffee and Conversations is expected in November, though a date, time and location haven’t been selected yet.

DuQuenne said she’d prefer having similar gatherings in the evening to attract other Ashland residents who may be unable to go in the morning.

Ashland Councilor Gina DuQuenne hears from a resident at the Coffee and Conversations session Tuesday. Bob Palermini photo
Emergency evacuation concerns

Fire officials were busy answering questions about Ashland’s emergency evacuation plans.

Ashland resident Tom Besich was in Medford when the 2020 Almeda fire erupted and he remembered the chaos on the roads.

“It took me six hours to get home,” Besich said.

Besich said Ashland doesn’t seem to have a good evacuation plan, and he said reducing Highway 99 in north Ashland to one travel lane in each direction and depending on traffic signals to control vehicles are a recipe for disaster.

Ashland Fire Chief Ralph Sartain told Besich said there is a strong difference between an evacuation, which tries to impose order on a situation, and outright “fleeing” when seconds count.

He didn’t sugarcoat his response to Besich if Ashland residents need to flee.

“If it is an Almeda fleeing event, it will be chaos,” he said.

Sartain said residents should prepare go-bags filled with medications, paperwork, water and food, so they can leave rapidly.

“That’s just a reality living in a mountain town,” he said.

Interim Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Eldridge (wearing scarf) staffed a table to talk about her department with residents. Bob Palermini photo

Besich next approached Kelly Burns, the city’s emergency management coordinator, to see if he could get more information.

“What I’m seeing is they don’t have any solutions,” Besich said.

Burns told Besich the city faces a number of issues.

“Some people aren’t going to get the alert,” he said, referring to the emergency text sent to cell phones.

Other people might have phones silenced during the night, so they might not notice an alert, he said.

Burns said roads would get clogged with traffic and people will panic in an emergency situation.

He suggested that residents get themselves organized and develop a plan for what items they need to take and what routes they might need to follow to escape.

“Fall back on your training,” he said.

Besich said that when he drove back from Medford during the Almeda Fire, he saw trailer parks on fire and fire hydrants that didn’t work. He wondered what firefighters would do if people get trapped.

Burns said if someone is trapped in a burning building, firefighters will respond.

“If there is life, we have to go in there,” Burns said.

He said the city is attempting to verify how robust the fire hydrants are if there is high demand, but he said he believed Ashland’s hydrant system is in better shape than other communities.

Ashland Fire Chief Ralph Sartain participated in the second Coffee and Conversations session at Rogue Valley Roasting Company. Bob Palermini photo
Narcan availability would help in overdose cases

Homeless advocate Debbie Neisewander asked Fire Chief Sartain if there was more outreach planned for the unhoused population in Ashland.

More info:
To see Ashland evacuation zones, click here
To see a map showing pharmacies where naloxone is available, click here
To see a map of reports of encounters with bears, cougars and aggressive deer in Ashland, click here

“I keeping hearing that people think the overdoses are a good way to target getting rid of the homeless,” she said.

Neisewander said the antidote naloxone, also known as Narcan, often has to be given two or three times to revive someone from an overdose.

Neisewander said she and other homeless advocates are trying to put together an outreach team that could also help with overdose issues. She carries Narcan and test strips to detect fentanyl.

Sartain said his department has responded to 64 overdoses so far this year and also routinely administers Narcan, which counters the effects of opioids.

But he didn’t think his department could provide the kind of outreach program Neisewander suggested.
“We can’t be everywhere and do everything,” he said.

Neisewander said there is an urgent need for winter weather items for the homeless, such as blankets, sleeping bags, winter gear, tarps, shoes and socks. She said there is a box at the Pony Espresso, 175 Lithia Way, where residents can donate items for the homeless.

Neisewander said she doesn’t get paid for efforts to help the unhoused.

“It’s a thankless job,” she said.

Ashland Councilor Jeff Dahle speaks with a resident at the Coffee and Conversations session Tuesday. Bob Palermini photo
Bothered by neighbor’s smoking

Marion Assenmacher told Councilor Dahle her apartment complex has been bedeviled by one resident who smokes next to the building allowing fumes to enter several units.

“We need to do something to protect the nonsmokers,” she said.

Assenmacher said her landlord doesn’t seem to want to help, and she said she and other residents are afraid of retaliation if they complain to the smoker.

She wondered if the city could expand its ban on smoking in the downtown to other areas to address the problem.

Dahle said he faces the same issue at his home with smoke from next door.

“I have a neighbor and the fence doesn’t block it,” he said.

Dahle told Assenmacher that he would investigate whether the city could do anything, or possibly has something on the books, to help deal with second-hand smoke issues.

“The first step is research,” he said.

One woman, who asked not to be named, said she and her dog been confronted by menacing deer in the neighborhood around Rogue Valley Roaster.

DuQuenne said she’s heard similar stories from other residents, noting Ashland may be seeing more deer because of climate change or fires.

“The deer seem to be going after people who have dogs,” she said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at

Deputy City Manager Sabrina Cotta listens to a resident at the second of three planned Coffee and Conversation sessions Tuesday morning at Rogue Valley Roasting Company. Bob Palermini photo
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