Point-Counterpoint: Portland's parks referendum

 With a vote just two weeks away, local campaigns ramp up

On Tuesday, June 10, Portlanders will cast their ballots in a referendum that would amend the city’s Land Bank ordinance by adding 35 properties to the Land Bank list (in addition to 25 existing properties) and establishing a new category for Land Bank eligibility — “urban open public spaces.” Further, any sale of a Land Bank property would require either a 6-member City Council vote plus voter approval, or an 8-member City Council vote. Two organizations have coalesced in support of and in opposition to the initiative: Protect Portland Parks, which wants citizens to vote Yes on 1, and Forward Portland, which is pushing a No vote. We invited representatives from both campaigns to answer the same six questions; their responses are below. The results of this referendum will impact future development of public space in Portland. Read up, and be sure to vote.

What is the purpose of Question 1?
Protect Portland Parks:
Question 1 creates a more rigorous, more deliberate, and more public process before a public park could be sold.  A ‘Yes’ vote would place 60 parks and public spaces throughout Portland into the Land Bank, and require a council vote of 6 or 7 councilors and a citizens’ referendum before the city could sell any of these important public spaces.

Forward Portland: Question 1 masquerades as a “park protection” ordinance, but its true purpose is to retroactively block the city’s plans for a better, safer Congress Square. Question 1 would deprive us of an expanded event center and an improved public space that will help revitalize Congress Square, while creating jobs and new economic activity downtown.

What underlying issues do you believe are at hand in this debate?
First, stewardship. The City eliminated its Parks Department in 2008 and our parks are now suffering from a lack of amenities, programming, and maintenance. Volunteer groups and non-profits have had to step in. Second, vision. Parks bring life, fun, people, and thus jobs to the City. The City has under-appreciated how important parks are to the social and economic health of Portland. Third, process. When the City negotiates a no-bid sale, behind closed doors, for a fraction of the market value, we have a problem. Fourth, protection. With weak legal protections and the City’s apparent lack of understanding of the vital importance of our parks and open spaces, our parks are now vulnerable.

FP: Question 1 is about Congress Square, not parks. 
A ‘Yes’ vote blocks plans to revitalize Congress Square and prevents Portland from moving forward with a better, safer Congress Square.
A ‘No’ vote allows for the creation of a better, safer plaza at Congress Square, which includes an event center as an anchor and the removal dangerous “hiding spots” that threaten public safety.  Congress Square has been a failed open space for 30 years. The revitalization will bring jobs and significantly more spending at local small businesses.

What do you think the public misunderstands about your campaign or about the referendum in general?
The major misconception is that if you are for the sale of Congress Square Park, you are against the referendum. In fact, many of our current supporters support the referendum and the sale of Congress Square Park. They just think (as we do) that the public should have a say first. The other misconception is that we’re anti-development. We’re not. We just don’t think that selling and/or paving over public parks (rather than maintaining them) is sound economic development. Good parks and good development go hand-in-hand.

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