People First Portland urges timely implementation of successful initiatives

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The progressive group behind a decisive slate of referendum victories last week said it is willing to work with the city to make sure the initiatives are implemented, even though many city leaders opposed the measures.

People First Portland authored the citizen initiatives, known as Question A-E. Four of the five were approved by wide margins; they will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, enforce a ban on the use of facial recognition software, enact a Green New Deal for Portland, and cap annual rent increases. The fifth, which would have restricted short-term rentals, was narrowly defeated.

People First Portland organizer Em Burnett said while there were “a lot of moments of joy” for organizers after the voting, there is more work to be done going forward.

Em Burnett: “We stand ready to ensure these are fully and transparently implemented and enforced.” (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)

“Implementation is in the city’s court, but this is something the voters decided on,” Burnett said.

While the city was doing its due diligence and legal analysis, Burnett said People First Portland was focusing on the fact these were “resounding victories.”

“It’s a huge win for working people in the city,” Burnett said.

Burnett said People First Portland is committed to making sure the initiatives are enacted in a timely manner, and that in particular they’ve already heard backlash from landlords against the cap on rent increases.

“Renters are realizing someone has their back,” Burnett said.

Burnett and other People First Portland organizers noted their group was outspent 30-1 by opposition groups, including Airbnb, which spent $125,000 to defeat the short-term rental restrictions.

Kate Sykes, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council this year and works with People First Portland, said in a press release they expect the City Council to begin implementing these measures immediately.

“Time is of the essence and we look forward to monitoring the progress of the city,” Sykes said. “We stand ready to ensure these are fully and transparently implemented and enforced. The people have spoken and this is now the law of the city of Portland. We expect the city to vigorously defend these laws in court if they are challenged by the same powerful interests who spent upwards of a million dollars to defeat them.”

Burnett noted People First Portland spent approximately $24,000, compared with the $640,000 spent by opposition groups, and said there has been some concern that the council – where eight of the nine councilors publicly opposed the initiatives – may try to confuse voters about what has been passed.

For example, Burnett said they are concerned councilors may try to amend or repeal the measures before the expiration of the five-year prohibition on council action regarding laws approved via citizen initiative. During the first five years, such laws can only be amended or repealed by another citizen initiative.

Burnett also said it’s not surprising that landlords are confused about how rent control will work, or that business owners are confused about what the minimum wage will be, given how much the opposition groups spent trying to confuse voters.

“So we’re excited to work with the city on getting the message out there,” Burnett said. 

Going forward, Burnett said, People First Portland will have its eyes on next June’s Charter Commission election, and wants to work with the city to create an inclusive process for candidates.

“We aim to include and reach out to and work with as many people in the city as possible and incorporate those voices,” Burnett said.