The Portland City Council on Monday night extended the city’s stay-at-home order until April 27 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
An emergency order was issued March 25 for five days. City Manager Jon Jennings said city officials intended to extend the emergency order when the initial five-day order was announced.
As part of the revised order, councilors debated and approved several amendments. They unanimously suspended housing evictions, and prohibited short-term housing rentals, defined by city ordinance as less than 30 days. State courts that handle evictions are also closed until May.
There are exceptions to the short-term rentals prohibition, which was sponsored by Councilor Kim Cook. Such rentals will still be allowed for homeless residents, medical providers coming into the city to help during the pandemic, and people who are isolating or self-quarantining.
Other amendments failed, including one that would have permitted Sunday traffic closures on Baxter Boulevard and another to provide curbside trash pickup for non-essential businesses.
Councilor Belinda Ray proposed extending Sundays on the Boulevard, but her amendment failed 6-3. Councilors who voted against it said they understood the sentiment, but didn’t think it was appropriate to encourage pedestrian use of the roadway.
Mayor Kate Snyder said it was a “heartbreaker” for her to vote against the proposal, since she enjoys running the boulevard. However, the need to promote social distancing outweighed the benefits of letting people back onto the street.
“These are odd times,” Snyder said.
Councilor Nick Mavodones supported the measure, but also stressed that the city should be doing more to promote social distancing.
“We should step up our efforts for people to stay home,” he said.
The emergency order continues to apply to residents and non-essential businesses.
The council conducted its meeting via Zoom, a video conference website.
Portland’s initial stay-at-home order followed Gov. Janet Mills’ order last week that closed all public-facing non-essential businesses. Mills’ order allowed restaurants to remain open for take-out, but banned dine-in customers. All non-public facing businesses can remain open as long as employees are able to maintain a safe 6-foot distance apart from each other.
Ray also proposed the failed amendment to allow curbside trash pickup for non-essential businesses. Cook said it wasn’t fair to allow some businesses, like liquor stores, to continue to have the service while other businesses, like a bookstore, couldn’t.
Her amendment failed 7-2.
“I feel terrible for the local businesses,” Councilor Tae Chong said. “But I don’t support the amendment.”
Snyder said the city needs to do its best to ensure only essential services remain open for now.
“I wish I could be more supportive, it’s heartbreaking,” she said.
The city is asking all residents to remain in their homes unless they need essential services. Places like gyms and salons, where more than 10 people can gather, are not considered essential. Residents are still allowed to go outside, but must continue social distancing practices.
Essential services include grocery stores, health-care facilities and pharmacies, banks, convenience stores, various home- and auto-repair businesses, home-based care for seniors and those with disabilities, and others.
Jennings said this is an “enormous” problem, and given how rapidly the virus has spread, the city needs to be “more restrictive” now than the state is demanding, given that Portland is larger and more populated than other parts of Maine.
Portland council conducts online meeting
The City Council held its first remote meeting Monday, in an effort to promote social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
The meeting was hosted on Zoom, an online conferencing website and application. The council held a workshop and regular business meeting, where councilors voted to extend the city’s stay-at-home order to April 27.
The city provided a link to the meeting, which allowed public viewing and participation via a computer or smartphone. Members of the public could use a “raise your hand” feature to indicate they wanted to speak, and were muted by the service until it was time for public comment.
The meeting was also recorded and is expected to be uploaded to the city’s YouTube channel.
— Colin Ellis