News Briefs: Mayor Strimling joins climate coalition, Bayside bids go up, and a local activist announces a run for city council

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling joined over 170 "Climate Mayors" across the country with a pledge to uphold the emission standards set by the Paris Agreement. Francis Flisiuk Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling joined over 170 "Climate Mayors" across the country with a pledge to uphold the emission standards set by the Paris Agreement.

Portland joins the coalition of cities pledging to uphold the Paris agreement

After President Trump stunned almost every scientist (and otherwise sensible American) when he pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord last week—which pushed for countries to reduce emissions in an attempt to hold the increase in global temperature to a 1.5 degrees Celsius—many concerned progressives in local government took the matter in their own hands.

A network of 187 “Climate Mayors” wrote and signed a statement on Medium last week, which pledged to “adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement.”

The statement reads: We will continue to lead. We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. We will buy and create more demand for electric cars and trucks. We will increase our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice. And if the President wants to break the promises made to our allies enshrined in the historic Paris Agreement, we’ll build and strengthen relationships around the world to protect the planet from devastating climate risks. The world cannot wait—and neither will we.

As we reported last week, Portland has already vowed to get all of their municipal operations running on clean energy by 2040, but according to Mayor Ethan Strimling, the city has also signed onto the “Mayors National Climate Action Agenda,” which might spell even more green initiatives for Portland. The city will be working to revamp it 2008 Climate Action Plan with updated goals and measurements.

“Thanks for your vigilance in the face of such insanity from the White House,” wrote Mr. Strimling on social media. “Think globally. Act locally.”

Eleven developers seek bids for unused land in Bayside

A Freedom of Information Access request to reveal the identities of the 11 developers that submitted bids to buy up a big 4.1-acre chunk of the Bayside neighborhood proved unsuccessful last week.

According to city spokesperson Jessica Grondin, the information on the bidding process is being kept confidential at the request of the developers because releasing it would “prejudice the City's competitive or bargaining position in the sale of the properties.”

Judging from the buzz generated after the news broke of these negotiations, there’s a lot of local interest in the future of these former Public Works properties. Groups like Progressive Portland are keeping a close eye on any news of these negotiations and will likely be present for any public comment whenever the city schedules such a forum.

“My understanding is that the city is going to winnow the proposals and then solicit public input,” said Steve Hirshon, the president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association. “To date, one development group has approached the Association about their fairly comprehensive proposal, so we are curious about what else is out there. BNA members, individually and as a group, have been supportive of housing on the sites that could have housing, particularly opportunities for owner-occupied housing, particularly ones with incentives for first-time buyers. We also support the adaptive reuse of the "General Store" (circa 1900 brick) and the former transportation building on Hanover Street.”

Many in Portland see the sale and redevelopment of those parcels of unused land as a key part to the overall plan to ensure Bayside’s vitality in the face of growing concerns of the neighborhood’s future and Portland’s affordable housing shortage in general.

“My first concern is that the development of the area includes at least some affordable or moderate-priced housing, which is the city's most pressing need,” said Patricia Washburn, a Bayside resident and member of Progressive Portland. “I would like to see it become an area that is attractive and inviting to local people and businesses. Almost anything would be more attractive than what is there now, but I would also like to see the city undertake this process in an atmosphere of transparency so voters can have a voice in what happens to a large piece of land on the peninsula.”

According to Greg Mitchell, director of Portland’s Economic Development Department, only three of the parcels of land are considered for affordable housing, because the other ones could be contaminated with industrial waste.

A lot of eyes are on Bayside because it’s often centered around a number of conversations about local social issues, most notably the effects of climate change (as Bayside is situated at the lowest point of the city) and the neighborhood’s proximity to social services like the Oxford Street Shelter and the Preble Street Resource Center.

A sizable immigrant population also calls the neighborhood home, alongside shopping hubs like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Bayside has also seen attempts to make the area more trendy and developed, like with the opening of the Fork Food Lab and the new Bayside Bowl rooftop patio.

Big development deals such as this one have the potential to affect the neighborhoods recent problems with flooding, skyrocketing rents, homelessness, gentrification, and a lack of affordable amenities for the people that live there.

Former USM multicultural head sues college over racism allegations

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Susan Hamilton protesting USM's decision to host Rep. Larry Lockman during an anti-immigration talk held last February. She's suing the college for wrongful termination. 

Local activist Susan Hamilton is suing the University of Southern Maine, her former employer, as first reported by the Bangor Daily News.

Back in 2015, USM fired the former head of the multicultural affairs department over allegations that she created a hostile work environment and acted aggressively when it came to discussing and teaching social justice issues like racism, gender rights, and white privilege.

Hamilton, who is half Native American, claims in the complaint that she was wrongfully terminated and that accusations that she harassed students and staff are “absurd and baseless.”

She will be suing USM for monetary damages but the college hasn’t received a copy of the lawsuit yet. Citing the early nature of this personal case, USM officials declined to comment. Attempts to reach Hamilton for a quote were also unsuccessful, but this story will be updated.

"The University of Maine System has not been served with a copy of the lawsuit and cannot comment on the allegations,” said Dan Demeritt, director of Public Affairs for the UMaine system (and former director of communications for Gov. Paul LePage). “Furthermore, it is unlikely that the university will have substantive public comment on campus practices, engagement initiatives, or personnel matters that are referenced in the litigation."

Bree LaCasse announces her bid for city council

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"I believe we must grow in a way that ensures Portland remains inclusive and distinct. That requires empathy and making genuine efforts to include a wide range of voices in the process," said Bree Lacasse.

Brightly colored campaign signs filled the space of Congress Square Park last Sunday as Bree LaCasse, a local activist, announced her bid for city council.

She’ll be running for the seat of the 2nd longest running city councilor, Jill Duson.

In 2014, LaCasse championed the fight against the city’s efforts to sell Congress Square Park and won.

The Congress Square Park issue was a wake-up call for Bree. “I’ve always had a vision of Portland as one of the greatest small cities in the world and I take action to realize that vision—from raising money for the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project to help new Mainers, to working to engage a new generation of young leaders at Portland Museum of Art, to leading the effort to stop the sale of Congress Square Park and transform it into a thriving community gathering place.”

LaCasse, who works in the non-profit and affordable housing sector, is running on a platform that calls for more transparency between the City Council and its constituents, which she believes will resonate with Portlanders across party lines.

“I want our citizens to feel heard again,” said LaCasse. “I’m a Democrat but I have proven my ability to bring people of all different perspectives—independent, green, red and all shades of blue—together around a shared vision. To make everyone feel valued and heard.”

Other issues she cares about include affordable housing, tax relief, and passing the 64 million dollar bond to repair four public schools.

“Councilor Duson chaired a special committee charged with tackling the problem of affordable housing just last year and came up with little more than a pamphlet,” said LaCasse. “People are being pushed out or leaving every day, and there is no more time to waste on half measures, foot dragging and indecision.”

As a mother of a first grader at Reiche Elementary (one of the schools needing infrastructure repairs), Bree said she was finally motivated to run for council at-large when longtime Councilor Jill Duson voted against the bond to repair all four elementary schools. “I realized at that moment, that we needed new leadership, with the demonstrated ability to listen, bring people together and get the job done,” said LaCasse. She adds that she'd been asked to run for years. 

Early endorsers of LaCasse include Board of Education members, Holly Seeliger, John Eder and past Board Chair Marnie Marionne, who said this of LaCasse, ”Bree has the vision to know that investing in quality education must be a top priority to allow Portland to retain and attract middle-class families and grow our tax base. "After serving on the Board of Education for nine years, I believe it is time to have a strong champion for our schools on the city council."

Last modified onTuesday, 06 June 2017 16:39