The newly seated Portland City Council on Monday voted to reconsider a vote on new homeless shelter regulations.
Councilors also postponed a decision on the rules until after they hold a workshop.
The previous council approved the regulations on Nov. 15. But afterward, Councilor Pious Ali said he planned to request a reconsideration.
Ali, along with Councilors April Fournier and Andrew Zarro, said he wanted a workshop to have more time to ask questions about the new licensing rules.
Although Monday’s vote was unanimous, Councilor Tae Chong said he did not believe reconsideration was appropriate. He said reconsideration votes usually follow controversial items, but this issue did not fit that description.
Chong said councilors with questions or concerns had opportunities to get more information during 10 months of discussion in the Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee. He also said there was no effort to stop or slow the item when it had the first reading on Nov. 1.
“The majority of the council can do what they wish,” Chong said, adding they could revisit the work, or let it go forward and “honor the work of seasoned councilors.”
Other councilors said this is not an effort to undo work done by staff or previous councilors, but just an attempt to provide councilors more time to get up to speed.
Zarro, who was the only councilor to vote against the new regulations in November, said it isn’t realistic to expect councilors to attend all committee meetings – and particularly those on which they do not sit – when every councilor also has a job beyond the council.
“This was more procedural than anything,” Zarro said. “I’m not against licensing. We just wanted a little bit more time ironing this out. I think we’re all coming from a good place even if it’s a bit bumpy right now.”
The licensing amendment to the city code includes a two-tier fee structure for small and large emergency shelters, a density cap of 300 beds within a one-mile radius, a 1,000-foot buffer zone between shelters, and a requirement that shelters provide day space. There would be exemptions and waivers for existing shelters and for specialized shelters, such as those providing refuge for victims of domestic violence.
The proposed licensing requirements will also require regular meetings between shelter operators and neighborhood residents, and require shelters to apply for and receive licenses within 90 days after the rules become effective.
Councilor Mark Dion said he was “frustrated” because much work had been put into developing the proposal. However, he said his frustration was “not germane” to the discussion since Ali, who sought the reconsideration, was exercising his right as a councilor. He said he would vote in favor of reconsideration “because I have to respect the process.”
“Whatever motives brought this before us is outside our consideration,” Dion said. “I don’t see a path forward unless reconsideration leads to a workshop.”
Following the vote to reconsider, the Council unanimously postponed action to Jan. 19, 2022, and scheduled the workshop for Jan. 5.
This was the first meeting for new Councilors Victoria Pelletier, Roberto Rodriguez and Anna Trevorrow. Pelletier said shelter licensing is an important issue.
“It’s not a matter of experience versus inexperience,” she said. “I do think it’s a councilor’s responsibility to ask for a workshop so necessary questions can be asked.”
Pelletier added the important thing is that councilors get to a point where they all feel comfortable voting on the regulations.
Most of the nearly three-hour meeting was spent discussing issues regarding homeless shelters.
But some time was spent swearing in the new councilors and giving the council time to honor and bid farewell to the three councilors who were replaced Monday night: Nick Mavodones, Belinda Ray, and Spencer Thibodeau.
While that was not unusual, what was out of the ordinary were Ray’s parting words: She picked up a ukulele and sang a song about her fellow councilors.
Ray has been known to write haikus for outgoing councilors or staff in the past, although singing an original song was probably a first for the City Council.
Finally, Ali, the longest-serving councilor, was unanimously selected to replace Mavodones as mayor pro tem and fill in if Mayor Kate Snyder is unable to run meetings.
Council lets Bayside shelter moratorium expire
Portland city councilors voted not to extend a temporary ban on new emergency shelters in the city’s Bayside neighborhood.
The moratorium will expire on Dec. 14.
The City Council enacted the 180-day moratorium in June, prohibiting any new emergency shelters in the neighborhood that already contains a large number of shelter beds.
The council voted 5-4 Monday night, with Mayor Kate Snyder and Councilors Pious Ali, Mark Dion, and Tae Chong in the minority. Snyder sought the emergency action, meaning if seven councilors had voted for it, it would not have required a second reading.
Snyder argued that if extended, the moratorium could still be lifted at any time. So if the council approves new shelter licensing rules on Jan. 19, it could have lifted the moratorium without having to wait for it to expire.
“Many of the items that necessitated the mortarium back in June are still with us,” the mayor said.
Councilor Victoria Pelletier said she has difficulty “voting to keep a certain class level out of a certain part of the city.” She said she favors shelters being more equally distributed, but doesn’t think the moratorium truly addressed affordable housing.
While the moratorium may give the housed people of Bayside a break, Pelletier said, there was “no pause when you’re unhoused and there’s no relief when you’re unhoused.”
“I think we need to be protecting those who are vulnerable, that’s the priority if we are really talking about equity and support and resources,” she said. “We need to take steps to prioritize those who have consistently been left behind.”
Councilor Andrew Zarro, who previously voted against the moratorium, said providing relief to the neighborhood’s residents does not rise to an emergency level. He said the emergency they are trying to address is homelessness, and the moratorium was supposed to be a bridge until new licensing was enacted and that is now on the horizon for Jan. 19.
Zarro said while past councilors and members of the public have talked about a rumor of a new shelter being sought in Bayside, he doesn’t want to “pass policy based on rumors.”
Interim City Manager Danielle West and Planning and Urban Development Director Christine Grimando told the council there are no applications for new shelters in the neighborhood.
The last shelter to be approved was the Preble Street Resource Center transition from a soup kitchen to a 40-bed wellness center.
— Colin Ellis
Council to discuss special election for School Board vacancies
Portland city councilors on Dec. 20 are expected to consider whether to hold a special election for three vacant seats on the School Board.
Their other option is to allow those sets to remain vacant until the next regular city election on June 14, 2022.
City Clerk Katherine Jones said filling the three unexpired vacancies – one created when Jeff Irish resigned in October and two the result of Roberto Rodriguez and Anna Trevorrow being elected to the City Council – is governed by the City Charter.
The council could call a special election if at least six councilors approve, as long as there are at least 127 days between when the election is declared and the actual election date. That means the earliest an election could be held would be in April. Jones said the 127-day period ensures candidates have enough time to gather signatures for their nomination papers and to campaign, and that city staff will have enough time to prepare.
She also said the council will have to decide if all polling places will be needed for a special election or if polls could be consolidated. Jones recommended a District 5 polling place be open to fill Irish’s seat, and the James A. Banks Exposition Building on Park Avenue be used for voting on the at-large seats vacated by Rodriguez and Trevorrow.
Additionally, Jones noted the two at-large terms both expire next year, so whoever wins those seats in a special election would have to take nomination papers out for the fall and run again.
No action was taken by the council Monday. Mayor Kate Snyder said for purposes of discussion the order to be considered Dec. 20 will be on scheduling a June election, but that could be changed if the council’s will is to have a special election.
Snyder said funds in the city’s current operating budget would have to be used to hold a special election.
Interim Corporation Counsel Jen Thompson said the charter defines this process as an election, which prevents the City Council from appointing replacement School Board members.
— Colin Ellis