Voters on Nov. 2 will be asked to decide whether the size of new homeless shelters in the city should be restricted – and effectively if the city should proceed with a plan to build a 208-bed homeless services center on Riverside Street.
But they will face a potentially confusing set of options: There are three choices on the ballot, labeled A, B, and C.
Option A, the Smaller Shelters for Portland citizen initiative, would limit the size of new emergency shelters in the city to 50 beds. Backers also believe it would quash the city’s plan for Riverside.
Option B is a competing proposal presented by the City Council, with a larger size limit in support of the plan to replace the aging and overcrowded Oxford Street Shelter downtown with the new shelter near the Westbrook border.
Option C supports neither of the other two proposals.
In addition to establishing a 50-bed maximum, Option A would require all new emergency shelters to be open 24 hours a day, except for family and domestic violence shelters, and add new criminal trespass language to the management plan.
But it would remove city requirements that shelters provide adequate space for security searches; plans for on-site surveillance, and adequate access to and from the Metro bus service with strategies to help those in the shelter use transit.
Option B has some of the same language, but removes the 50-bed maximum and instead has a limit of 150 beds “except in situations when a shelter capacity emergency is declared” and limits the total number of people sheltering in a one-mile radius to 300 people. The measure also calls for having adequate day space for guests; requires emergency shelters be at least 1,000 feet from each other, with an exemption for domestic violence shelters and the proposed consolidation of the Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter and the Preble Street Teen Center into one facility at 343 Cumberland Ave.
Option C would leave the existing city code unchanged.
According to City Hall spokesperson Jessica Grondin, state law requires the winning option to receive more than 50 percent of the vote. And if B or C win, the city’s plan for Riverside will move forward.
Despite the effort by Smaller Shelters for Portland, the city maintains the Riverside shelter would not be impacted by the referendum regardless of the outcome because it received conditional approval from the Planning Board at least 45 days before Nov. 2.
But Kristin Collins, an attorney at Preti Flaherty who represents the Smaller Shelters coalition, has told the City Council she disagrees with the city’s legal interpretation.
Collins said conditional approval does not count as final approval, which is a requirement to insulate the project from the referendum. She also said the written Planning Board decision was dated Sept. 22, even though the vote was held Sept. 17. Because of that, she said the decision was rendered only 41 days before the election.
“These false statements are perhaps intended to and will have the effect of depressing voter turnout and engagement,” Collins wrote to the council. “If such comments continue, we will immediately request a declaratory judgment and injunction to declare that the amendments, if passed, will attach to the proposed Riverton shelter.”
Smaller Shelters organizers have said they would consider a lawsuit against the city if their referendum is successful and the city still moves forward with the Riverside shelter.
The shelter at 654 Riverside St. is being developed by Developers Collaborative, with the cost of construction capped at $25 million.
The City Council held a first reading on Monday to approve the master lease for the project, which will cost just over $2.7 million annually for the first 10 years of the lease, after which the rates would decrease.
After 25 years, the city will have the option to purchase the shelter for $1.
Updated Oct. 22, 2021, to clarify how Option A would change the existing city code.
Portland School Board elections uncontested
Following longtime member Sarah Thompson’s surprising decision to end her reelection bid, there are no contested races for the School Board this fall.
Two incumbents are unchallenged in District 1 and District 2, and Thompson’s challenger Nyalat Biliew is the only candidate for an at-large seat.
Biliew ran unsuccessfully for the School Board last fall when she was defeated by Yusef Yusef for a different at-large seat.
Abusana “Micky” Bondo is unchallenged in District 1, as is board Chair Emily Figdor in District 2.
After the Nov. 2 election, the School Board will still have at least one vacancy, however, and possibly more.
On the same day Thompson announced she was withdrawing, board member Jeffrey Irish announced his resignation. He said his decision was the result of his displeasure with an Aug. 17 executive session the board held at the urging of board member Roberto Rodriguez – now a candidate for City Council – who sought to derail the appointment of a school principal based on comments the appointee made about two charter commissioners.
Additionally, the School Board could lose two members if Rodriguez and Anna Trevorrow, who is also running for the City Council, both win their races.
City Hall spokesperson Jessica Grondin said any open School Board seats would likely remain that way until the next regularly scheduled election in June 2022. She said it’s possible the council could schedule a special election, but even under that scenario, the soonest an election could be held would probably be next April.
— Colin Ellis