Portland voters had one choice to make when they went to the polls June 10: Block the sale of part of Congress Square Park to a developer, or let it go through. Yes or no.
The “yes” side won, the sale has been blocked for now and the City Council is considering what to do next. The council should take its time.
The best use for a valuable public asset in one of the city’s most prominent intersections never should have been reduced to a yes-or-no question in the first place.
Instead of forcing through another divisive referendum campaign, people on both sides of the question should take another stab at working together and finding a way forward that accommodates the many parties that have an interest in Congress Square.
There is a strong argument to be made for sending the current proposal back out to a vote in November.
The practical impact of the June vote was to create a process under which public property on a protected list could be sold. With six votes on the council, the question of whether to sell Congress Square Park could be sent out to referendum in November, when turnout is expected to be much higher, and that could be enough to change the result.
But it hardly seems worth the turmoil another campaign would cause. The problem with the referendum process is that it drives a wedge between the people who should be working together. As Election Day approaches, rhetoric gets more extreme and feelings get hard. Now is a good time to let things cool off and see if there is a better solution.
The parties should look at the disputed piece of land in the context of the entire Congress Square, which includes all the corners of the five-way intersection of Congress, High and Free streets.
The conversation should look at all the public space spanning from the Portland Museum of Art to the State Theatre – including the streets themselves, which are also public space.
A truly open-ended discussion in which all the parties sit down accepting the possibility that the best outcome for the square could include the park in its current dimensions or no park at all might yield ideas that haven’t been thought of yet.
It’s worth trying, and even though we supported the sale and a “no” vote, we would rather see people trying to come up with an idea that everyone can get excited about than choosing up sides for another “yes-or-no” referendum campaign.