This November’s election presents Portland voters with two referendum questions that raise challenging issues of public regulatory policy. Neither of them is an easy call. After long consideration and soul-searching, my intention is to vote “no” on Question 1 and “yes” on Question 2. Here is why:

Question 1 on the city ballot proposes to establish a rent stabilization (control) ordinance, complete with a regulatory board to govern rent levels in some, but by no means all, Portland apartments (Owners of fewer than four apartments and any apartment buildings built after Nov. 1, 2017, would be exempt). The purpose of the ordinance is to try to foster affordable housing by reining in rent increases in Portland like those that were experienced on the peninsula from 2011 to 2015.

The problem is that there is no real indication that a rent control structure will increase the number of quality units available at affordable rents. On the other hand, as shown by the experience in other cities that have various forms of rent control, such a scheme introduces a new bureaucracy with its own inequities and arbitrary benefits and burdens as tenants and landlords maneuver to adapt to the new reality. While rent control may tend to combat gentrification, it also would make it harder for owners of substandard buildings to invest in maintenance and repairs to improve their properties.

There is no doubt that the entire Portland area needs more homes that lower-income residents can afford. The reality of today’s construction costs means that the only way good modern homes can be made available at affordable rents is by some kind of subsidy. Let’s face facts and push hard for federal, state and local subsidies to enlarge our affordable housing resources rather than play games with landlords and tenants via rent control.

My intention to vote “yes” on Question 2 stems from a growing frustration over the apparent unwillingness of Portland’s Planning Board and City Council to maintain the integrity of Portland’s planning and zoning when tempted by the prospect of big residential and commercial development projects.

Portland has a citywide zoning ordinance based on a comprehensive plan for the city’s long-term commercial, institutional and residential development. Although this ordinance is faithfully enforced against deviations by homeowners and small businesses, when large developers come along with requests for dramatic zoning changes to accommodate their often grandiose projects, both Planning Board and council seem all to ready to sacrifice the neighborhood protections of the existing zoning to permit these big proposals.

Recent examples are the former Williston West Church property on Thomas Street, the Portland Co. project at 58 Fore St., “midtown” in Bayside, the Americold cold storage warehouse in the West End and the Camelot Farms subdivision in Stroudwater. Each of these developers has sought and obtained, over strong objections of their neighbors, significant changes in the requirements of the Portland zoning ordinance to permit increased heights, masses, uses and densities that are not now permitted in their respective zones.

Zoning by referendum is a terrible way to regulate land use in any city. The language of Question 2 is not perfect.

However, occasionally our City Council and Planning Board need to hear a message from the voters. The waterfront referendum in the 1980s was criticized as populist land-use planning. But we now realize that it saved the Portland waterfront. The restrictive provisions of the Question 2 ordinance do not prevent developers from doing anything that is permitted by the current ordinance.

They would only hinder changes in the ordinance to allow what is not permitted now. This does not seem to be too high a price to pay to let the Planning Board and council know that our existing comprehensive s planning and zoning structure should be taken seriously for large project proposals as well as small ones.

Even if Question 2 does not pass, if it receives a large vote, maybe our public servants will hesitate the next time before they scrap existing zoning protections at the behest of some large developer.