As Portland voters, advocates for open space, a past chairwoman of the Portland school board and a past and a present mayor of the great city of Portland, we’re urging fellow residents to vote “no” on Question 1 on June 10. Voting “no” means that Portland can move forward with plans for a better, safer Congress Square.

As the Press Herald recently editorialized (“Our View: Portland voters should say ‘no’ to ballot question on parks,” May 23), Question 1 is “not worth the mischief it would cause.” In fact, the proposal could harm land conservation in Portland.

The proposed law that voters are being asked to consider is unclear. It could even require a citywide vote for the construction of a new playground or a ballfield – and every citywide vote carries a price tag of $20,000.

The new law would also make it harder – not easier – for the City Council to permanently protect open spaces through conservation easements, which currently protect important public spaces in Portland.

Voting “no” on Question 1 means avoiding these harmful and unintended consequences for Portland’s parks, and it means moving forward with plans to revitalize Congress Square.

The full impacts of Question 1 are uncertain, but what we know for sure is that Question 1 would thwart the approved plans to revitalize Congress Square, creating a new event center and a better, safer public open space. Revitalizing the square will bring new jobs, new revenue and new visitors to the heart of downtown Portland.

That’s what this vote boils down to: Do we want a safer, better public open space at Congress Square, coupled with a new event center that will draw visitors and foot traffic to downtown Portland?

According to local economist Charles Lawton, this plan would provide a significant boost to our city’s economy. Specifically, it would bring $11 million annually to area businesses, help create 120 full-time jobs and generate $400,000 in new revenue to state and local governments. That’s money for our schools, fire department and other vital city services – which need the revenue, as one of us, former school board Chair Kate Snyder, can attest.

We know that some voters are confused about the existing protections for Portland’s parks. Rest assured: Our parks are already very well protected.

For example, supporters of Question 1 are fond of using images of one of Portland’s most iconic public spaces, Deering Oaks, to make their case. What they don’t tell you is that Deering Oaks was firmly protected by the deed the Deering family used to grant the land to the city in 1879. Question 1 wouldn’t change a thing.

Over the past 25 years, the city of Portland has greatly expanded and permanently protected hundreds of acres of parkland and open space.

During that period, the city has added more than 200 acres while granting just a quarter of an acre for the revitalization of Congress Square – a ratio greater than 800 to 1 in favor of open space. That commitment to open space can and will continue, and we should be proud of that.

Just this April, the City Council voted to permanently protect more open space in Portland, through a new ordinance that actually protects more parks and open spaces than Question 1 does. Importantly, it also does so without taking the risk of making future land conservation more difficult.

On June 10, voters have a choice: They can vote “yes” to stop plans for a better, safer Congress Square and risk the unintended consequences of an ordinance that would make land preservation in Portland harder.

Or they can vote “no,” and help to create a much-improved new public space while also bringing new jobs and economic activity to our city.

The choice is clear. On June 10, please join us in voting “no” on Question 1 – to avoid the unintended consequences of this proposal and to allow for a better, safer Congress Square for everyone in our city and all who visit here.

— Special to the Press Herald

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