Someone really should save the soul of Portland.

Our schools are underfunded and in poor condition. Rising taxes have retirees wondering if they can afford to stay in their homes. Young people, who make cities fun, vital places to live or visit, can’t find decent, affordable rental housing and are forced to take their talents elsewhere. Hundreds of people are homeless every night, including many who go to work every day.

None of these problems would be eased, however, if the so-called “Save the Soul of Portland” initiative succeeds.

Question 2 on the city ballot is narrowly focused on preserving a view of Portland Harbor that can be seen from a few blocks of Fore Street (at least when the leaves are off the trees) and some nearby houses.

The proposed mechanism for protecting this view is eight pages of dense legal language that would be added to the zoning code. It would create a process that gives small groups of aggrieved activists – or one still-to-be-defined “affected property owner” – the tools needed to slow down or stop development anywhere in the city, if the property falls between a viewer and the thing that’s being looked at.

No matter what unintended consequences it causes, the new zoning ordinance could not be amended for five years. After that, it could only be modified by another referendum, not through negotiations among elected representatives.

We think that turning multifaceted land-use decisions into a single yes-or-no question is a terrible way to make policy. We would recommend a “no” vote on this question even if we believed that a significant public asset might be threatened, because we think a deliberative public process is the best way for a community to balance competing interests.

But the Soul of Portland group has not been able to show that a public asset is really under threat here. Instead, they have spun a false narrative of a rapacious developer who has been given a “blank check” from a clueless City Council, and they’ve presented a series of claims that are so off-base they demand a “no” vote from anyone who cares about honest public debate.

The group has falsely claimed that the referendum would protect the historic buildings on the old Portland Co. site, even though the view area it identifies is outside the proposed historic preservation zone and would not affect the buildings. The group also has invented nightmare scenarios, including claims that the developer planned to build a gated community, that the project would interrupt the Eastern Prom waterfront trail and that the site could be turned into a Walmart.

What is really in dispute is whether the developer can put some two-story and three-story buildings on a three-block stretch of Fore Street between Waterville and Atlantic streets. That’s it.

Under current rules, no development could be approved without an exhaustive review by the Planning Board. Also, the zoning already requires, among other things, that any approved plan maintain three 50-foot-wide view corridors across the development, and that it promote public access to the waterfront.

The view cannot be lost; it could only be altered.

We think that adding jobs, economic activity, housing and significant additions to the property tax base are at least as important to the city’s “soul” as maintaining the Fore Street view in its current condition, but that’s not what’s on the ballot Nov. 3.

Voters are not being asked to choose between economic growth and quality of life. They are being asked how Portland should make these tough decisions in the future.

We favor an open process in which the voices of a small group of neighbors don’t outweigh the needs of the whole city. That’s why we say vote “no” on Question 2.