When it comes to ballot initiatives, things are not always what they seem.

That’s the case with Portland’s Question 2, which would change zoning rules in a way that would lock people out of the process, freeze investment, tangle our city with lawsuits and throw us into chaos for years to come.

Portland’s Question 2 (not be confused with statewide Question 2 to expand Medicaid) would devastate our city – empowering just a handful of people to prevent good projects – ranging from job-creating development on our historic working waterfront to affordable and workforce housing designed to keep Portland livable.

Question 2 would allow just a few residents living near a proposed project – like the cold storage facility on Commercial Street or the affordable housing project on Bishop Street – to stop it in its tracks.

No public hearing. No vote. No community input.

While the proponents of Question 2 likely have good intentions, the unintended consequences of this ordinance would hurt the entire city, making it harder for all of us to live and work here.

Their goal is straightforward. They want to retroactively stop a single proposed housing project in the Stroudwater community. But the overly broad, poorly written ordinance that they’ve placed on the ballot would instead harm every one of us.

Question 2 allows a small number of registered voters living within 500 feet of a proposed zoning change to secretly circulate and submit a signed petition. If just 25 percent of voters in that prescribed area agree, the change is summarily blocked and can only be overturned if a majority of residents within 1,000 feet of the change also sign a petition within 45 days.

It’s a crazy scheme.

It’s undemocratic.

It shuts out the vast majority of Portland residents.

It’s bound to chill investment and create chaos.

And, if it’s passed, the City Council won’t be able to change it for five years – no matter how much damage it causes.

We understand that the pressures of a growing city sometimes create conflict. But we must be thoughtful when it comes to ordinances with such far-reaching implications.

Sold as an effort to give “neighborhoods more voice,” Question 2 would instead silence most of the community and make it nearly impossible for many vital projects to move forward. Huston Commons, a housing-first facility providing permanent, supported housing to chronically homeless individuals, provides a prime example of the extreme impact that Question 2 could have. Despite widespread support, just eight people could have blocked this lifesaving project.

And in hopes that Question 2 will pass, the paperwork has already been filed to retroactively block the new cold storage facility on the waterfront, immediately putting at risk more than 950 jobs and an estimated $171 million in economic impact.

Handing veto power to a minority of registered voters who can wield this power via a secret petition process is not how democracy works.

At Preble Street, we work every day to empower people experiencing homelessness and struggling with housing, hunger and poverty. For us to be successful, we depend on our community to be open, welcoming and thoughtful, both in the way we treat one another and the policies we enact.

And at the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, we advocate for policies that encourage responsible investment and growth that can help our economy thrive.

Question 2 undermines these goals – creating huge barriers to affordable housing, new businesses and other critical projects that can ensure all kinds of people can live, work and raise their families in Portland.

So beware. While the language voters will see on the ballot might sound good, we encourage everyone to read the actual text. When voters do read the details of the proposal, we believe they will quickly understand why affordable housing advocates, business leaders, city councilors, the mayor and dozens of other organizations oppose Question 2.

Nobody is arguing that land use and zoning procedures in Portland are perfect. They’re not, and there’s certainly room for improvement.

But rather than improve this process, Question 2 takes the current system and makes it much, much worse.

Portland would be frozen in place. Investments will dry up on our working waterfront and in key infrastructure, affordable housing developments, market-rate apartments, single-family homes, and many other projects and businesses vital to Portland’s growth and sustainability.

Portland is better than this. We can make sure that we have a city that works for all of us. But to do so, we must reject Portland’s Question 2.

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