The Portland City Council voted Monday night to send five citizen-initiated referendum questions to voters this fall after failing to pass a proposal that would have adopted and amended one of the referendum questions seeking to limit the number of passengers who can disembark from cruise ships in the city.

The five referendums that will appear on the ballot Nov. 8 include two that seek to place greater restrictions and regulations on short-term rentals and three others that seek to increase protections for tenants, raise the minimum wage to $18 per hour by 2025 and place restrictions on cruise ships.

Four of the five referendums are being brought forward by the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America’s Livable Portland campaign while one of the short-term rental proposals comes from a group of homeowners, many of whom operate short-term rentals.

The council was faced with the choice Monday night of sending each question to voters in the November election, adopting the measure outright or coming up with a competing proposal to put on the ballot.

Councilors voted unanimously to send each measure to voters, although they did also consider a proposal from Councilor Andrew Zarro to adopt limits on the number of cruise ship passengers who disembark in the city to 1,000 per day and to then send the ordinance to the council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee for review.

“I was looking to bring people together and create some good sound policy,” Zarro said of his proposal Monday. Zarro, who chairs the sustainability committee, said the committee has already begun looking at the environmental impacts of cruise ships on the city and his intent was for the committee to bring back proposed changes to the ordinance in October.


But Zarro said he also worried he wouldn’t have the seven votes needed Monday to waive a second reading on the proposal and pass it Monday night. The council voted 6-3 with Mayor Kate Snyder and councilors Tae Chong and Mark Dion voting against waiving the second reading of the proposal.

Snyder said that while she worked with Zarro to get the proposal on Monday’s agenda, she remained worried about whether there had been enough engagement from the public on the cruise ship issue. “Has this been an open process? Has there been sufficient input?” Snyder said. “I don’t know. I’m looking for it. I haven’t seen it. We’ve heard this particular question being put forward to voters is an existential threat, so that’s very concerning to me.”

Zarro’s proposal to adopt the cruise ship referendum will come back for its second read Sept. 1, but Snyder said it is expected to be tabled indefinitely since the council also took action 9-0 Monday night to put the question to voters.

Monday’s public comment sessions and votes by the council to set the election date for each referendum – all of which gathered at least 1,500 valid signatures to make the ballot – drew a significant crowd to City Hall, where there was standing room only in council chambers at the start of the meeting. Residents and members of the public weighed in on each question with a variety of opinions.

When the DSA’s short-term rental proposal came up, Alex Parisi, who owns a property management company operating both long and short-term rentals, said the income from the short-term units has allowed her to continue living in the neighborhood where her son attends East End Elementary School.

The proposal would restrict short-term rentals, such as those advertised on sites like Airbnb, to those that are owner-occupied, tenant-occupied or located in two-unit buildings occupied by the owner. It also would lower the city’s cap on un-hosted rentals.


“I’m really tired of continuing to have to fight for my ability to make a living to stay here and stay in the home we live in,” Parisi said. She said she recognizes there is a need for more affordable housing in the city, but “for owners who are responsible, who maintain their buildings and supplement with one Airbnb in an 11-unit building, for example, going after this situation is not going to create more affordable housing all of a sudden,” Parisi said.

Resident Kathryn O’Neil, however, said she has had to “keep moving because people keep turning my housing into Airbnbs.”

“It’s my housing. It’s my friends’ housing,” O’Neil said. “I’m really tired of people saying there’s no affordable housing crisis when it’s here. It’s people’s second houses, third houses. It’s multiple STR’s.”

The council also heard significant feedback on the proposal to raise the minimum wage to $18 by 2025 and eliminate the sub-minimum or tipped credit wage for tipped workers.

Mary Allen Lindemann, owner of Coffee By Design, said she worries about how her business would navigate such an increase. “How do I explain to someone who’s been with me for years that their $22 per hour is as good as someone who’s 16 years old who I start at $18?” she said.

Lindemann said she had to close one of her stores for two days last week because of COVID-19. “There comes a time when there’s no money left, and we’re not even in winter,” she said. “Any money I have I’m setting aside to get through winter. I’m not opposed to a livable wage, but focus on housing. That’s where people can’t afford to live in Portland.”

Leo Hilton, a member of DSA’s steering committee who works as an apprentice electrical worker, said there is a cost of living crisis in the city and he is lucky to be a member of a union that will advocate for wage increases on his behalf.

“There any many unorganized workers in our city who don’t have that,” Hilton said. “It is our responsibility to make sure their wages rise as the cost of living rises in our city.”

Hilton said he believes both higher wages and lower rents are needed. “We need the power of our city government on our side to correct the power imbalance where those with money and capital have so much more power, whether in the courts or through lobbying, to exact their vision for the world on us,” he said. “We deserve a fair shake.”

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