Portland housing bond
It gives us no satisfaction to urge a no vote on this measure. Portland rents keep rising faster than almost anywhere else in the country. By year's end, real estate experts predict rents will be up another 8 percent.
Housing costs have spiraled upward far faster than wages, displacing thousands of families from close-in neighborhoods.
The problem is simple: More people want to live here than there are places where they can afford to live. City officials say there's a 24,000-unit shortfall in affordable homes in Portland.
The solution is more housing, and more of it subsidized by the government.
To be sure, the city of Portland already has an agency and lots of money to address affordable housing. The Portland Housing Bureau spends, on average, $70 million a year to build or renovate housing that has a cap on rents and is made available to low-income residents. The agency will more than double that average level of spending this year. But it still won't be enough.
This bond, the first of its kind in Portland, would raise a quarter billion more dollars for affordable housing.
Our objection is not that the additional funds are unnecessary.
It is that the Housing Bureau, which would be responsible for spending the money, has a history of investing in gold-plated projects that cost double or triple the projects built by unsubsidized developers.
Measure 26-179 proposes to take the $258 million it would raise and build or preserve approximately 1,300 units, many of them for people making less than 30 percent of median family income, which includes minimum-wage earners and seniors but also the mentally ill and disabled.
That's nearly $200,000 a unit. The city of Denver, which is experiencing a similarly tight housing market, approved an affordable-housing funding package this year that it says will produce or preserve 6,000 apartments for $150 million—just $25,000 a unit. Seattle's housing bond is also far more penny-wise than Portland's.
Even the Oregon Legislature is convinced it can produce subsidized housing way more cheaply than Portland. It is also issuing bonds and expects to produce new units for $38,000 of subsidy each.
The city is taking a more conservative approach, saying it will not push developers to leverage public dollars. Instead, the city would own the new units outright. That's a very inefficient use of scarce public dollars.
The measure's backers will argue that we're making the perfect the enemy of the good—Portland needs new, affordable apartments to stave off a crisis.
But there's a larger danger here: If City Hall spends these bond revenues as unwisely as it has previous dollars—and there's no reason to expect otherwise—it will poison the well with voters. All for 1,300 units, a number that would not stop the bleeding anyway.
We want a more ambitious and responsible proposal, one that won't leave voters feeling betrayed and one that would leverage public dollars. If that requires some legal maneuvering, that's OK, because the city already has nearly 1,000 new subsidized units in the pipeline, so there's time.
As Portland becomes a city that is increasingly affordable only for the rich, the stakes are too high for a measure this half-baked. Build something with a foundation, please.
Portland cannabis tax
Our thumbs-up should not be taken as an endorsement of Portland's policing of marijuana dispensaries. The city's regulatory system, as operated by Commissioner Amanda Fritz, is duplicative of the state's bureaucracy and unduly burdensome on small businesses.
But a 3 percent sales tax on recreational cannabis is fair and reasonable.
Backers conservatively estimate the tax—which exempts medical marijuana—would generate $3 million a year. Fritz conducting polling to see what voters would favor doing with the money. She declined to make those poll results public. But it's a safe bet the items targeted for support—drug and alcohol treatment, training for police officers to detect marijuana impairment, and support for small and minority-owned businesses—are both popular and practical uses. Fritz says the revenue could also go to a grant fund that would help expunge the records of people convicted of marijuana crimes before Oregon voters legalized recreational weed.
It's hard to argue that marijuana is overtaxed. The 2015 Legislature authorized lowering the sales tax on recreational pot from 25 percent to 17 percent. That goes into effect Jan. 1, 2017. Even with the additional 3 percent Portland pot tax, consumers will pay less than they do now—and less than they expected to when they voted for legal pot. They'll also pay less tax than residents of Washington and Colorado do.
Portland weed would still be cheap—and it might be a little more just. Vote yes.
Extends Multnomah County term limits
Right now, Multnomah County commissioners and the county chair may run for only two terms. This measure would allow elected officials to serve for 12 years instead of eight.
Philosophically, we're opposed to term limits. We think elections—not arbitrary deadlines—should serve the purpose of ousting unpopular politicians. But this measure strikes us as a job-preservation effort conducted piecemeal on behalf of commissioners, and we see no signs the current system is hampering the county.
Allows Multnomah County commissioners to run for chair
Under current rules, a Multnomah County commissioner who wants to run for the county chairmanship midterm must first resign his or her post on the commission.
Other local government agencies don't have this rule. A Portland city commissioner who wants to run for mayor, for example, is free to campaign while keeping his or her seat. (That's what former Mayor Sam Adams did in 2008 when he was a city commissioner.)
This measure would abolish the prohibition, allowing county commissioners to keep their seats while seeking the chair's job.
The rule change wouldn't apply to commissioners who want to run for elected office in other jurisdictions, meaning a county commissioner who wants to run for the Portland City Council would still have to resign.
It seems a fair and level-headed change—one that would free the county of unnecessary turnover and turmoil.
Makes Multnomah County sheriff appointed
The ignoble end of Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton—retiring amid questions about injustice in his jails and his purchase of a flashy Dodge Charger with taxpayer dollars—was not an anomaly. His two predecessors as sheriff also resigned before their terms ended, making a once-proud agency look like a dude ranch for screw-ups and unemployables.
Which could be a reason to let the county chair, who is ultimately responsible for setting the sheriff's budget, just appoint somebody who won't embarrass the county.
But the truth is just the opposite. Granted, most voters may not know who the sheriff is, and there's rarely a seriously contested race for the position. But the forced resignation of the last three men to hold the job shows that public disapproval provides a level of accountability in an elected office that simply does not exist for appointed agency heads and bureau directors. As new Sheriff Mike Reese correctly argues, Multnomah County needs more democracy, not less.
Multnomah County campaign finance limits
Oregon is one of only six states with no campaign finance limits, which means each election cycle is a bigger dollar chase than the one before. Individuals or groups who want to sway candidates and elected officials can buy as much access and influence as they want. It's a major reason Oregon gets failing grades on national surveys of ethics and clean government. Lawmakers and state and local elected officials claim they'd like to reduce the influence of money in politics—but do nothing.
This measure would enact limits only in Multnomah County races. It would limit direct contributions from any individual or group to $500, it would limit independent expenditures to $5,000 per individual and $10,000 per group, and it would require ads to list the five biggest sources of funding.
It also probably commits Multnomah County to a court battle. The Oregon courts struck down campaign finance limits in 1997, on the grounds they violated constitutional protections of free speech. But proponent Dan Meek, who is one of Oregon's leading experts on campaign finance law, thinks the court has moved away from its previous position.
We'd like to find out if he's right. If this measure passes and holds up in court, it will set a precedent for statewide reforms.
Make no mistake: This measure is a stalking horse for the creation of campaign finance limits on a larger scale. We think that's a good idea.
Renews Metro natural areas levy
The bounty of wild places within a bus ride from downtown is one of the best parts of living in Portland. In 2013, it also presented a dilemma for regional planning agency Metro, which had bought 12,000 acres of parklands without having the money to improve them.
Metro asked voters for a new property-tax levy to maintain and upgrade its natural areas: places like Oxbow Regional Park, at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge, and sprawling meadows of wildflowers stretching north of St. Johns.
Three years later, Metro is asking voters to renew the $80.5 million levy for five years, which would cost the owner of a $200,000 house about $20 a year. The agency can point to a long list of what hikers and kayakers got from the last round of tax dollars. It restored oak habitat near West Linn, built new Columbia River docks in Fairview, and added much-needed public facilities in Oxbow Regional Park. Perhaps most impressively, planners managed to forge a peace accord between mountain bikers and local residents, resulting in bike trails in the North Tualatin Mountains near Forest Park. Metro now has plans for trails and viewing stations at two birdwatching meccas: Killin Wetlands near Hillsboro and Smith and Bybee lakes at the northernmost edge of Portland.
In 2013, WW endorsed this levy because it promised to fulfill Metro's core mission as stewards of the outdoors. Now we have evidence Metro is keeping that promise, in ways you can enjoy each weekend. Vote yes.
Charter review committee reforms
This is basically a housekeeping matter. Currently, the Multnomah County chair is responsible for working with the state Legislature to appoint members to the county's charter review committee, which meets every six years to discuss reforms to the county's charter. The chair's office also convenes the committee. This change would move that responsibility to the county's Office of Citizen Involvement, in hopes the office could better promote the committee and draw more diverse applicants.
Correction: These endorsements initially switched the numbers of ballot measures 26-184 and 26-185. WW regrets the error.