Benjamin Brink / Portland Parks
[READ ALL OF THE MERCURY'S 2020 ENDORSEMENTS HERE!—eds]

Portland Parks and Recreation Levy, Measure 26-213: Vote YES

It may have come to your attention that the city and state are asking for a lot of money this election cycle—but to be fair, the decimating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have left the city with a lot of holes to fill. But one of those holes, the Portland parks system, needed help even before coronavirus was on our radar. Portland Parks and Recreation funding has been lacking for years, and thanks to COVID-19, they’ve been dealt a crushing blow that closed community centers, canceled recreational classes for kids, laid off much of the parks’ workforce, and canceled the regular upkeep needed to keep the parks running safely.

And don’t forget this irony: Thanks to the coronavirus, one of the safest places to be right now is outside—at a park! Since the lockdown, parks have become a de facto refuge, not only for children whose school hours have been significantly shortened, but for communities who are in desperate need of connection.

So what we’re talking about is $13 a month from the average Portland homeowner to insure that after COVID-19 passes, our parks will still be able to serve their community-building purpose, as well as making the system less reliant on fees, which is PPR’s current source of revenue. This will help maintain programs such as swim lessons, recreation scholarships, and free summer lunches to children experiencing poverty. This same reduction of fees will be extended to senior citizens, communities of color, as well as refugees and immigrants—which is a big step in providing equity to all Portlanders.

But none of these programs will launch if the parks are too unsafe to visit. This same levy will also make much-needed repairs to existing structures and the tree canopies which need regular maintenance. Plus your money will also go to rehiring park staff and instructors who were laid off due to COVID-19 cuts.

It’s a tough time for all and money is short—but it’s also time to face facts: The parks system, and the critical programs and services it provides, are now more important than ever. Vote yes on Measure 26-213.

Authorize Police Oversight Board, Measure 26-217: Vote YES

Mathieu Lewis-Rolland

If the focus of Portland’s May general election was COVID-19 and an economic crisis, the focus of this year’s primary election is police reform and racial justice. Since Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd on May 24, Portlanders have taken to the streets, to social media, and to (virtual) city council meetings to demand an overhaul of our inequitable and unaccountable law enforcement system. They’re also taking their call to action to the ballot box.

In Portland, voters will have the opportunity to decide whether or not the city should codify police reform into its city charter, which acts as the city’s constitution, and begin a fight to create a police oversight committee that is truly independent from the Portland Police Bureau (PPB).

Currently, cases of police misconduct—anything from using profanity to killing a member of the public—are sent to the city’s Independent Police Review (IPR) office where they’re investigated by an IPR employee or punted to PPB’s internal affairs office. As a rule, cases that involve death and officer use of force are investigated solely by police in a largely opaque process. Regardless of who investigates these cases, the chief of police has the final say on what, if any, discipline an officer should receive for the alleged misconduct.

Measure 26-217 offers a path toward dismantling this current system. Proposed by longtime police accountability activist Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the measure would add new language to Portland’s charter authorizing the creation of a new police oversight board.

This charter amendment would allow this oversight board, made up of volunteers from the community, to investigate misconduct cases related to death, use of force, and discrimination—and to mandate officer discipline, including an officer’s termination, without a police chief’s approval. The board would be funded by 5 percent of PPB’s annual budget, and board members would be responsible for selecting a director, who would hire staff to investigate cases for the board. No member of law enforcement would be allowed to sit on the board.

To be clear: This ballot measure does not create this new police oversight board—it simply lays the groundwork for the city to establish this board by mentioning it in the charter.

It’s also important to understand that the board’s most ambitious promises won’t be realized without some serious legal and legislative work by the city. Right now many of the proposed board’s functions are prohibited by state law and by the city’s contract with the Portland Police Association (PPA), the union that represents rank-and-file PPB officers. If the measure passes, it’s almost certain that PPA will sue the city because of these violations.

Yet Hardesty and other proponents for the measure are confident that these wrinkles can be ironed out during the state’s 2021 legislative session and upcoming contract negotiations with the PPA—both set to begin in January. That’s partially why Hardesty chose to push this decision to the public, rather than just approving it with a City Council vote. She told the Mercury that, if voters overwhelmingly approve this decision, it will give Portland a leg up at the bargaining table, in the legislature, and in the courts.

“We will have the will of the people at our back,” Hardesty said.

If passed by voters, the measure calls on Portland City Council to establish a commission of citizens who would be responsible for drafting the board’s basic operations, framework, and rules. The end result will need City Council’s approval before the city adopts the new board, which would officially replace IPR. In total, proponents say it will take at least two years to reach this point.

Measure 26-217 comes with a boatload of “ifs,” many that could delay the measure’s aspirational goal for years. It also doesn’t pave the way toward police abolition, something that many Portlanders are newly interested in. And yet, the current system created to hold dangerous officers accountable is undeniably broken. We currently have a class of public employees who, if accused of lying to, harassing, discriminating against, or killing a person, are able to investigate themselves and (surprise!) find themselves not guilty. Any step toward dismantling that system is a step in the right direction. We suggest you vote yes for Measure 26-217.

Uses of Water Fund Charter Amendment, Measure 26-219: Vote YES

AWSeebaran / Getty Images

This amendment to Portland’s city charter is an easy, breezy piece of legislative house cleaning that’ll provide some very nice benefits for you in the future. In the most basic terms, Measure 26-219 would give our city council the authority to use money that’s solely allocated to supplying water, and apply it to fun uses for Water Bureau land surrounding that water.

Example: The Water Bureau maintains a lot of unused land that surrounds their water towers and pump stations. So this measure would allow the city to use Water Bureau funds to supply your water while also building and maintaining other useful things on this land for you to use and enjoy, such as community gardens, neighborhood green areas, park benches, and more. But don’t worry: Though more people will be enjoying the land near this very important water source, the water towers will still be protected from any human shenanigans. You like more public green space, right? Yes, you do. So vote yes on Measure 26-219.

[Correction: A previous version of this endorsement stated that the Bull Run Watershed would be included as a possible site for additional public amenities. That was incorrect, as the Bull Run Watershed will be specifically excluded from this measure. We regret the error.—eds]

Portland Public Schools Bond Measure 26-215: Vote YES

Cleveland High School PPS

The Portland Public Schools (PPS) bond measure on the ballot this year will raise $1.2 billion for different district projects—but because it’s a continuation of an already-existing property tax, it will do so without increasing taxes for Portlanders.

The funds from this bond measure will go toward a smattering of different things, all of them good for PPS kids and families: Increased building access for people with disabilities, updated classroom technology, and building improvements like roof repairs and new HVAC systems. The measure will also fund planning and redesigns of Cleveland High School and Wilson High School—and wrap-up a reconstruction of Benson High School.

But the most exciting, and most sizable, investment this bond measure will make is in Jefferson High School. Originally called Albina High when it opened in 1908, Jefferson is located in North Portland’s historically Black Albina neighborhood, and has long served a high percentage of Black students. It continues to be one of the most racially diverse PPS schools to this day.

This measure will fund a modernization of Jefferson High School—a project the PPS board added after the police killing of George Floyd prompted racial justice protests throughout the country. It will also create a Center for Black Student Excellence, where PPS will work with community group Albina Vision Trust to celebrate and sustain Black culture in Portland.

These thoughtful community investments make the bond measure worth supporting, even if you don’t have kids enrolled in PPS schools. Vote “Yes” on the PPS bond.

Expand Library Branches, Measure 26-211: Vote YES

Multnomah County Library

It wasn’t until COVID-19 forced all Multnomah County libraries to temporarily shutter that we knew we were screwed. Libraries remain one of few community spaces that don’t require payment or prestige. Plus—they’re libraries! The endless cache of information libraries provide—from internet access to ESL classes to children’s storytime—is one of our community’s most critical assets. Unfortunately, our current library system is still out of reach to residents who need it. Currently, the eastern half of Multnomah County houses 40 percent of the county’s population, but only has 20 percent of its libraries. Measure 26-211 aims to change that.

The measure proposes using bond funds to build, expand, and update library buildings across Multnomah County—but with a particular focus on the county’s east side. The measure names several smaller libraries that would benefit the most from these updates, including Belmont, Albina, North Portland, and Holgate. The most attention-grabbing part of the proposal, however, is a plan to build a “flagship library” in East County that’s similar in capacity to downtown Portland's Central Library.

The bond would be funded by a countywide property tax of $61 per every $100,000 of assessed property value. We believe it’s the right place to spend your money.

Sure, it’s still not recommended to hang out indoors with a bunch of people. But when that time comes, libraries will be the first stop for many who’ve been hit hard by the pandemic—whether it’s to apply for unemployment, hunt for a job, get caught up on school work, or simply interact with other people. It’s important that those places remain—and grow—so they can reach those who rely on them most.

We are concerned that this measure lacks any funding for employees or extra programming to fill these expanded and new library buildings. We know the library system is already understaffed from job cuts linked to COVID-19, and expecting these spaces to operate without restoring those jobs (and adding more) would be a disservice to the public it serves. And yet: We urge you to vote yes on Measure 26-211.

Universal Preschool Access, Measure 26-214: Vote YES

Fatcamera / Getty Images

The Multnomah County ballot measure that would ensure funding for universal tuition-free preschool access has an interesting backstory.

Originally, two competing preschool access measures were heading toward the November ballot. One, led by County Commissioner Jessica Vega-Pederson, was meticulously planned but wouldn’t fully fund universal access outright. Another grassroots plan was more ambitious in scale, but also less detailed in its rollout plan. Upon the realization that having two competing measures on the ballot wasn’t good for either side, the two teams decided to combine forces. The result is a ballot measure that has the best of both worlds: A comprehensive plan to roll out universal preschool in the county, and the funding to make it happen.

The benefits of universal access to preschool are myriad: Preschool sets kids up to be more successful in the rest of their educational careers, and makes them less likely to be arrested or struggle with substance abuse as adults. Preschool and extended daycare (which this ballot measure would also provide) make it easier for parents to work. Universal preschool also creates more jobs for teachers and teachers’ assistants—and notably, the measure's plan ensures these professionals would earn a living wage.

Oregon currently ranks as one of the worst states when it comes to affordable preschool and childcare, and establishing universal access would ensure that no families would fall through the cracks. This plan will fund universal preschool through a tax on the county’s highest income earners, meaning people struggling to get by during the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be burdened by it.

The plan was carefully crafted with the input of BIPOC organizations, neighborhood groups, and preschool providers, and will be subject to an independent audit to confirm it’s effective. The county will contract with local school districts, community organizations, and large and small private preschool providers, so families will have a range of options when choosing the right preschool for their kids. The plan’s first classroom will open in 2022, giving the county a couple years to get the details right.

If this measure passes, Multnomah County will be one of the first jurisdictions in the country to offer universal tuition-free preschool. Backers of the measure say that if it’s successful, it could become a model for other counties, cities, and states to follow. That means you can have a wide-reaching positive impact on future generations—all you have to do is vote “Yes” on Measure 26-214.

Metro Transportation Funding, Measure 26-218: Vote YES

Courtesy Metro

Metro’s $5 billion transportation funding package was conceived in consensus. The agency took pains to convene a large planning group that included every conceivable stakeholder—local government, business interests, environmental advocates, transportation wonks, and cultural and neighborhood groups—and held monthly public planning meetings for over a year.

That work resulted in a package of considerable investments that will benefit virtually everyone who needs to get from point A to point B in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties, and lessen pollution in the process: Free youth transit passes; the electrification of TriMet’s bus fleet; a new MAX line connecting downtown Portland to Washington County’s southwest suburbs; traffic congestion improvements on 17 major roads throughout the region, including bus-priority and bike lanes; and new safety measures like new crosswalks, sidewalks, and street lighting.

Big business interests like the Portland Business Alliance had a seat at the table while crafting the plan. But they pulled out at the 11th hour, citing concerns that the funding mechanism—a 0.75 cent payroll tax on employers in the region who have more than 25 employees—would hurt businesses at a time when they’re already struggling to get by because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s understandable that a voter might balk at new employer taxes during such a precarious time. And this package is far from perfect; for example, it favors one new MAX line in lieu of adding new TriMet bus routes, meaning many Metro residents still won’t have easy access to public transportation. And while its proponents argue that this measure will lay the groundwork for a less car-dependent future, there are also questions about just how effective it will be in reducing carbon emissions upfront.

But ultimately, we believe the gains this measure offers far outweigh the costs. It will bring sorely needed fixes to busy roads serving diverse communities, like the Tualatin-Valley Highway and 82nd Avenue. It will create thousands of jobs, and offer new opportunities to people in the form of easier, shorter commutes. It will allow for the control of some major roads to be transferred from state to local jurisdictions, who better understand what their communities need. It will fill in the gaps created by decades of under-funded transportation in the Metro area, while creating a foundation of new transportation options that we can build upon.

During this abnormal time, full of increasing uncertainty about the economy and politics and everything, you’d be forgiven for wanting to circle the wagons, tighten your belt, and vote against a sweeping plan that, yes, will create a new tax. But we have to believe that this pandemic will eventually pass, and our region will be tasked with finding our way into the future together. A “Yes” vote on this measure will help pave that road—or bike path, or crosswalk, or MAX line—so we can all get to the other side.