District 1 City Council Candidate Belinda Ray’s Questionnaire
- What’s most at stake in this election?
Portland needs to address its serious infrastructure issues while also ensuring that people who live, work, and recreate here can continue to do so without getting priced out of their homes, apartments, parking spaces, and favorite hangouts. So what’s most at stake? Portland’s economic viability, unique character, diverse population, varied housing stock, and overall livability.
2. Portland is growing and changing quickly. What are the potential negative outcomes from that growth that the city council should work to avoid? What should the council do to guide growth in a positive direction?
Potential negative outcomes include homogeneity — both in terms of population and architecture — and a disenfranchised populace.
To avoid the homogeneity problem, the City Council must work ensure that people from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds can continue to live in Portland (more on that in my answer to Question #3); that historically significant buildings are preserved; and that new developments vary in scale, composition, and purpose.
To avoid having a disenfranchised populace, the City Council must work to improve public engagement in the planning process. While it is true that there are, at present, many opportunities for public participation, the reality is that very few members of the public are actually making use of those opportunities… which essentially means that there aren’t adequate opportunities for public input into the process.
We need to adapt our methodology to make these opportunities more compelling and accessible — by increasing our use of social media; improving online interfaces; and presenting information in a more easily accessible format.
There’s been a movement in recent years to merge art and data in order to present information in a more compelling and comprehensible manner, and I’d like to see the City of Portland make use of the wealth of artistic talent residing here to present planning and development data in this manner. Check out Northeastern’s article, “The Leading Edge of Data Design,” for more on this.
3. People without wealth are finding it more and more difficult to get by in Portland and live comfortably. What should the city council do to ensure that Portland continues to be a livable city for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds?
First, we must require new residential developments to include affordable housing — and by affordable I mean a mix of market-rate apartments as well as those offered at rates that would be affordable to people making 40–60% of the area’s median income.
Second, we need to remember that Portland extends beyond the peninsula. So much of our focus in on what’s happening “downtown” so to speak. Because of this hyper-focus on the peninsula, we forget that there are places in our city with affordable rents. Unfortunately, living on outer Forest Ave (or Congress, or Washington, or Auburn) isn’t always feasible for people without vehicle. So…
Third, we need to improve our public transit system so that people living off-peninsula can get where they need to go without investing two-and-a-half hours of time in what should be a 20 minute round trip.
Finally, we need to encourage housing stock with a mix of units — both in terms of size and price — to ensure that we are not segregating populations by income all over the city, but rather encouraging the development and growth of communities consisting of people from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.
4. What are two of your favorite local businesses?
Two?! This is going to be impossible. I’ll have to go at it by theme. If we were talking newest, I’d say Ten Ten Pié and the Portland Food Co-op. If the theme was Portland businesses I’ve patronized the longest, I’d have to say Longfellow Books and the Great Lost Bear. But you know what? I’m going to go with the theme of unique niche businesses owned by women I greatly admire. So my ultimate answer (by way of totally cheating, I know) is Z Fabrics and Homegrown Herb & Tea.
5. What should the city council do to sustain a local economy that supports the growth and creation of businesses like the ones you mentioned in the last question?
All of the businesses I mentioned require affordable rental spaces, and the majority of them do not need a huge footprint. So one thing the City Council can focus on is ensuring that future developments are of a scale that support small businesses. This may mean encouraging development in pieces by smaller companies and entrepreneurs rather than attempting to pull in one large developer for a 3+ acre parcel.
6. How often do you use forms of transportation other than driving (bicycles, bus, train, uber etc.)?
All. The. Time. I am an avid biker and I pretty much walk or bike just about everywhere I go in Portland. I haven’t used Uber or a taxi service in Portland, but both the train and the bus have gotten me to numerous Celtics games or connecting flights over the years, and now, with a son at UNH — which has its own station — I suspect we will be using the Portland Transportation Center more frequently. I use the Metro bus from time to time, but it’s rare, because I’m usually walking or on my bike around town.
7. Does our local/regional public transportation system need any improvements or changes?
I think the key piece of public transit in Portland that needs improvement is the Metro Bus. The Metro provides an important service, but we need to increase the number of passes the buses make each hour so that people can rely on the Metro to get them to work or a yoga class without having to arrive either an hour early or ten minutes late. Additionally, we should get the Metro hooked up with apps that will allow people to track the buses in real time on their phones so they’ll know if it’s running late or if they’ve just missed it. Anything we can do to take the guesswork out of catching the bus will help to increase ridership. Along with the Metro, I’d love to see Portland continue to become more bike and pedestrian friendly while continuing to accommodate vehicular traffic.
8. Which grocery store(s) do you shop at most?
I tend to spread the love around when it comes to grocery stores, but if I had to break it down for you (and it looks like I probably should), I’d say I probably get 40% of my groceries at Hannaford, 30% at the Portland Food Co-op, 10% at Micucci’s, and the remaining 20% split between various specialty locations (Farmers’ Markets, Portland Public Market, Free Range Fish & Lobster, and the like). I used to go to Whole Foods a lot, but I’ve only been in once or twice since the Food Co-op transitioned from a buying club to a store last year.
9. What should the city council do to support the local food economy?
First: Listen. There are a ton of people who are passionate about food — manufacturing, production, dining, agriculture, urban farming, food security, the whole gamut — here in Portland. So the first thing the City Council needs to do is be open to listening to all of the incredible ideas and visions these people are putting forth.
Second: Work to institute thoughtful policies that will enable these ideas and visions to come to fruition. Figuring out where we can have backyard goats, pigs, or bees along with our chickens and helping to create ordinances to allow and support these ventures will be key. We’ll also want to make sure that we have adequate zoning protections in place to ensure that the food hub currently developing in East Bayside can continue to evolve while respecting the residential areas of the neighborhood as well as the artist studios and makers spaces.
Third: Support the local food economy by encouraging public and private institutions to source as much of their foodstuffs as possible from local producers.
10. Which local arts or entertainment institution do you visit most often?
Hmm. Again, tough to choose just one. It’s probably a toss-up between SPACE Gallery, Portland Stage, the St. Lawrence, and Mayo Street Arts.
11. What can the city council do to strengthen the local arts community?
I’d love to see the city work closely with Creative Portland and other arts organizations to draw more artists into the planning and development process for projects big and small. There have, of course, been many successful collaborations along these lines. Plenty of projects, from the Bayside Trail to the Portland Public Library have incorporated public art and artistic visioning as part of the process, and recently Creative Portland helped to organize an event (“The Challenge of Change”) to discuss development in the city. Continued partnerships of this nature should be encouraged.
Additionally, the City Council should work to ensure that studio spaces for artists remain available and affordable in the city; that Portland continues to view and market itself as a destination for creative people and supporters of the arts; and that opportunities for artists to display and sell their creations continue to be available. Finally, it’s important that City Councilors are integrated into the fabric of the artistic community. Councilors should attend functions, seek input, and keep the lines of communication open.
12. Would you have voted to continue General Assistance for asylum-seekers earlier this year (following cuts to state funding)? What do you think the city should have done to deal with that crisis?
Yes, I would have voted to continue General Assistance for asylum-seekers. The City Council was in a tough situation, and I don’t want to second-guess anyone’s actions at this point with the benefit of hindsight.
Suffice it to say that I believe we all have a responsibility to care for fellow human beings in need; that if I had been on the Council during that time I would have worked to find a way to continue to assist asylum-seekers in obtaining the basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing; and that going forward I hope that we can form partnerships with neighboring communities and with the state to care for the members of our community who require assistance.
13. Are you voting for or against a $15 minimum wage?
I am voting against the referendum question concerning the minimum wage — not because I don’t believe everyone deserves a living wage, but because I don’t agree with the way in which it gets us there. If this referendum passes, restaurants in Portland will be paying their tipped-earners a base pay of $11.25 in just three years (provided there are no changes to the state minimum wage). That represents a tripling of the current base wage for tipped earners and I think too many restaurants would be forced to close (or move out of Portland) in order to maintain their businesses. The move the current City Council made to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 while maintaining the current base wage for tipped earners is a step in the right direction. I prefer to continue to work on this issue at the City Council level or — even better — at the state level, so that Portland will be on an even playing field with its surrounding communities and so that all the working people of Maine can earn a wage they can live on.