District 2 City Council Questionnaire: Wells Lyons

The Voter Education Brigade sent the following questions to each of the candidates for city council and mayor. Here are the answers we received from Wells Lyons. You can also read the questionnaires from both of Wells’ opponents for District 2 City Council: Here is Rob Korobkin’ questionnaire and here is Spencer Thibodeau’s questionnaire.

1. What’s most at stake in this election?

Whether or not we have a city councilor who represents Portland’s progressive values.

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?

Wells Lyons

We risk losing our identity as a unique, quirky and wonderful city if we grow without thinking about how we want to grow. Increased population growth can mean higher housing costs, if middle class housing isn’t promoted, as well as more cars on the streets, if public transit isn’t improved. To guide growth in a positive direction, I propose we initiate a collaborative stakeholder process based on neighborhood planning, and fund outreach to make the process as inclusive as possible. I also propose we do more to keep housing within the reach of working families by encouraging smart, high-density development that provides transportation choice and that is faithful to our city’s unique identity.

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?

Housing costs and wages are the two biggest issues here. I served on the Mayor’s committee to study raising the wage, and supported raising the local wage to 10.10 and hour. I thought it should have included an increase for tipped workers too. And I support MPA’s efforts to raise the wage statewide to $12 an hour, I’m actively collecting signatures for them. I would support efforts to raise the wage to $15 an hour if it was statewide or nationwide, but having it apply only to Portland I worry would result in the relocation of many of our favorite small local businesses.

To keep our city livable, and if we want Portland to be a city that is true to it’s egalitarian aspirations, we need more housing, more housing choices and lower housing prices. Portlander is an outlier with regards to housing costs. In most other cities, when a new Whole Foods gets built, hundreds of very desirable apartments of other New England cities. We need to address this issue head on, with density bonuses and height bonuses provided for affordable and working class construction. We need to get over our fear of heights, and embrace taller buildings in appropriate areas of the city. The greenest way we can build is up, and the lack of housing that is within the reach of working families is a challenge the city needs to work hard address.

4. What are two of your favorite local businesses?

Longfellow Books and Harbor Fish. I love to read and I love to cook, and these two great businesses allow me to do both while supporting companies I believe in.

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?

I’ll work with entrepreneurs and fellow small business owners to make sure our city government is working with them, not against them. Without the small businesses that make up our vibrant Buy Local scene, Portland risks losing its unique identity. I look forward to speeding up the permitting process for new businesses, and being an advocate for innovation. I’ll work with local business that have questions about city hall procedures, and I’ll listen to them about what else we can be doing better.

6. How often do you use forms of transportation other than driving (bicycles, bus, train, uber etc.)?

All the time. I walk to work every day. I walk to the vast majority of my meetings. I am a strong supporter of an improved METRO system. I have my monthly bus pass in my wallet right now, and use the bus when needed, but honestly it’s a system that needs some major upgrades. I use my car for large trips to the grocery store or when I visit family outside of Portland.

7. Does our local/regional public transportation system need any improvements or changes?

Absolutely. We need more frequent bus routes, more reliable bus service, better signage and better bus shelters. It says a lot that METRO’S hq is in a parking garage. If we have regular, effective bus service in our city, it would go a long way towards making our city more equitable.

8. Which grocery store(s) do you shop at most?

Monument Square Farmer’s Market, Deering Oaks Farmers’ Market, Hannaford, Harbor Fish, our own three raised beds in the backyard (where we grow kale, tomatoes, garlic, Brussels sprouts, squash, cauliflower, carrots). Whole Foods for some hard to find items like good vegetarian proteins. Really ought to be a member of the Portland Food Co-Op. I’m gonna get on that.

9. What should the city council do to support the local food economy?

We should pass ordinances that encourage urban agriculture. We should add community gardens, the waitlist for many of them is absurdly long. We should work to secure grants that allow our students to eat more locally produced food, we’ve had some success with that but the program should be expanded. We should promote our region not just as a restaurant destination, but a destination for top quality vegetables, meats, cheeses, seafood and locally brewed beer. It’s an industry that is worth promoting.

10. Which local arts or entertainment institution do you visit most often?

Space Gallery, Portland Stage, First Friday exhibitions at Think Tank, talks at the Portland Public Library, exhibits at the PMA.

11. What can the city council do to strengthen the local arts community?

Work to make housing more affordable so that artists can afford to live here. We’re on the verge of becoming a city of art buyers, not art makers. We need both.

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?

Absolutely yes, I would have voted to continue GA, and I’ve been to Augusta to lobby our legislators to keep funding general assistance for asylum seekers. As a volunteer attorney with the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, I’ve seen how important GA is for keeping our newest neighbors off the streets. We should have been more proactive in enlisting support from surrounding communities to keep General Assistance available for asylum seekers. And every member of the City Council should have been up there in Augusta making the case for continued GA. I didn’t see anyone from the Council up there, or any of the other candidates in this race.

13. Are you voting for or against a $15 minimum wage?

I’d like to, but I’m not there yet. I strongly supported the $10.10 minimum wage ordinance here, and wish it had gone further. I strongly support the statewide efforts of our friend at MPA to bring the wage up to $12 an hour. I’d support a $15 an hour minimum wage if it were nationwide, as Bernie is proposing. But I worry about the relocation of many of our small businesses to South Portland and elsewhere if Portland goes it alone to raise the wage by that much.