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Measure tips balance away from citizens

MY VIEW • 26-30 threatens Portland's democratic ideals

Since the Neil Goldschmidt era of the 1970s, our city has developed and nurtured the idea that ordinary citizens should have an influence on city government. It is a major part of what makes our city a great and civilized place to live.

But if Ballot Measure 26-30 passes, that commitment to democratic ideals and citizen involvement will be dead.

Anyone who has paid even the slightest bit of attention to politics can imagine how dividing our city into seven districts would transform our current political organization into something resembling the legislatures in Salem and Washington, D.C.

If the system changes, then special-interest lobbyists get to have all the power and influence to do what they want (just like in Salem and Washington), without the threat of serious citizen opposition. That, of course, is the primary motivation for the professional developers who are the primary sponsors of this measure.

In Portland, newcomers and students in our schools are taught that you can fight City Hall. Sixth graders from North Portland were recently spotted testifying at a planning commission meeting. We believe that citizen participation can make a difference. And it does.

But it's a political fact of life that if you don't vote, you don't count. If Portland is divided into seven districts, then there will be six city commissioners who will have no reason to care one bit about anything you have to say in your district. It is like that in our state Capitol and the U.S. Capitol.

Elected officials respond most strongly to two things Ñ their voters and their contributors. If you don't fit into either category, you don't count. This is not a condemnation of politicians, merely a fact of the business of politics.

At the moment, all five members of our City Council run citywide, so they are compelled to devote their time and energy to citizen concerns citywide. There is a balance of power among members of the City Council, voters and campaign contributors. This relationship allows neighborhood activists a meaningful opportunity to influence public policy.

Measure 26-30 would destroy the balance and tip the scales dramatically in favor of the mayor and wealthy special interests. It would set neighborhood against neighborhood in an effort to avoid all the nasty projects that nobody else wants.

If this system had been in place when Seattle billionaire and political contributor Paul Allen wanted to build an 18,000-seat amphitheater at the Portland International Raceway, thousands of citizens throughout North and Northeast Portland would not be able to open their windows or use their back yards in the summer because of the unstoppable noise.

Who supports this measure? The answer starts with 'follow the money.'

The chief petitioner (who has virtually no experience in government) and his major financial supporters are developers. Most of them ride quite high on the income charts and have obvious business motivations.

Who opposes this measure? Bud Clark, Neil Goldschmidt, Gretchen Kafoury, Margaret Strachan, Serena Cruz, Mike Lindberg, Earl Blumenauer and a long list of former and current elected officials in whom we have already put our civic trust.

Portland is a great place to live. We are one city, not seven political fiefdoms. Let's keep it that way.

Richard Ellmyer is a resident of North Portland. He has been a neighborhood activist for 27 years.