Portland Clean Energy Fund doubles signatures needed for November ballot
"What do we want?" Portland Rev. E.D. Mondainé yelled into the microphone.
"Clean energy!" volunteers and community members responded.
The Portland Clean Energy Fund campaign called supporters to the City Hall courtyard Thursday afternoon to announce its submission of 60,000 initiative petition signatures, which should be enough to easily qualify the measure for the November ballot.
Campaign organizer and Verde Executive Director Tony DeFalco said supporters are going to celebrate, then get right back to campaigning.
"November is going to come fast, but we are going to focus on all the things that go into a successful campaign," DeFalco said.
The initiative aims to fund clean energy, clean job growth and clean housing for underserved Portland communities.
Just 34,156 verified signatures were needed to appear on the November ballot, but with more than 450 volunteers helping to gather signatures, DeFalco said they doubled that number in two months.
Nakisha Nathan, a Coalition of Communities of Color member who helped in the campaign, said the initiative would raise $30 million per year if passed in November. The fund would be supported by a 1 percent business license fee surcharge applying to mega-retailers with more than $1 billion a year in nationwide gross revenue.
A coalition of business groups is mobilizing to fight the measure.
"With Portland becoming unaffordable for so many, we should be focused on higher priorities like solving our housing and homeless crisis," said Rick Thomas, spokesman for the newly formed political action committee, Keep Portland Affordable, in an email message. "This new tax on sales is just going to be passed on to families in the form of higher prices on everyday essential items," Thomas said. "We all agree that more must be done to address climate change, but making it harder to live here isn't the right answer."
The campaign promoting the initiative said roughly 120 organizations — companies like Wells Fargo, Comcast, Apple and Banana Republic — would be affected by the tax. The city has not yet identified the list of affected companies.
That money will support renewable energy sources and energy efficient housing upgrades, among other environmentally and economically sustainable projects. The measure would also include living-wage job training, which prioritizes low-income community members and people of color in Portland.
Khanh Pham, manager of immigrant organizing at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, said the campaign will send a clear message to politicians who often side with "big business and wealthy donors."
The campaign partnered with more than 135 organizations and 50 Portland community leaders over the last two years, DeFalco said.
"The thing that's most exciting is the leadership that came out of this. This is a sea of people from different backgrounds, different races, different classes, different ethnicities, different abilities," DeFalco said. "These communities have come together to say, 'It's time for clean energy, clean jobs that benefit low income and communities of color first.' "
The campaign steering committee includes the Portland branch of the NAACP, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon and Verde, a group that most recently opened a park on an old 25-acre landfill in Portland's Cully neighborhood.
Pham said as much as the initiative is for the environment, it's for underserved community members in Portland.
"A just energy transition is not just about taking carbon molecules out of the air and putting solar panels on a roof," Pham said. "It's about addressing systemic inequality for all of us regardless of our race, gender or identity."
Pham said the last two years of the campaign have created a conversation about environmentalism that keeps growing among Portland families, friends, neighbors and faith groups.
"Portlanders have shown us that they share our goal of bringing opportunity through good-paying jobs in clean energy and renewable energy infrastructure like solar power to Portland's most underserved communities," said the Rev. Mondainé, a chief petitioner and president of the NAACP of Portland.
DeFalco said both Portland and Multnomah County have made a commitment to becoming 100 percent renewable in the energy used in their jurisdictions. With the initiative's help, he sees that becoming a reality sooner than originally imagined.
Pham said she's not worried about the vote coming this fall.
"They are going to vote "yes" because of the hundreds of thousands of conversations we'll have between now and November," Pham said. "We may not have the millions of dollars these mega corporations are going to spend, but we have people power."