PORTLAND — Several hundred people have signed a petition to legalize recreational use of marijuana for city residents over the age of 21, according to petition sponsors.
The Portland Chapter of the Maine Green Independent Committee began circulating the petition for a citizen's initiative last week; 1,500 signatures are required to put the question on the November ballot.
“We expect to turn in about 3,000 (signatures) and have already collected several hundred in just the first few days,” Tom MacMillan, chairman of the Portland Greens, said at a City Hall press conference March 21. “Thus far, Portland residents have excitedly rushed to sign petitions despite cold, snowy weather, and we think this is a sign of what is to come.”
MacMillan said the committee supports marijuana legalization for adults over the age of 21 because current policies have negative impacts on those who use marijuana and on city and state government.
“Our city and state are wasting money going after marijuana users while real problems are happening,” MacMillan said. “This policy will remove penalties for responsible adults because it has been proven again and again to be safer than alcohol.”
City Councilor David Marshall agreed, quoting President Jimmy Carter's statement that penalties for possession of a drug shouldn't be more damaging than the drug itself.
“Marijuana laws nationally have put people in positions where they are being called criminals,” Marshall said. “We feel that marijuana should be treated the same way as alcohol because marijuana is safer than alcohol. We should remove criminal penalties and stop criminalizing people for possessing a small amount of marijuana or paraphernalia or recreating in their own private spaces.”
Marshall said decriminalizing marijuana should reduce usage, as it has done in countries such as Denmark and states like California.
Zachary Heiden, legal director for the ACLU, said the organization's support for marijuana legalization is grounded in the concern over the “failed war on drugs.” He said the battle over drug use in the United States has lasted 42 years, spent trillions of taxpayer dollars and had little to no effect on the supply or demand for drugs.
“Jailing individuals who use marijuana recreationally makes no sense from a civil liberties perspective, from a civil rights perspective or from a fiscal perspective,” Heiden said.
Heiden also said that although marijuana use is still illegal at the state and federal level, enforcement of a new law in Portland could be left up to the Portland Police Department.
“For the most part, the federal government has allowed the states to explore different ways of enforcing drug enforcement and have not come in to clamp down on either medical marijuana or the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use," he said. "We hope that trend will continue (in Portland).”
PORTLAND — Taxi drivers will have to wait until next month to learn the fate of their permits to pick up passengers at the Portland International Jetport.
The City Council's Transportation, Energy and Sustainability Committee delayed its recommendation for reducing the number of taxis at the airport due to a lack of a quorum, according to City Councilor David Marshall, who leads the committee.
Marshall said Councilor Cheryl Leeman was not in attendance and Councilor John Anton left before the agenda item was taken up, leaving only him and Councilor Kevin Donoghue.
"I didn't feel comfortable taking action and calling it a recommendation from the committee without a quorum," Marshall said.
All cab drivers can drop passengers off at the airport and pick them up if they are called, but only a portion hold a special permit to wait for passengers by the curb.
In 2010, the council capped the number of permits at 40, but exempted the 51 existing permit holders with the expectation that the number would drop through attrition. But the number has dropped by only two.
City officials believe the permits are being transferred through power of attorney -- possibly for a fee -- to other drivers.
Jetport Director Paul Bradbury has proposed a lottery system that would eventually be open to all registered cabs. Under his plan, an initial 40-permit drawing would take place in March 2013 and would only be open to existing permit holders. Ten permits would last a year, 10 for two years, 10 for three years and 10 for four years.
After that, all city cab drivers would be able to enter the lottery for a four-year permit that would have to be renewed annually.
The cab drivers this week submitted two alternative proposals: instituting shifts with only 40 cabs in each shift; or allowing attrition to work its course. If attrition doesn't work, they suggest any lottery system should be limited to those cabs already permitted to do business at the airport.
Marshall said Donoghue asked Bradbury to consider a way to affix an expiration date to the existing permits.
Marshall said he is still working on scheduling the next meeting, which could take place either on Nov. 7 or Nov. 21 – the day before Thanksgiving.
Marshall said the committee is not likely to take public comments at the next meeting, since two hearings have already taken place.
"I think we should really get into deliberations," he said. "If someone comes in with something very, very different and it looks like the committee will act on it, we'll have to figure out how to move forward."
The committee vote will be nonbinding, since Bradbury has the power to establish rules for the jetport taxis.
That idea of temporarily installing Maine sculptor Wendy Klemperer's steel animal sculptures on the Eastern Prom — it's been scrapped. Despite an enthusiastic push behind it, the idea of installing temporary steel sculptures of a caribou and a mountain lion on a grassy hill projecting into Cutter Street died quietly in committee this week. Although widely embraced by a neighborhood group and the city's parks commission, the concept fell afoul of a host of questions and concerns by the city's Historic Preservation Board Wednesday night. The board ultimately tabled the application, despite unanimous support from Friends of the Eastern Promenade, and the Parks Division of Portland's Department of Public Services. "We did not get the sculptures approved by the historic preservation board; ultimately the general sense was they're a little bit concerned about the precedent being set about allowing temporary art to be installed within the park," said Diane Davison, president of the Friends of the Eastern Prom. Deborah Andrews, Historic Preservation program manager, had sounded a cautionary note in a memo to the board prior to Wednesday night's meeting. "Although thc request is for a temporary installation only, the proposal to introduce public art within the Eastern Promenadc Historic Landscape District raises certain policy questions that might warrant consideration, particularly if thc installation sets a precedent for future installations — either permanent or temporary," Andrews wrote. "As well, the length of time proposed — one year — is sufficiently long to prompt the question." Davison said she left the meeting with the message that future proposals for temporary art installations will need to follow a set of as-yet unscripted policies. The board urged a "meeting of the minds" in the arts community so the city can develop criteria about temporary art installations. "At this time, it's on hold. We had run it through Friends of the Eastern Prom, we had supported it unanimously, and the parks commission had supported it unanimously, but there were some avenues that we didn't explore," Davison said. June Lacombe, Pownal-based arts representative for Klemperer, said she considered approaching the city's Public Arts Committee, but didn't because of its involvement with permanent pieces. "This was a temporary exhibition, so I thought it was not in their area," she said. Councilor David Marshall, an artist who represents the city council on Portland's Public Arts Committee, expected more discussion about temporary art installations. "In the past we've handled requests for temporary art placement administratively, but it should be worth considering other processes as well," he said. The Portland Public Arts Committee is limited to reviewing permanent art, "so it has to be placed and there for 20 years or more," Marshall noted. "We haven't had a lot of requests for temporary public art placement in the past, but it seems the requests are increasing and involving other layers of decision making that could involve some policy guidance," Marshall said. Lacombe said she would be happy to help the city identify locations suitable for temporary art installations. Meanwhile, proponents of temporary art will brave the uncertain waters of Portland regulatory committees. Another Klemperer installation, with similar see-through steel pieces fashioned from scrap, was approved for the entry road to the Portland International Jetport with little to no furor. "There isn't really a clear procedure for bringing temporary sculpture before the city," Lacombe said. As for the Eastern Prom art proposal, "it's unfortunate to lose that momentum and energy. It's possible to revisit it at another time," Lacombe said. She expected the caribou and mountain lion replicas to end up at her Hawk Ridge Farm in Pownal.
The Portland Jetport introduced a proposal to members of the City Council Wednesday to reduce the number of non-reserved taxis at the facility, but three alternatives were floated in light of dissatisfaction with the airport's plan. The council's Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee met with representatives from the jetport to continue discussions of how to overhaul the facility's non-reserved taxi policy. Jetport Manager Paul Bradbury presented a lottery system to reduce the number of non-reserved taxis, but three other solutions were also floated during the meeting. Councilor David Marshall, who chairs the committee, said the group would make a recommendation on a non-reserved taxi policy at its next meeting and will consider all the testimony that was presented. "I think it's good to have options," he said, and all of the alternatives presented during the meeting would be up for consideration. The jetport's administration is proposing a lottery system that would start on July 1, 2013. The lottery would not only create more fairness to access a non-reserved taxi permit for the jetport but also accomplish the goal of reducing the number of permits to 40, according to a memo. The first lottery would be held in July 2013 and be limited to current permit holders. The lottery would dole out 10 one-year permits, 10 permits for a two-year renewal, 10 for a three-year renewal and 10 permits for a four-year renewal. The first year would reduce the number of available permits from 49 to 40. The second phase of the lottery system would be held for 10 of the permits and be open to all licensed taxis interested. All the permits issued would be for a one-year term with the option to renew for up to three more years. Bradbury said the lottery system accomplishes the goal of reducing the number of permits and gives cab drivers a chance to prepare for the transition. "We thought this was a good balance," he said. The system designed by the airport administration guarantees that the existing permit holders will retain their access until at least July 2013, according to Bradbury, and allows the drivers to have a transition period and recoup investments made in their cab companies. "We can do better than the airport's proposal," said Attorney Sigmund Schutz, who represented the non-reserved taxi drivers. He said the drivers understand the goals of the airport management but said an effort should be made to preserve the jobs and livelihood of the existing cab operators. Schutz said one alternative solution could be creating a shift system for the non-reserved permits. He said a shift system would reduce the number of cabs operating at any one time and create opportunities for new taxi companies to access fares at the airport. A second alternative could be an attrition system with consequences, said Schutz. Within the next year, four drivers plan to relinquish their permits, said Schutz, and that would get the airport four more slots toward its cap of 40 and there would likely be more permits surrendered later. Schutz said if that attrition doesn't accomplish the goal of the airport to reduce the number of non-reserved taxi permits in a few years, the drivers would be comfortable with instituting a lottery system. Marshall asked how the alternatives would open up the airport to new taxi operators. Schutz said the shift system would require an increased pool of drivers to accommodate the demand, and the attrition with consequences system depends on where the airport administration wants to set the cap for the number of permits. Bradbury said he didn't think that a shift system would be feasible since it essentially cuts a taxi operator's work load in half and also doubles the number of cabs working at the airport. He said it would be tough to make a shift system equitable given the variation in airline schedules. "That is really, really difficult," he said. As to the alternative attrition program, Bradbury said he's skeptical that after several years with a level number of permits, four operators are decided to relinquish their licenses. Councilor Kevin Donoghue floated a third idea that would rely primarily on attrition but take away the provisions that allow the permits to go unexpired and be transferred. Donoghue said it might be worth considering setting a time limit on the permits that diminishes the number of transfers, accomplishes attrition and doesn't force anyone out of the market.
Business development and responsive government were two of the central issues for Portland's prospective city councilors during a Wednesday debate. The Portland Community Chamber of Commerce hosted a debate between the six candidates seeking three seats on the City Council. There are three council races on this November's ballot: District 1 incumbent Kevin Donoghue is being challenged by Justin Benjamin Pollard; District 2 incumbent David Marshall is being challenged by Shane Boyington; and at-large incumbent Nick Mavodones is being challenged by Wells Lyons. Starting off the morning debate, the council candidates fielded a question on what Portland could be doing to focus on developing areas of the economy such as manufacturing and technology and how tools such as Community Development Block Grant funding plays into the solution. Marshall said he was a part of the discussions to foster the city's creative economy and that it's important for the city to foster all sections of the economy. He said the city needs to take a look at workforce training and development. Lyons said his company, Rogue Industries, has had a hard time finding skilled workers for their stitching operation and understands that workforce training ought to be focused on more. "There is a skills gap we need to address," he said. A program that should be explored is a local and state partnership that can incentivize businesses to start career training programs, Lyons said. Mavodones said the city's collaborative partnerships with businesses are key to finding a solution to address gaps in the workforce. He said there's an opportunity for the city to work with the chamber, business groups and other agencies to begin tackling the gap in workforce skills. "There's no silver bullet," he said. "... But collaboration is the path to take." Donoghue said the CDBG program would present a chance to foster programs that support working families through child care, education and housing. He said it's those barriers that make it difficult for people to enter the workforce. Another avenue to address the problem of a skilled workforce is focusing on adult education program and directing more resources toward them. Pollard said adult education programs could be the cornerstone to addressing gaps in the workforce. "I think we could be making extensive use of those," he said. Boyington said he's getting ready to graduate from college and he's heard from many classmates that are concerned about even being able to find jobs in the city. He said the council ought to focus on creating good-paying jobs in the city. Aside from discussing bettering the city's business community, the candidates fielded a question about how Portland's elected officials can be more responsive to their constituents. Allan Labos, owner of Akari, said he's bothered by the fact that councilors scarcely come and talk to him, or other business owners, at his Middle Street shop. He said he'd like to see the city's elected officials stop by and ask him what his needs are. Labos said members of the council talk about a strong business community but don't reach out and talk to people. He asked the prospective councilors if that could change. Mavodones said he gets out and visits businesses around Portland but found that it's difficult since he and the other city councilors have full-time jobs. He said there's a lot of work going on with the city's economic development plans that are reaching out to people in Portland, and the mayor has made it a priority to speak with a variety of groups. The councilors try to visit as many places as they can, said Donoghue, but always make themselves available if someone needs to get in touch with them. Pollard said forums are a tool that the city could make better use of and do more often. He said with the advent of the Internet and other technology, it's easy to solicit input and feedback from small business owners. "Let's have a city council and city government that's receptive," he said. Lyons said Maine's economy is dominated by small businesses, and those are the establishments that the city ought to do more to support rather than focusing on large developers. "I think we really need to focus on small business," he said. Marshall, who founded the Constellation Gallery and the Maine Artist Collective, said he understands many of the issues facing downtown businesses and he's tried to make himself available to them to hear their concerns. He said the councilors' time is in demand but thinks that the mayor's visitation program will help with business outreach. "I think it's really important for the city to have a lot of contact with small businesses," Marshall said. "... We can learn a lot from those conversations." Jim Devine, a Portland resident and advocate with Homeless Voices for Justice, asked what the prospective councilors would do to make municipal meetings more accessible. Devine recalled a man who attended Monday night's council meeting to take about the Homelessness Task Force's report but the meeting had already happened. Lyons said he had a similar experience Friday when he tried to attend a bicycle meeting but the location had changed and he wound up sitting through a totally different committee meeting. He said the city ought to have a better way to let people know about meetings, since the website isn't easy to navigate, and make them accessible. Donoghue said the easiest solution is to list the meetings and locations in city hall's rotunda rather than rely so much on the website. The city budgeted $25,000 to upgrades its website, said Mavodones, and improvements are desperately needed. "It's a step in the right direction," he said. Boyington asked if residents could really count on the old leadership to make any changes if they haven't already been made. Voters will choose their councilors in the Tuesday, Nov. 6 election.
City officials plan a public awareness campaign to alert the public that passenger trains will begin rolling north to Freeport and Brunswick in less than a month, and the expansion of rail service means more risks of collisions with trains at more than a dozen crossings in the city.
Streets where the passenger trains will cross include Allen Avenue, Ashmont Street, Brighton Avenue, Congress Street, Coyle Street, Forest Avenue, Lincoln Street, Prospect Street, Read Street, Revere Street, Riverside Street, Saunders Street, Walton Street and Woodfords Street. The Amtrak Downeaster will start traveling north from Portland to Freeport and Brunswick on Nov. 1. "We're making some investments in order to improve the safety of those intersections. We're going to be installing medians as you're approaching those intersections so people won't be able to change lanes and drive around the gates," said City Councilor David Marshall, chair of the city's Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee. "There will be a general public awareness campaign around it. We're going to need to work with our police department for enforcement to keep people off that property," Marshall said. The expanded service calls for two round trips a day from Brunswick to Boston, and one more round trip to position the train. The public can expect Amtrak trains at Portland crossings six times a day, three northbound and three southbound, explained Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. "The railroad is private property and it's not a place for people to walk or recreate. As train traffic increases, it's important for people to realize that they need to treat the train track like they would any highway and not use it," Quinn said. "Where there's some additional concerns is where there's pedestrians who walk along the railroad tracks, children who play on the railroad tracks, people who walk their dogs, people who ride ATVs," Quinn noted. The rail authority has participated with Operation Lifesaver, local law enforcement, public safety officials and others to prepare for the launch. Marshall said the city plans an educational campaign "to make people aware that the Amtrak trains will be quieter and faster than the freight trains so it's really important for people to stay off the tracks whether they hear a train or not." Sometimes, people will hang out on the railroad tracks, which is both dangerous and a crime, said Vernon Malloch, assistant police chief. The frequency and speed of trains will change on Nov. 1, but Malloch said police already respond to the PanAm Railway corridor, where freight trains already operate. "We always enforce the rail crossings, and those tracks are active tracks," Malloch said. "We'll continue with our efforts, it's not new to us that the railroad tracks do periodically become pedestrian avenues, and that's in violation, the railroad tracks are private property and they're posted as such," he said. A person guilty of walking on the rail corridor can be found guilty of criminal trespass, a misdemeanor arrest or summons, Malloch noted. Meanwhile, pedestrians and motorists need to be alert at crossings, he said. "The increased traffic and the increased speed that we're anticipating with these trains, we do urge people to be cautious at the crossings, and to obey the lights and the barricades," Malloch said. There are approximately 160,000 miles of track operated in the United States. From January to July of this year, Amtrak experienced 1,029 accidents, and 70 were fatal, according to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis. Seventy-four people died from these accidents, and 61 trespassing incidents away from crossings resulted in the deaths of 47 trespassers on train tracks, the office reported. The total deaths nationwide for all rail transport was 433 fatalities in the seven-month period.