Much has been said and will be said about the results of the Northland question. I won’t get into the details here. But the fact that we had to have that debate at all was, in my opinion, deeply concerning.
Not because it was a referendum – I do believe people have a right to overturn an unpopular law, that is appropriate. The problem for me, in so many ways, is that we learned that a small minority of voters (5%) can force a ballot question on an individual permit issued to an individual land owner.
We saw in this question some of the issues that can arise: Who is going to pay to fight it? Well, the landowner, obviously. But we don’t want corporate money in politics. Well who else did you think was going to pay to fight it?
However, there are many other ways this could go very wrong. What if the permit was challenged because the landowner was a Republican? Or a socialist? Or a person of color? Or a person of a minority religion? Or LGBTQ+? Or an orthodox Jew? or a labor union? Or an out of state corporation? What if it was an Israeli company and the BDS movement was protesting it? What if the permit was challenged for other reasons but the property owner happened to be one of those things?
Clearly to me, the concept that the individual permit issued to an individual landlowner could be challenged in a citywide vote is deeply, deeply problematic. I hope the City Council deems appropriate to review this problem, and look for an appropriate solution.