2018-03-23 / Letters

City shouldn’t govern on emotions

To the editor:

Relying on anecdotal evidence to govern, taken to its logical conclusion, guarantees that the loudest voices are most heard, not the ones that best represent the subject of governance – in this case, the city of South Portland.

That appears to be exactly what has happened in this short-term rental discussion; this was summarized in the Sentry perfectly with one resident’s absurd quote, “Sometimes a compromise isn’t appropriate.” In the months-long saga I have seen exactly zero empirical evidence presented about the plusses and minuses of short-term renting. There are lots of individuals presenting their feelings, with which one can sympathize, but you do not run a government on sympathy alone. There is one question that the entire conversation should be framed around – are short-term rentals good for the city of South Portland?

Allow me to present my own anecdote. I am a 34-yearold father of four. I am from Southern Maine but lived in California from 1997 to 2016. In 2013-2014, my Californian wife and I visited with our two kids, stayed in VRBOs, and fell in love with the area. We bought a house in Meetinghouse Hill in August 2016. Six people, aged 2 to 35, enrolling in schools, spending loads of money in local businesses, paying property, sales and income tax – and it absolutely would not have happened if not for short-term rentals.

Now, that’s one anecdote. You don’t make a decision based on it. You feed it back into the central question – are shortterm rentals good for the city of South Portland? What is the value of this young family of six buying a house in South Portland? Is the city all set demographically, healthy for the long-term, and thus able to shield residents from the risk of “party pads” in exchange for turning off the spigot of potential visitors-turned residents?

Hardly. According to a recent report, even if every high school student stays in Maine after graduation, our labor force will decline by 50,000 over the next 10 years. That’s a Maine number, not a South Portland number; but read it again – it is a devastating indictment of the reality of state demographics. Now, we know that South Portland’s median age is approximately between the U.S. average and the Maine average, so while the picture is probably bright relative to Maine, it’s almost certainly not free of concern.

So, should we “protect” our city in the name of preserving quality of life for those who already live here? Maybe. If good evidence were presented that showed the impact on quality of life outweighed the potential economic benefits then sure – a ban, or, dare I say, a compromise, should be considered. What’s the point of growing a city that no one wants to live in? Then again, we risk being that city already with this kind of governance.

Owen Grohman South Portland

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