The Sound’s 2015 Portsmouth City Council Voter’s Guide: Duncan MacCallum

Portsmouth Voters Guide
Duncan MacCallum

Duncan MacCallum
Occupation: Attorney
Years living in Portsmouth: 23
Prior public service experience: Member of Zoning Board of Adjustment, 2004-2007; member of mayor Evelyn Sirrell’s Blue Ribbon Committee to Save the Old State House, 1998-2008; member of Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers and Portsmouth Now!; lead counsel in the prosecution of grassroots appeals against approval of several major, unwanted development projects; citizen speaker at numerous public hearings over the years.

How often do you walk into downtown or use public transportation? What can the city do to encourage more pedestrian traffic and public transit use?
I live at the edge of the downtown area, and so I walk downtown practically every day. The COAST trolley system is much underutilized, perhaps in part because of lack of sufficient publicity and because it only runs once or twice an hour to each destination. The few times that I have used it, there have rarely been more than two or three other passengers on it. It could be made more effective by increasing the frequency of runs, increasing the number of routes (at present, there are only a few), and enhancing public awareness as to its availability. Other options which need to be explored (and which are already being discussed) are shuttle service to satellite parking lots to and from the downtown area.

How would you address growth and development throughout Portsmouth?
Actually, I’ve already been doing it for years. Far more than any other candidate in this election (with the possible exception of Esther Kennedy), I have led the charge against unwanted, runaway development in the downtown area, which destroys the city’s historic atmosphere and its essential charm and character. I have served as lead counsel in appeals of land use board decisions which approved massive, unsightly development projects in the downtown area, fighting those decisions in the courts and in the land use boards themselves. Additionally, I have been speaking against these offensive projects at public hearings for years, long before I ever began initiating legal action. If the land use boards won’t do their job, then it is up to grassroots citizens groups to do it for them through court appeals. Stricter zoning restrictions could be enacted and implemented, but they are useless if the land use boards won’t enforce them.

What can the city do to restore public confidence in the police department and the police commission?
The attorney general’s recent rulings having sharply limited the extent to which the city council can exercise control over or become involved in the police commission’s affairs, and with an upcoming election, which will result in two new police commissioners to complement the one first-term commissioner already sitting, a brand new police commission is effectively going to be created. It will have to win the respect of the citizenry by its own words and deeds.

How can Portsmouth encourage the development of more affordable and workforce housing?
Portsmouth has never been serious about addressing the problem of affordable/workforce housing, though it has always paid plenty of lip service to it. It’s a classic case of “all talk, no action.” As long as real property values in the downtown area and its environs continue to rise like hot air balloons, private developers have no incentive to create workforce housing, and I don’t know too many waiters, waitresses, and shop clerks who can afford to pay $500,000 for a studio condominium. Until the city makes a real commitment to affordable housing, holds the developers’ feet to the fire, and insists that affordable housing units be set aside as a condition for approval or their projects, not much is likely to change.

What role should the council have in working with the Prescott Park Arts Festival to address residents’ complaints about noise?
This is an easy one. The city has ultimate control over Prescott Park. The city is also responsible for curbing excessive noise and for managing other aspects of the quality of life of its residents. The city has a duty to do whatever is necessary to make sure that the activities in Prescott Park do not evolve into a public nuisance. No one is denying the benefits of the Prescott Park Arts Festival, but in recent years it has grown radically and is increasingly being run more like a private business than as a nonprofit organization or a charity. Like any other business, public or private, it has a responsibility to ensure that it does not encroach upon the rights of others, particularly its neighbors. The City Council is the body that has both the power and the duty to see to it that those rights are not infringed.

How can Portsmouth respond and adapt to the impacts of climate change?
Climate change must be addressed primarily at the national, and indeed the international level. There is little that Portsmouth, standing by itself, can do to combat the effects of climate change, other than to lobby its national leaders for action. However, Portsmouth can certainly play its own small part by engaging in land and environmental conservation practices.

What is one recent change for the better in the city, and one you hope to champion as a councilor?
There have been no recent “changes for the better” that are worthy of the name. One significant future change that I will be supporting is that of changing the format for the election of city councilors from the present, pure at-large system to a ward system, where one councilor is elected from each ward. That way, there will be better representation of the neighborhoods. At present, the bulk of the taxpayers’ capital improvement funds are being spent on improvements for the downtown area, whereas the residents of the outlying neighborhoods are being treated like second-class citizens.

What was the most recent cultural event you attended in Portsmouth?
I play four musical instruments and I am a member of a concert band and several other instrumental music ensembles, and so I’m involved in cultural events all the time. The most recent cultural event that I attended as a non-participant was a production of Hemingway’s Wife, at The Player’s Ring.

What is the most important issue facing the city that no one is talking about yet?
Implementing a practical, effective, publicly-run or public-private composting program which is suitable for use by residents (as well as businesses) and is reasonably available to them, comparable to the city’s recycling program. The same would help the environment and would drastically reduce the volume of organic waste that ends up in landfill.