March 19--Tigard's Ballot Measure 34-210 is all but officially passed. Over 51 percent of voters chose "yes" in the latest available returns, and the results aren't likely to change.
So any future high-capacity transit project in the city -- whether it's light rail or bus rapid transit -- will have to be approved by Tigard voters.
Or will it?
Advice the Tigard City Council received from City Attorney Tim Ramis Tuesday night indicated that the councilors could get around a public vote if they really wanted, irrespective of how unwise a political move that might be.
The discussion was only about what the city council could do, not about what it should or will do. City councilors are not considering trying to skirt the ballot measure -- in fact, they are thinking about putting another vote on the November ballot in order to get more direction from voters about the future of the Southwest Corridor Plan. Ramis, though, explained to the council what he believes its options are.
The measure would amend Tigard's city charter to officially oppose the construction of high-capacity transit projects without voter approval. Ramis said it would also require the city to do two things.
First, Ramis said, the city would have to annually send a letter to the governor, the Federal Transit Administration, the Oregon Department of Transportation, Washington County, TriMet and Metro, reminding those agencies about its policy opposing the construction of high-capacity transit without voter approval. But the measure doesn't say what else the letter has to contain -- the city is free to add anything it likes to the letter, or send additional letters, Ramis said.
Second, the city would have to hold a public vote before it can amend its comprehensive plan or land-use regulations to accommodate siting of a new high-capacity transit project.
But Ramis and Tigard Community Development Director Kenny Asher said the city would not have to amend its comprehensive plan or land-use regulations in order for construction to begin on a high-capacity transit project.
"You're not required to amend your plan or your regulations," Ramis said, adding that once a project is approved at the regional level, Tigard can impose its existing land-use regulations onto the project.
Another vote would be triggered, however, as a result of a separate ballot measure passed in 2012, if Tigard chose to impose any new fees or taxes to fund a light-rail project. But supporters of the recent ballot measure have worried that the city could get around that requirement, as well.
Ramis emphasized that the city council has the power to interpret the ballot measure.
"You are the initial first arbiter of the meaning of [the ballot measure's] phrases to the extent that they are ambiguous. ... You can adopt an ordinance describing your interpretation," Ramis said.
-- Luke Hammill
Copyright 2014 - The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.