Legislators, stay out of local land-use issues
It was a grand plan. Metro, the regional government that reigns over local cities and counties, would satisfy the state requirement for a 20-year land supply by creating a new city. The small community of Damascus would accomodate massive population growth and become a symbol for the future. In 2005 the city incorporated, and the residents began a frustrating planning journey that resulted in a failed disincorporation vote in November 2013.
Oregon law places a high requirement for voter turnout in order for a city to dissolve. After falling short in 2013, anxious disincorporation advocates turned to the Oregon Legislature. Rather than amend the existing law, State Rep. Shemia Fagan sponsored HB4029, a bill that dramatically reduced the number of votes required for disincorporation, and for voter turnout. I testified against HB4029 because the existing disincorporation law could have been reasonably amended.
The low bar set by HB4029 was legally challenged by a local resident, James DeYoung. Initially, a judge ruled against him, but In May of this year the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled the HB4029 is unconstitutional because the Legislature had imposed its will on a city when it lacked authority to do so. The decision made it clear that Damascus was still a city, and that its home-rule charter should not have been circumvented. In spite of the ruling, disincorporation promoters turned to the Legislature again. Shemia Fagan responded by sponsoring SB226, a bill that effectively ignores the Appeals Court decision. After SB226 was approved by the Legislature in June, Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard ironically hailed Fagan as a "hero."
As expected, Mr. DeYoung filed a legal challenge to SB226 that will be heard by the Oregon Supreme Court by the end of the year. Regardless of the outcome, isn't it time to end the practice of inserting the Legislature into complex land-use issues? History has shown it's unreasonable to expect state legislators to achieve good results in those situations.
Damascus is an expensive and painful reminder that the future of the region should not be dictated by Metro. The need for more local control is glaring. There is plenty of evidence that the path to disincorporation was paved by Metro. Repeatedly turning to the Legislature and courts doesn't address the need to hold Metro accountable, and make changes in how the regional government applies Oregon's land-use planning laws.
Clackamas County is experiencing rapid growth, as thousands of new residents are moving to our special place. They will come regardless of whether or not Damascus survives the Supreme Court decision. Watch the fate of Damascus closely, and be aware we cannot allow Metro to fail us again.
Les Poole is a resident of Gladstone.
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