Fate of Damascus raises questions
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 accommodate 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 Legislature. Rather than amend the existing law, Rep. Shemia Fagan sponsored HB 4029, a bill that dramatically reduced the number of votes required for disincorporation, and for voter turnout.
I testified against HB 4029 because the existing disincorporation law could have been reasonably amended.
The low bar set by HB 4029 was legally challenged by a local resident, James De Young. Initially, a judge ruled against him, but In May of this year the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that HB 4029 was fatally flawed. 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 SB-226, a bill that effectively ignores the Appeals Court decision. After SB-226 was approved by the Legislature in June, Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard ironically hailed Fagan as a "hero."
As expected, De Young filed a legal challenge to SB-226 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 the 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 Plan.
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 cannnot allow Metro to fail us again.
Les Poole is a property owner in Damascus, and his family has owned property there since 1963.
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