Hillsboro moves to sue state of Oregon over new climate rules
Hillsboro is joining a growing coalition of cities who are suing the state of Oregon over new development rules crafted via an executive order.
The Hillsboro City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday, Sept. 6, that allows the city to join a group of other cities like Medford and Springfield who have voiced concerns with the new "Climate-Friendly and Equitable Communities Rules" that were announced this year by the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD).
The new rules are lengthy. In essence, they require all metropolitan-area cities with more than 5,000 people to establish "climate-friendly areas" that must be zoned to accommodate at least 30% of housing needs. All future urban growth boundary expansion must also be done in a way that designates new housing demand standards.
While this part of the rules doesn't apply to the Portland metro area, since the regional Metro Council already adopted climate rules that adhere to these requirements, Hillsboro is still joining the coalition of cities suing the state on procedural grounds.
The rules also establish new transportation standards to curb vehicle emissions.
Hillsboro city councilors said they aren't opposed to the aim of the rules, which seek to address the effects of climate change and housing insecurity through targeted zoning and land use requirements. However, they don't agree with the methodology the state used in crafting the new guidelines.
"This is a rejection of the means by which they are telling us to do more rather than working with us," said Councilor Beach Pace. "It's against the way they did it, not the reason."
The rules came after Gov. Kate Brown issued Executive Order 20-04, directing the Land Conservation Development Commission to draft statewide rules that would get Oregon on track to meet its emissions reduction goals by 2050.
While there were numerous public meetings and hearings held while the rules were being drafted over the past two years, Hillsboro officials contend that there wasn't enough engagement with cities they will affect.
Hillsboro also recently completed an overhaul of its comprehensive plan and municipal code, which included environmental standards that address natural resources and emissions. However, officials say they'll have to go back to the drawing board and start all over if they are going to adhere to the new rules.
The Oregon secretary of state's own announcement of the rules outlined substantial costs to cities, and the state.
"Jurisdictions may have significant investments in prior planning efforts overridden by the new requirements," the notice, posted on Feb. 24, states. "This may require additional planning efforts to replace or modify existing plans to conform to the new rules."
Opponents argue sweeping climate rules shouldn't be set via executive order and should instead be crafted through legislative action.
Tuesday's meeting offered a glimpse at Hillsboro's legal case against the state.
Oregon's constitution establishes that cities in Oregon can enact "home rule" charters, which provide cities with autonomy over managing their own affairs. Only a legislative bill that preempts a certain kind of government action can usurp this authority, Hillsboro's attorneys will argue, so a sweeping executive action is unconstitutional.
"This is not something we take lightly," said Councilor Anthony Martin. "This is incredibly important, both in how we're choosing to follow this path and also in the fact that our ideals are such that we need an alignment in ideals … the lack of public engagement process, the disrespect of home rule authority, and frankly a minimal dialogue and partnership, are why … I'm comfortable moving forward (with this litigation)."
The Medford City Council also recently decided to join the fray, though the vote was more split than Hillsboro's unanimous adoption on Tuesday night. On Sept. 1, Medford councilors voted 4-2 to join the coalition, too.
While it doesn't appear that Springfield has formally voted to sue the state, officials there sent a flurry of letters to the state department voicing their grievances with the new rules.
In Eugene, city officials have also voiced concerns but appear to be working to implement the new rules, rather than challenge them.
Hillsboro city councilors said they recognize that the rules came about because state agencies feel that cities either aren't doing enough to combat climate change, or that they simply don't have the resources to do so.
They said they know more must be done to address climate change, but this isn't the way to do it.
"I think the state kind of usurping our home rule is in part because they view the cities as not really being capable of addressing these larger issues," said Councilor Rick Van Beveren. "So, this is, in my view, a push … a push for us to address the situation."
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article misstated which metro areas the new climate friendly areas rules apply to.
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