Metro rejection of shelter initiative challenged in court
Metro's second rejection of an initiative petition to redirect its voter-approved homeless services funds was challenged in Multnomah County Circuit County on Friday, April 15.
The initiative seeks to spend 75% of the funds approved by Metro voters in May 2020 to emergency shelters. It is supported by People for Portland, a nonprofit organization pressuring elected officials to do more to end homelessness in the Portland region. Metro has twice rejected the petition, arguing it does not meet constitutional and legal standards.
A chief petitioner filed a challenged to the most recent rejection, which happened on Thursday, April 14, after the initiative had been refiled following the first rejection. In a Thursday statement, People for Portland accused Metro of illegally denying voters the right to decide how the $2.5 billion to be raised by the measure should be spent.
"Metro voters should be allowed to direct their leaders to provide safe shelter for everyone who needs it and end the deadly camping on our streets," the statement said.
Supporters have until Sept. 8 to gather the required number of valid Metro voter signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2020 ballot.
The refiled initiative addresses only one of three issues Metro Attorney Carrie MacLaren cited when she first rejected it. The only change adds a clause required by the Metro Code left off the original initiation. It did not respond to the other two challenges — being administrative instead of legislative and not including the full text of the Metro code provisions to be changed.
The court filing argues those are not valid concerns.
"Metro's weak legal arguments clearly reveal its intent to use the initiative process against the people it is intended to serve. Metro's only purpose in rejecting the initiative was to force the inherent delay of court action. Metro wants to run out the clock and make it impossible to collect the 52,000 signatures to qualify this safe shelter initiative for the ballot — because they know voters will approve it," the People for Portland statement said.
The legal arguments for reversing Metro's rejection of the initiative can be found here.
The voter-approved measure imposes a 1% income tax on higher earners to fund homeless services. It was supported by the HereTogether coalition, which backed the original rejection in a statement that read in part, "We appreciate the due diligence that Metro put into evaluating the proposal. The Metro attorney's decision today is evidence that the measure was always more about politics than good policy. A poorly crafted ballot measure aimed at changing direction a year from now was never going to provide immediate relief for our unhoused neighbors."
HereTogether is a nonprofit corporation filed in June 2018. It lists hundreds of organizations and supporters on its website here. A political action committee with the same name spent around $1.4 million to pass Measure 26-210 at the May 2020 primary election.
After the initiative was filed, HereTogether defended the Metro measure by saying, "The Supportive Housing Services measure is a dedicated investment in data-driven, proven, permanent solutions while also increasing the number of short-term shelter beds. That work is scaling up now. Draining its funds for a bound-to-fail, shelters-only approach would be an incredible disservice to those who are receiving help and those who still need help — as well as all of us who want to see the Portland region's homeless crisis come to an end," the statement said."
The People for Portland website can be found here.
The Metro decision can be found here.
A previous Portland Tribune story on the issue can be found here.
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