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Early returns show Measure 34-210 barely passing with about 50.9 percent of the vote.Tigard voters are split on who should decide on bringing MAX light rail to town.

Early unofficial election results from Tuesday night’s special election showed voters were divided nearly 50-50 on Measure 34-210, which would require the city to formally oppose MAX and other forms of high-capacity transit without a public vote.

As of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, the measure was passing with 50.98 percent of votes cast in favor and 49.02 percent opposing. Less than 200 votes separated the two sides as numbers were released.

"I’ll take this — it’s a win," said the measure's petitioner Tim Esau. "Voters can breath a sigh of relief knowing we now have local control. If they want to bring their big, super project, they will have to convince the voters and prove it out. The ball is in their court."

Measure 34-210 changes the city’s charter to formally oppose any new high-capacity transit line built in the city without voter approval.

The city will have to send letters every year to the governor, the Oregon Department of Transportation, Washington County, Metro, TriMet and the director of the Federal Transit Administration stating its position. The city will also need to allow voters to weigh in on any changes in housing density, land-use regulations and road capacity within five miles of the city, as well as provide project costs for any transit proposal.

The Tigard measure was the sole item on the ballot for the March 11 special election. While only registered voters in Tigard could weigh in on the proposal, folks from across the region were paying close attention.

Metro, the regional government, has been working with local cities and TriMet on the Southwest Corridor Plan for years. That plan is geared to help the region prepare for massive growth expected in the next few decades.

The plan calls for road improvements, new parks and — most controversially — a plan to bring either MAX light rail or high-capacity transit to the area.

Exactly what kind of transit and where it will be located is still being debated, but the plans call for the line to run from Southwest Barbur Boulevard to Tigard and into Tualatin.

Residents angry with bringing high-capacity transit to town put the issue before voters, saying it should be up to residents, not city and county officials, to decide whether to bring light rail or rapid bus service to Tigard.

"This is not my effort or my measure," Esau said. "This is not about a bunch of outsiders. This is a team of people from Tigard that want to see local control. And thankfully, we got that choice."

Tigard high-speed transit measure
March 11 special election ballot

34-210 Votes

Close call

Tuesday night’s results showed a difference of less than 2 percent. It’s an exceptionally tight race, but the close election didn’t surprise Tigard Mayor John L. Cook.

Cook said he expected the measure to pass, and said opponents of the measure had an uphill battle leading up to the election.

City leaders said for months that one of the biggest fallouts of the measure would be that the city would lose its leverage at the regional planning table.

“I don’t know how the neighboring cities will take this,” Cook said. “That’s the unknown. I will continue to promote what Tigard wants, and we will continue to plan.”

Just what the measure means for the city, and the greater Southwest Corridor Plan, is still to be determined, Cook added.

“I don’t know where we are going tomorrow,” he said.

That work can now begin. The Tigard City Council is set to discuss outcomes at its next meeting.

“It doesn’t mean that (the Southwest Corridor Plan) is dead,” Cook said. “The question is how much they will let me be at the table. I still want to be the voice of Tigard at the table. We still need transit.”

Whatever happens, Cook said, the city will continue to plan and collect more information to share with the community.

“We are not going to do nothing,” Cook said. “We will try to be involved as much as we can, but how involved (the measure) will let us be is yet to be seen.”

Cook said he doesn’t plan to contest the loss. When asked if the city would attempt to reverse the measure, Cook said likely not. He is not ruling out an opportunity to clarify the measure in a future election.

“I don’t think we should go out and overturn it,” he said. “But we might try to clarify where those 'yes' voters are coming from. Are they just against TriMet or do they want a say in whether it comes to town?”

Esau said the measure was all about voter choice.

"I think people do really want a say," Esay said. "It’s about us deciding yes or no. If they make a compelling case (for high-capacity transit), we, the people, will support it."

Tom Murphy, a Tigard resident who led the “Stop Congestion – Vote No” campaign, said he did not expect such close results.

Now, Murphy said, the city needs to find a way to bring the two sides together.

“I have gotten to the point of reacting like the fate of civilization depends on this ballot measure,” he said. “But one election does not make or break a city. Tigard is a good city and a good place to live, and it will still be a good city and good place to live — whether this passes or not."

“The sun will come up tomorrow,” he said. “And the flowers may even smell good.”

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