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King City will be light-rail battleground

September vote may affect other cities November votes


King City has become ground zero for those working to put initiatives opposing light rail on several local ballots.

It is the only city on the west side of the metro area where the initiative will be on the Sept. 11 special election ballot, although the petitioners could have agreed to wait and put it on the November general election ballot.

King City council members learned at their June 20 meeting that the city will have to foot the $3,300 cost for the special election, which would double if they choose to put their own competing or clarifying measure on the same ballot.

"We have to hope our constituents are smart enough to vote against this," said Councilor Suzan Turley. "This is terrible."

Billie Reynolds, the chief petitioner for the King City initiative, was at the council meeting during the discussion and said the next day, "I thought we would opt for the November ballot, but the others working on this want to make King City an example of a city that says no. They think King City voters will support the initiative and turn down light rail.

"Think what will happen - Sherwood and Tigard might say no. No one expected this to happen."

Petitioners in King City, Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood attempted this spring to gather enough valid signatures to put anti-light-rail initiatives on the cities' Sept. 18 special election ballots, but they were only successful in King City, leaving open the possibility that similar initiatives may still get on the ballots in the other cities as well as Milwaukie in the November general election.

The ballot title approved in King City reads, "voter approval of city resources for 'public rail transit systems,'" and asks the question, "Shall voter approval be required to use 'city resources' to finance, design, construct, operate any 'public rail transit systems'?"

Council members were told that the city has 30 days to adopt the petition (thereby putting it into effect) or refer it to voters at the next election date no sooner than 90 days from June 20.

If the city puts a competing or clarifying measure on the same ballot, it must be filed within 30 days of June 20 and meet the July 19 submission deadline set by the Washington County Elections Division.

There is no provision in the King City charter that allows for arguments for or against measures, according to City Manager Dave Wells.

According to the initiative, the King City City Council may not authorize city resources to be spent on financing, design, construction or operation of any public rail transit system without city voters approving an authorization ordinance in an election.

"City resources" is defined as public funds, staff time, lobbying agreements, property interests or other tangible or intangible city assets but does not apply to using city resources for public safety concerns caused by the operation of a public rail transit system.

According to Reynolds, almost all the signature-gatherers in King City were local residents who "worked" their own streets, knocking on doors and talking to people.

"I would say that 5 to 7 percent of the people I talked to really want light rail to come down 99W," she said. "Another 10 percent were indifferent, so about 15 percent were OK with it. That means 85 percent were against it.

"People don't want the crime and high-density housing that follows light rail. Most women in King City, being older, are not going to use light rail. They can't walk to the bus stop now. They are not going to walk to or from 99W home at night, especially is they use canes or walkers.

"Most people see this as futile and terribly costly. With the right of way that light rail would take, not a lot of the businesses along 99W have 12 feet of frontage to give up. Several will go out of business."

On the other hand, council members said that approval of the initiative would severely limit how the city does business and how council members and staff interact with other governmental bodies in the metro area and farther afield.

The City Council is scheduled to meet Wednesday, July 11, at 7 p.m. to decide whether or not to adopt or refer the petition and whether to put a clarifying or competing measure on the Sept. 18 ballot.