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King City voters say no to light rail

They approve ballot measure that calls for public vote before city spends funds on rail transit


King City voters sent a decisive message Sept. 18 by approving a ballot measure requiring a vote before the city spends money on public rail transportation.

With 100 percent of the votes counted, the unofficial tally for Measure 34-199 was 681 affirmative votes (57.08 percent) versus 512 votes in opposition (49.92 percent), about the same margin as a similar measure in Clackamas County.

"I am absolutely delighted," said Billie Reynolds, the King City initiative’s chief petitioner. "All this means is that as King City plans and works on mass transit, it must have voter approval before signing a financial commitment.

"This was a preventative measure so we won't be in the same mess as Milwaukie, where they are spending money they have to borrow on transit. The King City council makes all the decisions, but we citizens are not a bunch of sheep."

Westside residents have been watching the development of transit issues on the eastside as Metro, TriMet and their partners worked successfully to bring light rail from Portland through Milwaukie and unincorporated Clackamas County to Oak Grove, with construction now under way.

On the westside, the Southwest Corridor Commission, with King City represented by City Councilor Suzan Turley, has been studying transportation and a variety of related issues that may someday lead to a light-rail system between Portland and Sherwood to help ease congestion along Highway 99W and encourage redevelopment in the area.

Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck said the King City ballot measure could limit funds for studying transit options.

"We are committed to providing the best transportation service we can to the citizens in the county," Duyck said. "If the voters start taking tools away from us, we will have to do that with the tools that remain."

Not surprisingly, King City officials were frustrated and angry about the election results for the measure called "Voter Approval of City Resources for 'Public Rail Transit Systems.'"

"I'm not surprised," said Mayor Ron Shay. "The whole thing was designed to be confusing. I'm very disappointed. This just creates a terrible mess, and we don't know what the ramifications will be.

"In essence, this is shutting off the discussion. These issues should be discussed. We're talking about something that is already 20 years behind. Some group is trying to muzzle us from talking about this. Even if you don't want it or like it, you still have to talk about it."

King City Councilor Malka Sekey also was not surprised the measure passed and thinks the bright yellow signs around King City promoting the measure (almost identical to ones in Clackamas County) were misleading.

"I think they almost bordered on fraud," she said. "The question is, what do we do now? I think the next stop is negating this through the courts. It is perilous to leave it in place. It is affecting citizens 20 years in the future. I hope King City can find partners to fight this like Metro and TriMet. We have no choice. We can't afford not to. This really has to be stopped.

"This measure interferes with our democracy. We should be able to have discussions about transportation - we must have discussions. I'm not blindly for light rail, but I'm for investigating it."

Shay and Sekey believe voters were confused when casting their ballots in the special election.

"If people had all the facts, I don't think they would have approved this," Shay said. "I don't think it was a well-informed vote. It's real frustrating.

"People say light rail brings growth. Well, we're already experiencing it. Look at all the growth west of King City. Not discussing light rail is not going to stop it."

Sekey added, "With the measure in place, the city staff cannot coordinate with us. It really cuts our wings. The City Council is the voice of the people, and we really do make our decisions based on what we think is right for the citizens."

Reynolds said she learned a lot about King City during this entire process that started last spring when petitioners in King City, Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood started working to get anti-light-rail measures on ballots, but King City ended up being the only successful effort.

"I'm very pleased," Reynolds said of the election results. "We have worked very hard. It is a cause for celebration, but this won't be the end of it. At least we won't be in the same situation as Milwaukie.

"And I want to say that I appreciate our City Council. I have no antagonism against them. We just have different views on this issue."

The Tigard City Council has put a measure on the November ballot that would require a vote on any tax or fee increases to fund a rail line.