Judge dismisses urban renewal suit
A local PAC suing the city argued taking urban renewal bonds without voter approval is illegal
A lawsuit filed against Oregon City seeking clarification on whether the Urban Renewal Agency could issue bonds without voter approval was dismissed Monday because Judge Roderick Boutin said the city charter section requiring voter approval of City Commission-issued bonds did not apply to the Urban Renewal Agency.
Section 57 of the city charter says the city cannot pass general obligation bonds or revenue bonds 'of any nature' without a vote of the people. It further stipulates that the city commission cannot 'use any other means to prevent their referral to the voters.'
The plaintiffs in the case, the Oregon City Area Sustainability Political Action Committee, argued that because the city has oversight of and makes decisions concerning the implementation of urban renewal bonds, those are subject to the same provision.
'The City Council ought not be able to sit back and by omission of action allow a subordinate body to do something they themselves cannot do,' the PAC's attorney, Matt Wand, argued.
The PAC says that before urban renewal bonds are issued, the City Council must make multiple official decisions concerning the district's implementation. Therefore, it says, the Urban Renewal Agency is a subordinate body and the charter provisions - no bonds without a vote - should apply.
'Before the Urban Renewal Agency can issue a bond, the city has to take action on that' proposal, Wand said. 'We are looking at future city actions that they have admitted must be taken in order to enact these bonds.'
The city, however, argued that section 57 applies only to the city commission, not to other bodies, and that a previous court decision involving Beaverton decided that urban renewal commissions are wholly separate entities. Urban renewal commissions can be made up of the same people who serve as a city's city council, such as in Oregon City. Cynthia Fraser, representing the city, said the plaintiffs in that case argued that acts of Beaverton's Urban renewal Agency were attributable to city council, but the court ruled in the city's favor, saying the two bodies, and their actions, were separate.
Wand said the PAC's case involves a question of hierarchy - that cities can and often do have codes that are stricter than the corresponding state code, and in those cases the city code takes precedence.
In this case, he argues, the city charter is stricter, saying the council can use no other means to prevent a vote on a bond, and that provision includes urban renewal because the city has some oversight of it.
But Boutin agreed with the city and dismissed the case.
'The way I see the controversy, the issue is whether or not the provisions of section 57 apply to the Urban Renewal Agency,' he said. 'My reading of article 57 is that it does not apply to the Urban Renewal Agency.
He advised the PAC to file an amended case if it could show reason why the provisions of section 57 apply to the urban renewal commission.
The PAC has held that it does not oppose the recent increase in the urban renewal ceiling from $30 million to $130 million, nor does it necessarily oppose urban renewal in general. What the PAC opposes, according to spokesman Philip Yates, is the issuance of bonds without a citywide vote, and it alleges that urban renewal is no different than any other bond measure.
Yates said the PAC would not appeal but instead seek a petition to amend the charter.
'There's a loophole - the judge just told us it doesn't apply to the Urban Renewal Agency - we need to close it,' he said.
Yates said he would not seek to change it through litigation, however, but through a vote.
'I'm going to recommend that we begin immediately to gather signatures for a petition to amend the charter to close the loophole that the court found exists under sec