Light rail face-off cancels BCC meeting

Citizens demand public vote on Milwaukie light rail line
by:  Charlotte Lehan, BCC Chair

A strange series of events ended last week with dozens of citizens standing outside of a Red Soils meeting room after Clackamas County cancelled the continuation of talks on how urban renewal could help pay for the county's $25- million pledge to a light rail line through Milwaukie.

The group of activists has been helping collect signatures for a measure that would put new urban renewal area proposals to county voters. And led by Oak Grove resident Thelma Haggenmiller, the group has also been calling on commissioners to allow for more citizen input in TriMet's MAX funding.

'I want to have the opportunity to vote on light rail,' Haggenmiller said, echoing the sentiments of more than a dozen others who testified at the commission's business meeting earlier that day. Canby resident Bonnie Marsh said that she wanted to be part of the repetition so that commissioners would remember the message.

After hearing testimony from Haggenmiller and others, Commissioner Paul Savas, who also hails from Oak Grove, was inspired to push for a commission vote on urban renewal and light rail. He formally moved to give county voters the right to vote on the funding mechanism for Clackamas County's contribution to Milwaukie light rail.

'I do support the citizens' right to vote,' Savas said.

Savas' motion died after not receiving support from a second commissioner.

Haggenmiller had also been protesting the county's plan not to record the Thursday afternoon meeting.

Chair Charlotte Lehan, who sets the agenda for the Board of County Commissioners, heard about a complaint but wasn't sure if it came from Haggenmiller.

'The meeting may have not been noticed properly, and somebody complained to county staff, so in an abundance of caution, the best thing to do was postpone,' Lehan said.

It was also caution that Lehan said was the biggest factor in discouraging a vote.

'It would have been inappropriate for us to make that decision at that time, because that item had not been noticed,' she said. 'Also for us to right then and there to decide on something, I don't have enough information to go on.'

Lehan noted that the commission usually accepts citizen opinions on various topics prior to discussion of agenda items, and in some cases it directs staff to look in the matter further or create a future agenda item, but it is not typical to vote on a new agenda item unless it's an emergency. She said that she might be able to support a public vote on urban renewal by the communities in the vicinity of a new taxing district but opposed the petitioners' countywide tactic.

'I would have a problem with that approach because it would be nearly impossible to pass any urban renewal district, and it wouldn't make sense for people in Canby, for example, to be voting on a district in Oak Grove 14 miles away,' she said.

Although she's personally wary of putting complicated urban renewal decisions in voter hands, Lehan plans to discuss the topic further in an upcoming work session with the other commissioners.

(Meanwhile, the commissioners plan to continue the discussion on the light rail project at their Thursday, July 28, 10 a.m. business meeting.)