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Differing opinions about Southwest Corridor planning erupt at Tualatin City Council meeting

The Tualatin City Council and some community members disagree about what 'planning' and 'design' mean in relation to light rail

Tualatin voters gave themselves the right to vote before city resources can be used on various aspects of the Southwest Corridor Plan. But some say that the September vote is already being violated based on the City Council’s Monday night decision. The Tualatin City Council disagrees.

The issue before the council was the consideration of an intergovernmental agreement between Tualatin and Metro to help fund planning and public involvement efforts related to the Southwest Corridor. Tualatin’s contribution would be $160,000 out of a $5 million pool.

The Southwest Corridor is an area from Southwest Portland that includes Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood. Metro has been looking at what transit solutions might help solve the increased traffic seen in recent years due to population growth.

The council passed the IGA with one dissenting vote from Councilor Ed Truax, but not before they heard from several concerned community members.

“You’re looking at $160,000 of taxpayer money, who voted to have a voice, and you’re taking that away,” said Tualatin resident Gary Bray. “Planning and design are exactly the same thing. I don’t see how you can vote ‘Yes’ without a vote of the people.”

According to ballot measure 34-220, the Tualatin City Council must receive voter approval before city resources can be used to design, construct, finance or operate public rail systems, such as a MAX light rail. City resources in this instance include public funds, staff time, lobbying agreements, property interests and tangible or intangible city assets.

On Monday, the city council argued that planning and designing are different things, and that if no staff or council members are present for any of the planning, they won’t have any control over their future. Like Bray, the other citizens who spoke said that planning and design are the same, and that a vote of the people is necessary before any money can be put toward it.

“You’re specifically using the word ‘planning’ in the IGA when we know it means design. Planning is being used, it seems to me, to usurp the voters’ right to vote,” said Tualatin resident and former mayoral candidate Jan Giunta. “I’m asking you to be honest with the voters and use the word Metro uses, which is ‘design.’”

Giunta referenced an instance she found earlier that day in which Metro used the word “design,” but “plan” could have been substituted without the meaning changing. She said it took her 30 minutes to find that case, but she suspected that if she’d had more time to look, she would have found many more.

“I don’t understand how city council would behave this way,” said Steve Schoppe, a Tualatin resident who also previously spoke out in opposition at a December city council meeting when council added definitions to terms used in the ballot measure. “All it is, is for the public to have a vote before you use city resources to do what you’re about to do.”

But the disapproval from community members didn’t change the minds of the councilors and mayor who argued that putting forth this money is necessary to participate in the discussion about the high capacity transit options facing the Southwest Corridor, and in turn, Tualatin.

“People in this community need the opportunity to be in the discussion and have public involvement,” said Mayor Lou Ogden. “I am not in favor of bringing light rail to Tualatin. I am not opposed. I am for public involvement and finding out what the options are.”

Council President Monique Beikman agreed.

“If we put a stop to studying this, I’m not doing my job as a city councilor,” she said. “I believe this is within our rights.”

The mayor and councilors argued that if money isn’t put toward public outreach and educating the public about the options for the Southwest Corridor, there are many people who won’t know about it in time to have a say.

“Some people are just too busy — they’re too busy to come to a meeting,” said Councilor Frank Bubenik. “I want to reach those people.”

If the city were to pursue a vote before putting forth the $160,000, they would have to wait for the next available election, set for September.


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