Charter amendment requires public vote before light rail is built in Tigard

Tigard voters spoke loud and clear Tuesday night passing a referendum requiring a public vote before a MAX light-rail system could be built in the city in the next 10 years.

Voters overwhelming approved city referendum 34-203, with more than 81 percent of the vote.

The passage means Tigard residents will vote whether or not the city should raise taxes or fees in order to build a light-rail line through town.

Tigard City Councilors put the measure to voters after petitioners nearly placed a similar — but significantly stricter — measure before voters earlier this year. Petitioners fell short by 46 signatures of the 3,867 needed to put an initiative on the ballot, which would have required a vote before any city resources were put toward a public light-rail system.

City officials opposed the initiative, saying the language was so strict it would have stopped the city from studying light rail as a possibility, as well as other unintended consequences, including banning city employees from mentioning light rail or riding the transit system.

Petitioners said they weren’t anti-light rail, but were pro-voter choice.

Voters, the petitioners said, should have the final say whether light rail comes to Tigard.

TriMet has said for years it hopes to bring some form of high-capacity transit to Tigard and out into Sherwood in the next several years, but have not decided whether or not MAX light rail will be the final option.

City and regional planners are studying a variety of options, including increased bus service, light rail or bus rapid transit.

That didn’t stop light-rail opponents from collecting signatures trying to stop what they saw as an inevitable light-rail line from traveling down Highway 99W.

Opponents, including Tigard’s Art Crino, the initiative’s main petitioner, said the light-rail system was too costly for TriMet and other agencies to force residents to pay for.

Petitioners hoped to stop the light-rail system from coming by putting the measure before voters in four cities: Tigard, Tualatin, King City and Sherwood. Only King City was able to secure enough signatures to place the initiative on the ballot, where it was approved in September’s special election.

The initiative passed by Tigard voters on Tuesday is similar, but would allow the city to study light rail as a possibility.

City officials say that if light rail does come to Tigard and residents vote "no" on raising taxes to pay for it, it might limit the city’s ability to provide the local funding match necessary for the project to be completed. However, light-rail opponents who worked to stop the transit system, said the measure didn’t go far enough.

“It’s window dressing,” attorney Eric Winters told The Times in August. Winters represented the petitioners as they worked to collect signatures in Tigard, Tualatin, King City and Sherwood. “The people should pass it because even a small amount of protection is better than none, but they shouldn’t confuse it with having a right to vote whether light rail will enter the city.”

The passage of the city’s referendum is not expected to stop petitioners from trying to pass their stricter anti-light-rail measure in the future.

The group said earlier this year it intends to place the issue on a ballot next year.

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