New petition would stop light rail or bus rapid transit from coming without vote

Petitioners are hoping to get enough signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot. The ballot measure would stop any MAX or bus rapid transit line from coming to Tigard without a vote of the people.A year ago, Art Crino and Tim Esau vowed that they would try again.

Two weeks ago, they kept their word.

A group opposing a plan to bring high-capacity transit to Tigard has filed an initiative with the city, hoping for a second chance to ask voters whether or not they want a say in MAX light rail coming to town.

If approved, the proposed ballot measure would change the Tigard city charter, formally opposing the construction of a proposed high-capacity transit corridor through town unless voters have the final say.

TriMet, Metro and the city of Tigard have been working for years on a plan to bring some form of high-capacity transit to Tigard over the next several years.

Those plans could include either a MAX light-rail line or a form of bus rapid transit, similar to the system used in Eugene.

Known as the Southwest Corridor Plan, the groups are scheduled to decide next month what type of system should move forward, and how far the line would stretch.

Tim EsauThe proposed ballot measure would stop construction of the line unless voters specifically approve the plan through a public vote.

The city would have to tell residents exactly how much of the already congested roadway would be taken up by the line, as well as any changes in housing density or land-use regulations and a projected cost of the project.

It’s similar to the initiative Crino filed last year. That measure would have required a vote before any city resources were put toward a public light-rail system.

City officials said the measure was too restricting, effectively stopping the city from even considering light rail without a vote of the people, and was a thinly veiled attempt to stop light rail in its tracks.

That didn’t stop the petitioners from coming within 46 signatures of putting the measure on the ballot, prompting the city to place a measure of its own before voters.

The measure was similar, but significantly less strict, and said it would require a vote before the city could raise taxes or fees in order to build a light-rail line through town.

That measure was overwhelmingly approved by voters.

Esau, who ran for the Tigard-Tualatin Aquatic District last month, said the city's measure is effectively toothless in its practicality, but its overwhelming passage shows that people care about the topic.

“It shows that citizens want a chance to have a say in things,” Esau said. “They don’t want to have the decision shoved down our throats like we did with the (Columbia River Crossing bridge) or what happened in Clackamas County. It’s a battlefield over there.”

Clackamas County residents have fought for years to stop construction of a new MAX line from Portland to Milwaukie, which is expected to open in 2015.

Voters in Clackamas County passed a measure requiring voter approval before money could be spent on the rail project, leading TriMet to sue the county for reneging on plans for the already-under-construction rail, saying the measure could not be applied retro-actively to previously planned projects.

Esau and Crino say they hope to avoid that mess by tackling the issue early, before the plans are finalized.

“I don’t want to come off as anti-rail,” said Esau. “I used to live in Paris, a city with 12 million people and a fantastic rail system. You could get anywhere in the city in 45 minutes. It was great.”

Esau said in a large urban environment like Paris, light rail makes sense.

“But we are not an urban environment, we’re a suburb, and we don’t have the density to support that,” Esau said. “Good heavens, I don’t know where they’d get the funding to pay for that.”

Bus rapid transit is less expensive, but Esau said the end result is the same.

“We will have to condemn the same number of businesses, claim right of way, reduce existing traffic flow, and there is no clear path from downtown to the suburbs to place this thing without a lot of land being reclaimed,” he said. “To me, they are the same thing.”

Esau said he doesn’t blame government officials for wanting to expand the rail system to Tigard, but says their views may not necessarily reflect the desires of the citizens.

“They are trying to do what in their view is the right thing, but we would rather have a say in it for what we want,” he said.

The city attorney’s office released the ballot measure title and summary on Monday. The wording can be appealed to the City Council by June 11, but Esau said he doesn’t expect an appeal to be filed.

The petitioners will have to collect signatures from 15 percent of registered voters in the city, an estimated 4,000 signatures in order to put the measure on the November ballot.

Esau said that if there was enough ridership and density to support the line, he would support it.

“There is utility to it, but is now the right time for that?” Esau asked. “If it is, lets give the citizens the chance to have their say. We are pressing to make sure we get a clear view of when things are happening and what’s being planned.”

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