UPDATED: Anti urban renewal petition being circulated in Clackamas County

An initiative petition is being circulated in Clackamas County to require countywide voter approval for the creation of urban renewal districts, other than those lying within cities. Could be on the ballot in Fall 2011.

Yuxing Zheng of The Oregonian reports that an initiative petition is being circulated in Clackamas County to require that urban renewal districts, other than within cities, be approved by voters. The sponsors of the petition have a website here. (Our very own Jim Karlock apparently drew the big chart featured prominently thereon). At this point, the website doesn’t contain very much information on the proposal (including any draft of the initiative language), just a statement of position and exhortations to send money. (That said, the campaign appears to be just getting started, so I’m not troubled by this—yet.)

While I have my own doubts about urban renewal–a practice which can be abused, and one which as traditionally implemented can deprive various special districts (school, fire, etc.) of tax revenue without their consent or participation (though recent changes in state law attempt to rein in this problem), the way the proposal is structured, according to the article, appears to require the entire county vote on such project, as opposed to only those voters affected by a specific urban renewal program (whether directly in the district, or within service districts affected by the urban renewal program).

The initiative does not appear to have any affect on Milwaukie MAX (if the petition succeeds in referring the proposal to the ballot, the earliest it will appear is September 2011, by which time MLR will well be underway, and the City of Milwaukie UR funds would not be affected), but appears to take dead aim at the possibility of extending the rails further south to Gladstone or Oregon City. The county is putting together a new UR district called the “McLoughlin Boulveard District” (a recent article on the subject) to finance improvements along McLoughlin in the Oak Grove/Jennings Lodge area–essentially the unincorporated segment between Milwaukie and Gladstone. While extending MAX that far south is not likely to happen for several decades at least, I would expect that a big part of urban renewal in the corridor would be in anticipation of a future MAX line.

9,378 signatures would be needed to place the question on the ballot.

Update:

We have obtained the petition text and proposed ballot language, which are reproduced here:

ACT TO REQUIRE VOTER APPROVAL OF URBAN RENEWAL

Be it enacted, the Clackamas County electors propose adding the following chapter to their County Code:

Chapter 3.03 Voter Approval of Urban Renewal

3.03.010 A county urban renewal agency shall not be activated or authorized to exercise additional powers without the approval of county electors at a general election.

3.03.020 Every new urban renewal plan, or substantial change to an existing plan, shall be referred to county electors for their approval at a primary or general election.

3.03.030 Whenever an election required by Chapter 3.03.020 will authorize new Urban Renewal Indebtedness, the county shall determine the information required to complete the public notice statements A-D in this section. Public Notice Statements shall be posted on the county website at least 45 days in advance of the election and mailed to county electors no more than ten days in advance of distributing ballots.

(A) “ATTENTION VOTER: IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT [identify local measure number].

(B) “If approved, this measure will authorize new Urban Renewal Indebtedness. Repayment of such debt may significantly reduce the amount of property tax revenues that would be otherwise available for public schools, police, fire, library and other public services within Clackamas County for [maximum duration of indebtedness, listed in years and months].”

(C) “The maximum amount of new Urban Renewal Indebtedness permitted by this measure is [maximum new URI permitted by proposed plan or amendment].”

(D) “The maximum amount of interest payable for this debt is [maximum amount of interest payments for new URI over lifespan of debt].

Public Notice Statements do not need to be mailed to County Electors if printed at the top of the explanatory statement of the County Voter’s Pamphlet.

3.03.040 The county shall not approve or amend a plan by any means other than by ordinance. Non-substantial changes to any plan may be approved by non-emergency ordinance of the Board of Commissioners.

3.03.050 Upon the retirement of all urban renewal indebtedness authorized by county urban renewal plans, the purpose for a county urban renewal agency will cease and it shall be terminated. Any continuing obligations or rights of a terminated agency shall be assumed by the county.

3.03.060 As used in this Chapter:

“Urban renewal plan” and “plan” have the meaning given those terms in ORS Chapter 457 as it now exists or may hereafter be amended, or a similar plan adopted under any other provision of law.

“Substantial change” means any change proposed to be made to an existing urban renewal plan that:

(A) Expands the boundary, duration or borrowing authority of any plan; or,

(B) Alters the basic purpose, engineering or financing principles of a voter-approved plan.

“Urban renewal indebtedness” and “URI” mean debt incurred pursuant to an urban renewal plan where repayment is pledged from ad valorem taxes assessed within the county.

3.03.070 Miscellaneous provisions.

This chapter shall become immediately effective upon passage by the electors. If any provision of this chapteris barred from operation by superior law, the other provisions shall remain unaffected. Prior to any public hearing to consider legislation that would conflict with provisions of this chapter or prevent them from operating, the county must provide notice of the proposed legislation and hearing date to all county electors by mail at least two weeks prior to the hearing. Any legislation passed in violation of this provision shall be void.

And the ballot language:

BALLOT TITLE PETITION NUMBER 3-371

CAPTION:
Voter Approval of Urban Renewal

QUESTION:
Shall the Clackamas County Code be amended to require voter approval of Urban Renewal decisions?

STATEMENT:
This measure amends the County Code to require voter approval to create an urban renewal agency. The measure also requires voter approval when an urban renewal agency seeks to authorize the exercise of additional powers. The measure amends the County Code to require voter approval to establish a new urban renewal plan or to substantially change an existing plan. The County is required to provide public notice when an election will authorize new Urban Renewal Indebtedness. Any approval or amendment to an urban renewal plan by the county must be done by ordinance. The retirement of all previously authorized urban renewal indebtedness will result in the termination of the urban renewal agency. Any continuing obligations or rights of the terminated agency will be assumed by the county. If passed, this chapter will be immediately effective.

One legal question immediately comes to mind. Clackamas County is a “general law” county, and thus has no county charter–the county’s complement of elected officials, their powers under the law, and the manner of their election are specified by state law. Article VI of the state Constitution provides that counties may elect to enact county charters which provide for different arrangements (ORS 203 has a lot of additional detail on the subject)–counties which have done so are called “home rule” counties. Nine of Oregon’s 36 counties are home rule counties, including Multnomah and Washington, though Clackamas County is not.

The legal question which comes to mind is: in the absence of a county charter, can the Board or voters of a county vote to restrain their own legislative powers? The petition appears to have the same legal affect as a simple ordinance; and the last paragraph of the proposed petition contains language which essentially purports to prohibit the Board from reversing (via subsequent ordinance) the petition. Does this language have any legal effect? According to a source familiar with the petition, the petitioners investigated this same question and are satisfied that the petition meets legal muster. At the state level, it’s a well-settled legal question that ordinary legislative acts or initiative petitions cannot constrain the powers of the state Legislature other than by amending the state Constitution; but county lawmaking might well be different. IANAL and all of that.

4 Comments

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4 Responses to UPDATED: Anti urban renewal petition being circulated in Clackamas County

  1. Alexander Craghead
    December 24, 2010 at 11:26 am Link

    Let them pass it then. We’ve had a similar requirement in Tigard for nearly two decades, and our URD proposal in 2006 passed 60-some-odd percent in favor. If anything it should be veneficial as it will force URD proposers to be more realistic in scale and engage the public.

  2. EngineerScotty
    December 24, 2010 at 12:04 pm Link

    I have no objections whatsoever to requiring a vote of citizens in the UR district before implementing/expanding such a district. I’m even more than willing to include “affected neighbors”–i.e. if a proposed UR district potentially affects the tax base of North Clackamas School District, it makes sense that all North Clackamas residents ought to have a say, not just those within the UR area.

    But the proposal, IIRC, would require a vote of the entire county, which I think is a bad idea. Why voters in Molalla or Sandy or Wilsonville should have a say in how residents of Oak Grove manage their affairs, when the proposal doesn’t affect them, is beyond me. The proposal reeks of forum-shopping, of trying to make it difficult to implement UR districts by sandbagging the electorate with as many rural (conservative) voters as possible.

    And note–the “special districts” provision mentioned above should not extend to the county as a whole IMHO. Special districts are independent from the County, and have limited recourse to object to the redirection of their tax base when the County implements UR. Those functions which are part of county government (the sheriff, public works, etc.) have plenty of administrative channels to complain, OTOH–to me, there’s a difference between the county “taking” money from independent school or fire districts which it lacks budgetary responsibility for, and the same county reallocating funds among its constituent departments.

    Finally, I should note that voters already have the power to refer UR districts to the ballot. In 2009, the city of Stayton passed a law creating an UR district for the city’s downtown area, it was successfully referred to voters this past January, and was defeated at the ballot box this past May 52%-48%.

    And with regard to Oak Grove/Jennings Lodge in particular, whether they want UR (or MAX) is (and should be) entirely up to them. In my opinion, improving the pedestrian environment along McLoughlin would be beneficial, as would extending MLR southward–but concerns about gentrification and the often-negative affects of UR on renters are understandable.

  3. Max
    December 24, 2010 at 5:04 pm Link

    FYI –
    The website referenced was created by Cascade Policy Institute; but as usual their name isn’t anywhere to be seen.

  4. Michael, Portland Afoot
    December 29, 2010 at 11:48 am Link

    Thanks for this valuable reporting, Scotty (and Yuxing).

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