5/30/2013Washington: Initiative To Stop Light Rail Heads To Court
Lawsuit filed to force Vancouver, Washington officials to allow referendum on light rail project.
Residents of Vancouver, Washington want a chance to stop a billion-dollar streetcar project that will raid gas tax receipts and take valuable road space away from motorists. The county auditor certified that a sufficient number of the city's voters signed a petition demanding the vote, but the city council earlier this month declined to comply with its legal duty to place the measure on the November 5 ballot. Last week, proponents of the referendum asked a Clark County judge to intervene on behalf of residents.
"The city of Vancouver is one of two cities to be impacted by the Columbia River Crossing, and the vote on the initiative as proposed by the people of the city of Vancouver is their opportunity to express their views on the cultural and social impacts to their city," anti-trolley attorney Stephen Pidgeon wrote. "They have chosen a constitutionally guaranteed method that gives everyone in the community the chance to weigh in on its impact."
City officials already know they lack public support. In November, 56 percent of Clark County voters turned down a ballot measure asking for a 0.1 percent increase in the sales tax to fund the rail project that would be run jointly by the Oregon and Washington State Departments of Transportation. The initiative would only stop Vancouver from spending residents' money on promoting the project.
"The city of Vancouver, the Vancouver city council, Vancouver city manager, city employees, or city agents shall take no action, or enacting any legislation that would allow the use of city revenues, including revenues from the sale of bonds, from any source to promote, establish construct, subsidize, guarantee, warrantee, or underwrite any cost or other financial obligations for the extension of light rail across the Columbia River into the city of Vancouver, Washington," the initiative states.
Under the city charter, initiatives are allowed on any topic so long as the proposal does not appropriate money or authorize the levying of taxes, and the light rail ban does neither. The city attorney insisted that the measure was invalid and recommended the city refuse to place it on the ballot, claiming the measure is unclear.
"The city may not like the policy, but they cannot credibly argue it is unclear," Pidgeon wrote. "Quite the contrary, the policies' clarity is exactly the reason the city opposes the initiative."
Pidgeon added that making such determinations is the job of a court, not the city council.