'Light rail' measure is coming down the track
Sept. 18 election will determine if King City can participate in regional transportation planning
People across the metro area will be watching the results of King City's special election Sept. 18, when voters will approve or disapprove of city officials participating in public rail transportation issues.
The topic has been in the news for years in the Portland area as Metro, TriMet and their partners worked to successfully bring light rail from Portland through Milwaukie and unincorporated Clackamas County to Oak Grove, with construction now underway despite opponents' efforts to stop it.
Last spring, petitioners in King City, Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood started working to get measures on the September or November ballots to prevent officials in those cities from participating in public rail transportation issues unless approved by voters.
Billie Reynolds, the chief petitioner in King City, was the only one to successfully qualify the measure for a fall ballot, and now its fate is in the hands of voters.
While planning for the future, Metro and 12 project partners have been looking at many transportation options, including a light rail system from Barbur Boulevard in Portland along Pacific Highway to Sherwood.
If the King City measure, called "Voter Approval of City Resources for 'Public Rail Transit Systems,'" is approved, King City could not spend any funds on gathering or providing information about light rail and related transportation topics, including officials spending time in meetings or answering questions from the public at City Hall, without first holding a special election to get approval from voters.
With ballots being mailed soon, there will not be many more opportunities for people to get information about the measure before voting on it, and one of the last public discussions on the issue took place at the King City Democrats meeting Aug. 17 in the King City Clubhouse.
Following a presentation by former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts, who read excerpts from her new book, "Up the Capitol Steps: A Woman's March to the Governorship," King City Mayor Ron Shay was invited to talk about the ballot measure.
"I've heard people say, 'I don't want to be part of Portland,'" Shay said. "The purpose of the Southwest Corridor Commission is to get the best possible transit system out here.
Its purpose is to thin traffic and cut pollution, and this group (of petitioners) decided to use King City as an example, where it took fewer signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
"The commission's purpose is to look at everything and find the most objective plan that may not be enacted for 10 to 20 years down the road. This election is costing the city $3,000 to put it on the ballot in September, and it would have cost zero dollars to put it on the November ballot.
"We are urging a vote against (the measure). You are tying the hands of the City Council and city staff. No one on the city staff can discuss transportation issues if this passes. No one could even call to ask where a meeting is. It forbids the staff from giving out any information related to transportation."
Shay argued that the city staff and council should have access to the latest information related to local transportation.
"All City Council meetings are open to the public," he said. "You can come and discuss this or any other issue.
"We are against this measure. If it doesn't pass, things will be the same as they are now. We would appreciate it if you would turn this down so we can keep track of issues affecting King City and continue to get new information."
A woman in the audience said, "I am totally supportive of the City Council, and I don't support this measure. I don't think it's the right thing to do, but I can understand why people should have some say in how their tax money will be spent."
Shay replied, "This measure would muzzle the people who should be talking about it."
Councilor Suzan Turley, who represents King City on the Southwest Corridor Commission, said, "The efforts to stop light rail from coming through this area are premature. This study will go on for years, and it includes transportation, parks, affordable housing. Roads going off the corridor are impacted. We are going to be looking at this 20 or 30 years from now.
"It includes population growth, senior citizens, people with young children - are there enough crosswalks? We are trying to look at everything socially, economically and transportation-wise, to get our part of the corridor ready for the future while providing for less congestion and fewer traffic jams - but nothing has been decided. The first step - maybe - would be curb cuts along Barbur Boulevard for better access for wheelchairs and strollers."
Turley pointed out that while King City is dwarfed by its larger neighbors on many issues, "on the Southwest Corridor Commission, everyone has an equal say."
Someone in the audience asked Turley if she could keep going to the commission meetings if the measure passes, and she answered, "I don't know. We would have to spend money to get the city attorney's decision."
The woman replied, "This is a crapshoot. It's so undemocratic."
Turley said, "I really urge everyone to read the ballot measure. I can't tell anyone whether or not to vote yes or no. Don't just read the title - read the whole measure."
Following the meeting, Reynolds, the chief petitioner, sat down in the Clubhouse living room to talk about the measure.
"If this (Metro transportation) plan is being done so well and in a citizen-friendly way, why is there so much unhappiness in Milwaukie?" she asked. "People feel it's being rammed down their throats. That's what this is about. We're trying to keep what happened there from happening here.
"If a majority of the people vote for the measure, the City Council can form a committee to study and discuss this and ask the citizens what they would like to see rather than have Metro dictate like it has in other cities."
As an example, Reynolds cited WES, TriMet's Westside Express Service train system that runs between Beaverton and Wilsonville during morning and evening commute times.
"People have been counting how many passengers ride it - eight, 10, 20," she said. "There is no way it will pay its own operating costs.
I don't want to pay for another form of transportation with no way to pay for it. We don't want systems that have to be subsidized.
"When you look online for information, you see all these maps showing where the rail lines will run and where the stations will be - that's all we citizens have to go by - what we see.
"I have no problem with the King City City Council.
No one is angry and upset with the City Council, but we don't want to have something planned without the opportunity to participate in the discussions and decisions about it. I want to see King City keep its quality of life - it's possible to retain it."