Anti-light rail petitioners fall short on signatures

Review costs city $31,000; collection effort continues




The Clark County Auditor’s office has declared more than two-thirds of signatures turned in by light rail opponents seeking a vote on the issue to be invalid.

A group of Vancouver residents submitted 9,039 signatures on a petition calling for a vote to create an ordinance that would prohibit any city resources from being used to extend TriMet’s MAX line from Portland to Vancouver.

After examining the signatures line by line, the auditor’s office found that 6,048 were invalid, leaving just 3,165 valid signatures, Vancouver City Attorney Ted Gathe said. The petitioners must submit 5,472 valid signatures to make the ballot.

Many of the signatures, Gathe said, were duplicates, not from registered voters, or were from voters who don’t live within the Vancouver city limits. Other signatures were given more than six months before they were submitted to the city, which also invalidates them, he said.

The review of the signatures will cost Vancouver about $31,000, Gathe said.

“The submittal of initiative petitions is not a cheap or inexpensive venture for the public agencies to have to evaluate,” Mayor Tim Leavitt said during a city council meeting Monday night. “Particularly in an instance like this when many of the signatures didn’t comply with the requirements.”

The petition was submitted by City Councilor Bill Turlay and Vancouver residents Larry Patella, Debbie Peterson, Steve Herman, Charlie Stemper, Ralph Peabody and Donald Yingling.

Organizers have 20 days from April 13 to submit additional signatures. If enough are valid, the anti-light rail ordinance would be placed on the ballot in the next municipal election, which may be as soon as November.

Peterson said Tuesday that her group is collecting new signatures and she hopes to have considerably more than 2,000 additional signatures by the deadline.

She said she expected there may have been issues with many of the signatures.

“People were pretty confused about where they lived — they knew they lived in Vancouver, but that doesn’t mean that you are part of the city of Vancouver,” Peterson said.

Because the petition would compel the city government to act, only city residents are eligible to sign it.

Signature gatherers have since started asking who people voted for in the 2009 mayoral election: If someone can’t say, or didn’t get to vote in that race, it’s clear they don’t live in the city, Peterson said.

The petition drive started out under the guidance of Patella, who handed over the responsibility last summer when it became clear opponents would not have enough signatures to put the ordinance on the November 2011 ballot.

Signature gatherers started as volunteers, but then the group began paying them, Peterson said. A Political Action Committee, Stopping Light Rail Stops Bridge Tolls, will pay signature gatherers $2 per signature, according to its website.

The PAC is funded by several donors, including anti-Columbia River Crossing activist David Madore, Peterson, and Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke. It’s largest backer is Portland resident Jim Karlock, who has given a $300 donation and a $6,500 loan.

Though their invalid effort will cost taxpayers more than $30,000, Peterson said that the cost of tolls to the local economy and workers commuting to Portland will be much greater. She noted a single daily commuter could expect to pay anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000 a year in tolls.

“That’s possibly no more than 10 years in tolls,” she said, adding, “I would say that (the petition is) pretty cost-effective.”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542;;