Light rail foes promise 'clash of the titans'

Group will bring petition fight to city council meeting Monday night; lawsuit possible

By Craig Brown, Columbian metro editor

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A group of city government and light rail critics say they’ll take their failed petition drive to the Vancouver City Council again tonight, and may sue if they fail to win a public vote on light rail.

Email circulated over the weekend from local critics including Debbie Peterson — who recently lost a 49th District Senate race to Democrat Sharon Wylie, the wife of City Attorney Ted Gathe — and state initiative king Tim Eyman, who has made a living challenging state taxes and policies. Recently, Eyman led a failed effort for Initiative 1125, which would have blocked tolling and light rail on Interstate 90 across Lake Washington.

The emails promise a “clash of the titans” at today’s 4 p.m. city council workshop and the 7 p.m. regular weekly meeting. The Columbia River Crossing project is the subject of the workshop, and a citizen communications period is on the evening meeting agenda.

Lawyer may be hired

Peterson’s email says that should the city council fail to reverse its position and accept the petition, the opponents will raise $20,000 and retain Everett attorney Stephen Pidgeon to pursue the case in the court system.

Pidgeon ran for attorney general last year as a Republican but was defeated in the primary. He is well-known in the “birther” movement for claiming Barack Obama is a British citizen who later changed his name in British Columbia. Pidgeon has also represented faith-based groups opposed to Washington’s same-sex marriage law.

Pidgeon has written a letter to the city council warning that should the council refuse to reverse itself, “you can expect litigation and a direct collateral challenge to the code governing initiatives in Vancouver. All of that time, effort and expense can easily be avoided with a simple majority vote of the city council (today).”

At issue is a petition drive that has lasted more than two years. Peterson and other opponents, including City Councilman Bill Turlay, have long sought a public vote on light rail, but been rebuffed by the city on the grounds that the project is sponsored by the states of Washington and Oregon. The petitioners have gathered thousands of signatures, but most were invalidated because they were signed by people who were not city residents, or who were not registered to vote.

In the latest development, the controversy was over duplicated signatures. By counting the first of a set of duplicated signatures, the opponents had enough to force a public vote on whether the city could expend public resources a light rail line to Vancouver as part of the larger CRC project. But citing a state law that said all duplicated signatures should be ruled invalid, county Auditor Greg Kimsey said the petition had fallen just short of the required number.

According to Kimsey’s count, the petitioners had 5,440 valid signatures. They needed 5,472.

Following Kimsey’s ruling, state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, asked the state Attorney General’s Office for an informal opinion on two issues: whether the repeat signers should count once, and whether signatures should count even if they didn’t match the number tallied by the petition’s circulator. Benton has also spoken out against the multibillion-dollar project and has introduced several anti-CRC bills in the Legislature this session.

Deputy Solicitor General Jeff Even will issue the opinion later.