Court date set for light-rail lawsuit arguments

Opponents sued Vancouver for not placing initiative on ballot

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

Updated: June 12, 2013, 7:10 PM

 

Opponents of light rail who sued the city of Vancouver for refusing to place an anti-light rail measure on the ballot now have a court date set for oral arguments.

The case will be heard by Superior Court Judge John Nichols at 1:30 p.m. July 30 at the Clark County Courthouse, 1200 Franklin St.

State initiative king Tim Eyman, who has been advising the local group, hailed the court date in an email as a “HUGE VICTORY,” because the deadline for the November ballot is Aug. 6.

Attorney for the plaintiffs, Stephen Pidgeon of Everett, wants Nichols to rule that the proposed initiative “is within the scope of the initiative power as defined and declared in the Vancouver City Charter,” and that the proposed language is “clear and ­unambiguous.”

The initiative would create a city ordinance that would prohibit any city resources from being used to extend TriMet’s MAX line from Portland to Vancouver as part of the Columbia River Crossing.

In the city’s response to the lawsuit, City Attorney Ted Gathe and Assistant City Attorney Linda Marousek denied the plaintiff’s allegations, including that the city council “ignored” the city charter by rejecting the measure. They asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, declare the proposed initiative null and void, and sign an injunction to prevent plaintiffs from taking additional steps to try and get the measure on the ballot.

City attorneys also argue Pidgeon made procedural errors, such as failing to name the Vancouver City Council or members of the council as defendants.

Marousek said Wednesday she discussed the July 30 date with Pidgeon and it was “mutually agreeable.”

In an email to Eyman, Pidgeon wrote that he was thrilled with the court date.

“Having the hearing on July 30th gives the judge plenty of time to issue his decision, and will be timely for the City to consider it without a first or second reading,” Pidgeon wrote. “The city has tried to push this out as far as possible, so getting that particular court date is a huge victory.”

The city council has a regular meeting scheduled for Aug. 5, the day before the deadline to get measures on the November ballot.

However, it is not known when Nichols will issue his ruling, and the losing side will have the right to appeal.

The lawsuit was filed May 23.

On May 6, the Vancouver City Council declined to place the initiative on the November ballot on advice of city attorneys, who said there were several problems with the proposed ordinance, such as going beyond the scope of initiative power.

The council vote was 5-2, with Mayor Tim Leavitt and Councilors Jack Burkman, Bart Hansen, Jeanne Harris and Larry Smith in the majority. Councilors Bill Turlay and Jeanne Stewart expressed frustration with the fact that voters couldn’t be heard.

The plaintiffs are Larry Patella, Debbie Peterson, Ralph Peabody, Charlie Stemper, Steve Herman and Don Yingling. Patella has been soliciting donations in an effort to raise $20,000 for Pidgeon’s fees. On Wednesday, he sent an email to his supporters with another plea for money.

“If you have never donated before or have previously donated to this historical effort that will return to the people their right to question and challenge in court, How, Why, When, and Where their hard earned tax dollars are spent, now is the time,” Patella wrote.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.