Vancouver wants to keep C-Tran power

City says influence should be in line with share of riders

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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photoPassengers line up to board a C-Tran bus at the Vancouver mall in August 2005. About 81 percent of the agency's riders board in Vancouver; the city sees that fact as one reason that it should maintain or even expand its hold on one-third of the voting seats on the C-Tran board.

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A proposal to have the city of Vancouver give up one seat on the C-Tran Board of Directors does not sit well with the Vancouver City Council, which, as Mayor Tim Leavitt said Monday, has no intention to cede any of its authority.

The idea had been floated by Clark County Commissioner David Madore, who suggested the city and county each give up one seat to accommodate elected officials from smaller cities, which want greater representation.

Monday was the first time the city council discussed the proposal.

Even Councilors Bill Turlay and Jeanne Stewart, who agree with Madore in opposing the Columbia River Crossing, said Vancouver needs to stand its ground and not give up a seat.

Before councilors discussed the idea, they heard from Matt Ransom, the city's project development and policy manager. Ransom shared statistics about C-Tran, a public benefit transportation area formed in 1980.

In 2012, 60 percent of sales tax C-Tran collected was from within the city of Vancouver; 81 percent of ridership, defined by where a person boards a bus, was within the city limits.

Urban unincorporated Clark County, including Hazel Dell and Salmon Creek, accounted for 16 percent of ridership; the county's five other cities and one town each accounted for less than 1 percent.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said the numbers illustrate that, if anything should change about the makeup of the C-Tran board, Vancouver should get a fourth seat.

The numbers aren't surprising, he added, since the density and demand for transit are in the urban core.

The city holds three ofthe C-Tran board's nine voting seats. The county has three. The cities of Camas and Washougal share a seat, as do the cities of Ridgefield and La Center, and the city of Battle Ground with the town of Yacolt.

The board also includes a nonvoting labor representative.

The allocation of those nine votes, however, will be made by C-Tran's Composition Review Committee, a 10-member board with three county seats but one seat apiece for other jurisdictions. So Vancouver's vote, representing 81 percent of C-Tran riders, carries the same weight as Yacolt's, which represents 0.1 percent of riders.

Vancouver Councilors Larry Smith, Jack Burkman, Jeanne Harris and Bart Hansen echoed Leavitt's sentiments, adding that future population growth, per the state Growth Management Act, will be in the city of Vancouver. Hansen said the top under-utilized routes are in the smaller cities, raising the question as to why those cities should have a greater say in C-Tran policy.

The agreement among Leavitt, Smith, Burkman, Harris and Hansen led Turlay to wonder aloud if there was a "secret agenda" he wasn't aware of.

Stewart began her remarks, "As usual, we heard from all the cheerleaders." She wondered if councilors were trying to set the stage to break away from C-Tran and create a smaller service district to advocate for light rail. She asked what has changed since four years ago, when the composition of the C-Tran board was last reviewed.

"Four years ago, we all got along," Leavitt said. He said Madore's proposal seeks to undermine the city's authority over a public transit system used primarily by city residents.

Smith admitted he has concerns about the county commissioners, calling their performance the past six months "dismal."

Harris assured Turlay there was no "secret agenda," and Turlay later clarified that he had only felt left out. After hearing Stewart describe why she feels the city needs to stand its ground and keep its bloc veto power on the C-Tran board -- a power also available to county commissioners -- Turlay said he agreed.

The council will take up the issue again before the C-Tran Composition Review Committee meets July 9, so Hansen, who represents the city, will be clear on what arguments he needs to make for the status quo.

If the committee does recommend taking a seat away from Vancouver, Burkman asked if the city could use its bloc veto power on the C-Tran board to shoot down the recommendation and was told no.

Beyond Stewart's suggestion that the majority of the council might want to break away from C-Tran, that idea was not discussed.


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