Vancouver council denies a vote on light rail

Petition for a ballot initiative is rejected as legally flawed

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The Vancouver City Council declined Monday to place an anti-light rail initiative on the November ballot.

It was the first time the council had discussed the petition since it had been certified. In April, a Cowlitz County Superior Court judge struck down a state law that initially had rendered invalid hundreds of signatures on a petition to get the initiative on the ballot.

Vancouver City Attorney Ted Gathe reiterated to the council the legal analysis he gave in March, which was that the initiative falls outside the scope of the city's initiative powers and would not be legally defensible.

Assistant City Attorney Linda Marousek ran through about 15 ways the initiative violates the city charter, state law and legal precedent.

The proposed ordinance, sponsored by Larry Patella, Debbie Peterson, Ralph Peabody, Charlie Stemper, Steve Herman and Don Yingling, would prohibit any city resources from being used to help extend TriMet's MAX line from Portland to Vancouver as part of the Columbia River Crossing project.

Patella said Monday that he wrote the proposed initiative and has talked to lawyers. He said he knows it's legal. A few things might not be quite right, he said, but "the main theme of the petition is very simple. The people want an up-or-down vote on whether or not the city of Vancouver should be spending money on light rail."

Patella vowed that his group will move ahead with plans to sue the city.

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.

In to a March 12 memo to the council, Gathe wrote, "Overall, the initiative as drafted is ambiguous and susceptible to multiple interpretations. The ambiguity itself means that the initiative fails to comply with the basic requirement of the charter: 'The proposed ordinance shall be expressed in clear and unambiguous language and so that its entire effect is apparent on its face.'"

Also, Gathe wrote, the initiative proposes to limit "light-rail-related City Council legislative authority, city staff administrative work, City Council budgeting authority and past expenditure of city resources." All those limitations, he said, "are beyond the permissible scope of the local initiative power."


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