Damascus facing three big measures in March

Damascus Facing important vote on 3/11/08

The City of Damascus has 3 important ballot measures coming up soon that will have a large impact on how the city grows and who governs. The City council is lined up with Metro and 1,000 Friends on one side and hundreds of citizens on the other.

These measures were written by Citizens of Damascus, not Metro. They made the ballot at the request of Citizens of Damascus with more than 1,000 signing each initiative. City residents went door to door to get these signatures to let you vote on these important issues.

The first measure is 3-281 requires the City To compensate a property owner if plans implemented by the city should devalue your property. With zoning and or overlays that are not seen elsewhere in the state the Damascus experiment is controversial to say the least. The big thing at stake seems to be the ability of people to use their own land. With a new tree cutting ordinance (ordinance #2007-16) that redefines clear cutting to as little as 5 trees no matter how large the property and encourages citizens to turn in violators and to even consider the wind change effects that cutting a tree on your property has on your neighbors property. The City Council thought this so important they declared this an immediate threat to the health safety and welfare of citizens which actually prevents the issue from coming to a vote.

The push for green overlays on much of the city has been accompanied with the claim that it is not devaluing any property and not even making a change to the use. This leads to a question, if no changes are being made why are millions being spent on implementing this plan? It should be noted that not one councilor even signed a petition for you to vote on any part of this matter.

The second measure is 3-282 which actually requires a vote of the people before creating new taxes or raising the many that have already been created without any voting. The City Council has passed taxes on your electric service, natural gas, Verizon phone service all with little or no public input. Much of these taxes have been written in such a way as to hide the real impact of these taxes. Such as the Verizon phone tax, more than half of this tax is hidden in your base rate while just over 40% shows on your bill as a City tax. Per City Council minutes of 1/9/06. The tax on your electric service is completely hidden and does not show as a tax at all! Per City Council minutes of 10/17/05. These taxes avoided public input and discussion by having both required readings and the vote for passage at just one City Council meeting. It took approximately 40 seconds to pass each tax.

The city now has a fine of $500 for each tree removed if they feel you have violated ordinance #2007-16. What is a removal? “The act of removing a tree by digging up or cutting down, or any act that causes a tree to die precipitously, including, but not limited to, damage inflicted on the root system by machinery; storage of materials or soil compaction; changing the ground level in the area of the trees root system; damage inflicted on the tree permitting infections or infestations; excessive pruning; or any other action that is deemed harmful to the tree.” This amounts to an investigation by the city into the wrongful death of any tree with owners held responsible.

Measure 3-282 returns control of taxation to the citizens and sanity to our city.

The third measure is 3-283 which prevents the city from using condemnation for taking private property and transferring it to a private developer. This seems simple and logical enough yet not one City Councilor signed for you to vote on this one either. Over 3,500 signatures from citizens but not one from a City Councilor. If this type of action is not being considered why not make it law that the City cannot take someone’s home for the sake of a City planned private development? This does not prevent the City from taking property for the public good or for a recognized health threat.

What was the City Councils response to the citizens using the initiative process to bring these issues to a vote?

On 10/1/07 The Damascus City Council unanimously passed ordinance #2007-19 which created a complicated set of time limits for getting signatures and forcing petitioners to certify who and when the first signer signed the initiative. Interestingly when putting forth this limitation on the initiative not once did they ask for input from Ask Damascus, the only group to ever try to put anything to a vote of the citizens and the only successful citizens group to use the initiative process in the city.

On 12/17/07 The Damascus City Council unanimously passed ordinance #2007-21. This ordinance actually declared your voters pamphlet an immediate threat to public health, welfare and safety.
To make your voters pamphlet safe the City now requires that the City provide you with an explanation any initiative or referendum by petition submitted to the voters. This only applies to citizen efforts and this explanation may not be contested or even seen by the citizens until published in your voters pamphlet. Furthur this explanation will be referred to as impartial. All state measures require an explanation but both sides appoint representatives and then a third party that is agreeable to BOTH sides mediates the process in order to be fair. No where else in the state can we find a city that requires explanations be written by only one interested party.

Damascus has over 150 pages of new codes, 21 new ordinances, many new taxes and fees yet to date the Damascus City Council has refused to let the citizens vote on a single issue of any kind.

Thanks, Dan Phegley (askdamascus.org)

This ordinance and all the others can be read on the city’s web site at http://www.ci.damascus.or.us/CityHallOrdinances.aspx