Lame ducks in Damascus ram through $3 billion plan

by NW Spotlight

Apparently, lame-duck sessions are not exclusive to the U.S. Congress. Similar efforts to evade the will of the people happened in the relatively new city of Damascus, Oregon.  In mid-December, after the election of a new mayor, the Damascus city council rushed to pass a Metro-LCDC style comprehensive plan, even though the city planning commission had asked for more time to get additional input on the measure.

The lame-duck mayor and the council acted in spite of citizen testimony against the 372-page plan.  Virtually no one knew how the plan would affect their property.  It is clear that the council wanted to ram the plan through before the newly elected mayor, conservative Steve Spinnett, could take office this month.

To make matters worse, after the plan was adopted, city residents discovered that the plan requires over 3 billion dollars in new taxes and fees, which was not disclosed in the city’s public hearings.

“As part of its planning process, Metro analyzed the local infrastructure spending required or predicted for a number of development projects around the region.

These included the completed Brewery Block in downtown Portland that had a local infrastructure price tag of $40 million, the proposed North Bethany residential expansion in Washington County that is expected to cost more than $416 million, and the new city of Damascus in Clackamas County that is predicted to require more than $3 billion to reach its full capacity.”

Portland Tribune – Oct 2009

In fact, there was no fiscal impact statement accompanying the council’s decision.  At the final reading before the ordinance was passed, citizens were instructed by the city attorney that no mention could be made of the plan in any testimony. Fortunately for Damascus property owners, the activist group, Ask Damascus, of which Mayor Spinnett is a key member, filed a referendum petition a week after the hasty council vote.

In Damascus, in takes 200 signatures to refer a Damascus ordinance.  It only took Ask Damascus volunteers 20 days to gather 373 signatures (186% of the required amount) over the holidays.  The petition was turned in to Damascus City Hall on Tuesday morning (1/11/11).  If the signature verification goes as anticipated, there will be a special election in May to allow the people of Damascus to vote NO on the multi-billion dollar plan.

Editor’s note: David Jothen, one of the “Lame duck” Damascus City Councilors, has correctly pointed out that not all of the City Councilors voted yes – David Jothen voted NO, primarily due to a request from the Committee for Citizen Involvement (CCI) and several members of the Planning Commission that requested additional public testimony be allowed.