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Jeff Lamb talks with Corvallis City Council members on the topic of voter-approved annexations during a council work session in 2016.

Godofredo Vasquez, Gazette-Times

Two recent news stories in the Gazette-Times say that the Corvallis City Council has scheduled a public hearing to consider withdrawing from its court challenge to Senate Bill 1573, which outlaws the public’s right to decide how their community grows and who pays for that growth.

Corvallis’ charter, changed by Corvallis citizens 40 years ago, requires that all annexations (except for mandated health hazards) be approved by the voters. At one time, 34 cities had similar charter provisions modeled after the Corvallis citizens' charter amendment.

The Oregon Constitution states that the Legislature can pass no law that changes a city charter and that city charters are the sole domain of the registered voters of the local jurisdiction. Oregonians call this “home rule and local control." The League of Oregon Cities last year, in one of its monthly publications, ran a cover story on “Home Rule: Why it Matters.” Simply put, people in our state want to manage their own community affairs and not have that right taken away from them by the Legislature.

For 40 years, our constitutional right to use our city charters to influence community development has survived repeated challenges in the Oregon Legislature and courts. Communities like Corvallis avoid ill-conceived annexations by voting on them. But SB 1573 gave the Legislature the authority to amend our city charters for any reason, but especially to deny voting on annexations if that right is in a city charter or a city ordinance. SB 1573 effectively means the Legislature can pre-empt, amend, repeal or revoke any city charter or provision for any reason.

Oregon Statewide Planning Goal 1 leaves no doubt about “citizen involvement” and for communities to “develop a citizen involvement program that insures the opportunity for citizens to be involved in all phases of the planning process.” But SB 1573 requires cities to bypass Goal 1 by authorizing only city councils to vote. If councils approve an annexation, SB 1573 requires them to bypass citizen input and immediately adopt annexations into city comprehensive plans.

Until it is settled in court, the real estate and development measure SB 1573 has trumped a century of Oregon constitutional authority granting citizens local control of city charters.

The cities of Corvallis and Philomath are currently suing to defend their city charters, so it is disturbing that Corvallis has scheduled a public hearing Feb. 5 to consider withdrawing from the court challenge.

All parties involved in this historic court challenge to legislative overreach know that it will be decided by the Oregon Supreme Court, not lower courts. Nothing new here. This case has far-reaching statewide implications as to whether Salem will determine future growth issues against the will of the people.

The only question before Corvallis and all Oregon cities is whether they believe their charters are worth defending.

 

Jeff Lamb, a longtime Philomath business owner and community activist, is the founding president of Oregon Communities for a Voice in Annexations, which promotes and protects citizens’ rights in land-use issues. Richard Reid of Salem is co-chair of Oregon Communities for a Voice in Annexations.

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