Two petitioners, including a local citizens group and a state agency, have appealed a December 5, 2016 Salem city council vote to allow an expansion of the city’s Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) to support a new, third Bridge across the Willamette River. The notices of appeals were made to the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).

A third group is protesting the same city council vote with a petition that seeks to get the matter placed on a public ballot.

On December 5, Salem city council voted 5 – 2 to approve Ordinance 14-16. This ordinance modified the city’s UGB, amended the city’s transportation system plan and comprehensive plan and made exceptions to a Statewide Planning Goal involving the Willamette River Greenway.

The 5 – 2 council vote came after years of discussion and dispute, and after a single public hearing on October 12, 2016. Hundreds of pages of studies and reports were made available only days before the hearing.

The state agency appealing the council decision is the state Department of Land Conservation and Development. In its draft comments for the October 12 hearing, DLCD stated, among other things, that not enough analysis had been done to study reasonable alternatives that would meet transportation needs without expanding the UGB. The agency said that the proposal the council ultimately approved missed “some important findings” and included “numerous incomplete cross-references…  which makes it difficult to find the information, or determine whether the information has been provided at all.”

DLCD also recommended the council continue the hearing to a later date or dates, “so that it can review state findings that will help it determine if this proposal is in compliance with state statutes and the statewide planning goals.”

The second appeal was made by a citizen’s group’s appeal represented by Salem attorney John Gear, and includes 8 co-petitioners. Its spokesman, Bob Cortright, is an economist by training, a retired transportation and land use analyst, and a resident of West Salem. Cortright served on the Salem River Crossing Task Force, a group that studied possible ways to address Salem transportation needs involving the crossing, for 6 years.

Cortright says there are several reasons that every citizen, even those not preoccupied with transportation, should be concerned.

At $425 million, the proposed expansion and proposed third Bridge are “hugely expensive, more than the region is expected to have for road expansion for 20 years,” he says, “and would do little to reduce traffic congestion. We have much better and more affordable options, starting with fixing the existing bridges so that they withstand a Cascadia quake, expanding transit service and better managing traffic and demand, for example by staggering work hours for state employees.”

Cortright believes that the fact that two appeals have been filed “suggests that there are serious problems with the city’s decision. That shouldn’t be a surprise.  Despite the fact that the city has spent years talking about this proposal, the city made its decision at warp speed.”

He points to the single public hearing held on October 12, and the volume of studies and information made only days earlier. “As a result there was very little opportunity for public input and no real deliberation by elected officials,” Cortright says. “The fact that the city rushed the process suggests a decision was already made and that properly addressing state laws and rules was unlikely.” 

The two appeals have been consolidated into one, says Kristi Seifried, Executive Support for LUBA, and the time has passed for more appeals to be filed. The appeal documents themselves don’t state the arguments of the parties. Details of the positions of both the DLCD and the citizens’ group will be presented in upcoming months. LUBA will likely decide the case in 4 – 6 months.

Salem’s Greg Wasson is taking another approach to the council vote. Wasson, Executive Secretary of the Committee for Petition Rights (CPR), says the Oregon Constitution “guarantees Salem voters 90 days to refer ordinances to the ballot and — at a subsequent election — exercise the ultimate veto.” CPR wants to put the matter on the ballot. It is creating a petition to acquire the signatures needed to put the council’s decision up for a vote at the next available election.