Carol McCracken (Post # 1, 549)
Friends of Congress Square Park won its lawsuit against the City of Portland according to a press release issued by the non-profit early this afternoon.
“Justice Wheeler’s decision soundly rejected all three of the city’s main arguments. First, the Court found that because the City Council has the sole authority to designate properties into the Land Bank, the Land Bank initiative was a legislative matter. Next, the Court ruled that the Land Bank initiative did not deal with “appropriations,” as that word is intended to apply onto matters that would require the City to spend or collect money. Finally, the Court found that because the City Code expressly authorizes initiatives to be retroactive to the date of their filing with the City Clerk, the Land Bank Initiative was in no way a People’s Veto.
“The court’s ruling sends a strong message to City Hall. They can’t reject a petition simply because they don’t agree with is substance,” said Frank Turek, President of the Friends and a plaintiff in the case. “We are excited to get going with our petition drive and let the people decide what’s best for the City.”
If passed, the Land Bank Initiative will add protections to 25 existing Land Bank properties, and create new protections for an additional 35 properties b dedicating them to the Land Bank. The initiative will also strengthen the City Code to require a super majority Council vote (at least 8 out of 9 votes) or a voter referendum to approve of the sale of these 60 properties. For details, see the Initiative Summary: http://tiny.cc/2afx3w.
In light of this victory, Friends of Congress Square Park will have volunteers circulating Land Bank Initiative petitions over the next several weeks, including at the polls on Election Day. The court ordered the City to issue the petitions by 3 p;m on Friday, November 1st.
Friends hope that the clear and firm ruling from Justice Wheeler will dissuade the City from filing an appeal. Yet even if the City appeals the court’s decision, the petitions ae being issued immediately so that signatures may be gathered. “The City should have the wisely to drop its opposition and let the voters get on with debating this issue,” said Dave LaCasse, the Friends’ Treasurer and another plaintiff in the lawsuit.
“I’m extremely proud of the Friends, for standing up for their rights. they could have backed down when he City first rejected he initiative. But they chose to take a stand and the court vindicated them today,” said Robert H. Levin, the Friends co-counsel along with Sarah A. McDaniel.
Said Pat O’Donnell, the Friends Vice President and another plaintiff in the suit: “I never would have stuck my neck out this far if I did not feel we had a very strong case. It looks like the City of Portland has never been called on the legality of denying citizens’ initiative petitions.”
If the Friends can gather 1,500 signautres of Portland registered voters, the Land Bank initiaive would be palced on the ballot, most likely in the June 2014 muniicipal election.