Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 12th, 2010 at 11:21 am
"To insure that the City of Damascus is open as much as possible to the free flow of vehicular traffic and citizen travel within the city..."
-- Text from a ballot measure that would prohibit public mass transit in Damascus
A ballot measure to be voted on in March in the city of Damascus, Oregon -- a small town just 20 miles southeast of Portland -- seeks to prohibit public mass transit.
Measure 3-350 (full text below) would amend the Damascus city charter in two important ways: It would direct the City to not "grant monopoly status" to any agency that wants to operate "public mass transit" in the city, and it would directly prohibit public mass transit within the Damascus city limits.
According to the text of the measure, prohibiting transit is necessary, "To insure that the City of Damascus is open as much as possible to the free flow of vehicular traffic and citizen travel within the city..."
I called Damascus City Manager Jim Bennett to learn more. According to Bennett, this and three other measures on the ballot for a March 9th Special Election were brought forward by a group named ASK Damascus.
Bennett refers to ASK Damascus as an "anti-government, anti-tax kind of a group" and says this isn't the first time they've put measures onto the ballot. Two years ago, they were successful in passing a measure that requires a vote from the public before the City can increase any fees or new taxes.
As for Measure 3-350, Bennett says it could gain traction and possibly even pass:
"I definitely think it could get support. In a very small community like Damascus, since we're so spread out, it's really hard to gauge public support or opposition, but I'd say it stands a reasonable chance of getting adopted."
Damascus has just around 10,000 residents, of which there are about 7,000 registered voters. Bennett estimates that, depending on the turnout (which he says would be about 1,500 to 2,000 voters), "it wouldn't take more than 800 to 900 votes to pass something like this."
I asked Bennett what would happen if it passed. "Nothing would happen right away, it's a matter of what impact this could have down the road if TriMet and/or Metro wanted to move forward with any plans." If there was official movement toward a mass transit line in Damascus, Bennett said this measure could result in a legal challenge.
In September of 2008, TriMet spokesperson Peggy LaPoint told The Oregonian that Damascus was "on our radar" but that it wasn't yet dense enough to expand into. Since then, TriMet has opened their new Green Line light rail which goes to Clackamas Town Center, a mere six miles west of Damascus.
Local transit blogger Chris Smith says that Damascus was one of several cities that opted out of TriMet back in the 1990s because they didn't feel they were getting adequate value in exchange for paying TriMet's payroll tax (which is their primary means of operating revenue).
We'll keep you posted on the results of the election.
Full text of Measure 3-350
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AMENDS DAMASCUS CHARTER TO RESTRICT PUBLIC TRANSIT IN THE CITY
Should Charter be amended to prohibit monopoly status for public transit providers and to prohibit mass transit rail within Damascus.
This measure would amend Chapter IX of the Damascus Charter by adding new language to Chapter IX to read:
Public Travel and Transport
To insure that the City of Damascus is open as much as possible to the free flow of vehicular
traffic and citizen travel within the city,
a) the city of Damascus shall not grant monopoly status to any public or private provider of
transport or transit.
b) No public mass transit rail will be allowed within the city limits.