A city’s charter is like a constitution. It provides the fundamental principles that guide how the city is governed. On Nov. 5, City of Hood River voters will decide the fate of Measure 14-67, the Parks Protection Measure, a citizen initiative to change the city’s charter.
If passed, the Parks Protection Measure will amend the city charter to require voter approval before the life of a city park can be terminated. It encourages citizen involvement in important decisions about public parks.
This citizen-initiated measure is the embodiment of the democratic process. It enables voters to exercise a right constitutionally guaranteed in Oregon since 1902. That’s the year Oregon became the very first state to grant citizens the right to amend a constitution by initiative.
As one who served as a full-time judge in this judicial district for almost 23 years, I have experience with laws created by citizens through ballot measures. That experience leads me to conclude that ballot measures that address citizens’ rights and create avenues for citizen involvement are generally good.
Consider these examples of Oregon initiatives. Oregon is one of two states in which women gained the right to vote by citizen initiative. The 1999 Victims’ Rights initiative guaranteed the right of crime victims to be “notified of any critical phase in the (criminal) proceeding,” and the right “to be heard.” A 2014 initiative resulted in the constitutional grant of equal rights to all people.
One might wonder, can’t we just rely on our elected public officials? Do we really need voter input on the question of the sale and disposal of city parks?
Recent actions by the city have clearly shown us that voter approval is needed.
In a case brought by my wife, Susan, last year, the Oregon Court of Appeals told us that the city was woefully derelict in rezoning a million dollar city park for the purpose of selling it for one dollar to the Columbia Cascade House Corporation.
The rezoning was based upon city ordinances. In ruling against the city, the majority of the Court of Appeals panel said bluntly, “(The) city’s interpretation (of its own ordinances) ... is implausible.”
Let’s reflect on what that means. According to Webster’s, “plausible” means “apparently reasonable or worthy of belief.” In sum, the Court of Appeals found the city’s strained interpretation of its own law to be not reasonable and not worthy of belief.
I like and respect many people on the other side of this issue. However, the court’s ruling is a verdict on the judgment of our elected city officials. Such lapses in judgment can happen when the one starts with a conclusion — we should give away this park — and then seeks to justify the conclusion despite evidence to the contrary.
The city was trying to promote a low income subsidized housing development. That’s admirable. Having spent my legal career representing and working with people of moderate, low or no means, I truly get the idea of the need for housing. If this had all been handled far more appropriately, I may have supported gifting a park for housing.
But this has boiled down to a rule of law issue. We’ve got laws that govern city decision-making. The council didn’t come close to following its own laws.
Greater public oversight is an exercise of the democratic process.
My vote is to let the people decide what should happen to their land.
Paul Crowley served as a District and then Circuit Court Judge in the Seventh Judicial District from 1991 until 2014. Since then, he has served around the state as a Senior Judge and mediator. He is married to Susan Crowley, chief petitioner on Measure 14-67.