C-TRAN Seeking to Bypass Voters on BRT and LRT

by lewwaters

C-TranTime and again voters have let it be known that extending Portland, Oregon’s financially troubled light rail into Clark County and rebuilding Fourth Plain Boulevard to accommodate a Bus Rapid Transit feed to that proposed light rail line is out of the question. We do not want it!

Time and again C-TRAN, the Columbia River Crossing project and certain leaders within the community have shown that they do not care what voters say, they are going to build it with voters and taxpayers paying for it, come hell or high water, no matter what.

Totally corrupting the democratic process is of no concern to those proponents. Like a small child wanting a piece of candy in a grocery store, their attitude is just ‘take what you want now,’ any way you can get it.

The recent defeat of Proposition 1, to fund operations and maintenance of the light rail extension we have been repeatedly denied a vote on was thought to be a blow to C-TRAN’s efforts at empire building. But we see again that our vote denying them another tax increase to fund their dream is little more than a bump in the road to them.

For some years now we in Washington State have had a law, RCW 81.104 known as the High Capacity Transportation Act on the books for the purpose to, among other things, “authorizing local jurisdictions to finance high capacity transportation systems through voter-approved tax options.” Keyword in that is “VOTER-APPROVED.”

We read in Chapter 030 of the act,

“Transit agencies participating in joint regional policy committees shall seek voter approval within their own service boundaries of a high capacity transportation system plan and financing plan. For transit agencies in counties adjoining state or international boundaries where the high capacity transportation system plan and financing plan propose a bistate or international high capacity transportation system, such voter approval shall be required from only those voters residing within the service area in the state of Washington.” (Emphasis added)

When given the chance to vote, Clark County voters have clearly stated that not only do we not want to pay higher taxes for O&M of light rail from Portland, we don’t want light rail at all!

Undeterred, proponents just continue plotting for more ways to move forward with the extension of light rail through other tax, license or fee increases, hopefully shutting voters out of the process all together.

Although not a seated County Commissioner just yet, Commissioner elect David Madore has been attending Commissioner Meetings and getting up to speed on matters of concern to Clark County. Aware that some proponents of light rail seem to feel the State Law on voter-approval does not apply to them, Mr. Madore asked County Administrator Bill Barron for a legal opinion concerning compliance with that law.

The Short Answer  from the Prosecuting Attorney is,

“Ch. 81.104 RCW does not require voter approval of all sources of funding that could be used for LRT. However, the transit agency is required to seek voter approval of the high capacity transportation system plan and financing plan.”

Representative Paul Harris, from the 17th Legislative District has also requested a legal opinion from the State Attorney General’s office.

Given that voters directly disapproved of the plan in the 1995 vote, the project should have died in my opinion. In spite of our disapproval in 1995 and subsequent denials of tax measures perceived to be funding light rail, including the recent defeat of a sales tax increase to fund Operations & Maintenance of light rail, the project should be dead!

Jeff Hamm 1But in the minds of C-TRAN and other proponents, it is not. Once again, not content with the voice of the people stifling their empire building, C-TRAN Director Jeff Hamm, who recently received a generous wage and car allowance increase from taxpayers sought the legal opinion of Seattle Attorney Thomas H. Wolfendale addressing the opinion expressed by County Prosecutor.

That voters have repeatedly said ‘NO’ and the County Prosecutor reinforced that is of no consequence as C-TRAN, Jeff Hamm intends to ignore it all, seeking a way to circumvent voters in order to confiscate more of our hard earned money to use in their empire building.

Looking back to the 2008 LPA Resolutions (LPA = Locally Preferred Alternative) on page 51 we read,

E. HCT FINANCING

1. Capital financing of the HCT component of the CRC project shall be structured in such a way that C-TRAN is not required to ask voters for capital construction funding.

2. Any means chosen to finance operations of the HCT component of the CRC project shall be submitted to impacted C-TRAN voters for approval.

Furthermore, I am of the understanding that CRC & C-TRAN are bound to the terms set out in the Record of Decision (ROD) shown in Appendix A, Project Mitigation Commitments where we read in the introduction,

“The project sponsors are prohibited from withdrawing or substantially changing any of the mitigation commitments identified in the ROD for the Project without FHWA’s and FTA’s written approval.”

As was explained to me by my source,

“C-Tran’s condition was that whatever means of funding they chose would be put to a vote of the people. That includes head tax, tolling or whatever. See C-Tran’s resolution – E. HCT Financing: 2. “Any means chosen to finance operations of the HCT component of the CRC project shall be submitted to impacted C-Tran voters for approval.”

“The ROD is predicated on C-Tran following through on commitments to fund HCT according to the provisions in their approval of the FEIS.”

“The FEIS included a provision that funding of the maintenance and operations of the HCT component would be subject to the approval of C-Tran voters.”

“CRC FEIS Chapter 4 Page 31 ‘Under the HCT Act, a transit agency must receive voter approval of a ‘high-capacity transportation system plan and financing plan.’ RCW 81.104.”

Voters have repeatedly said “NO” to tax increases for light rail. When given the chance we have said “NO” to light rail itself.

We have the legal opinion of the County Prosecutor’s Office that we must be allowed to approve or disapprove the plan and the financing of the plan by a vote.

We await the opinion of the State Attorney General on the State Law giving us the right to vote on whether or not we want the project.

Instead of honoring our vote, as we would expect in our Representative Republic and the democratic process, we see an appointed official, not beholding to the people seeking whatever means possible to just go around our vote and impose more taxes, fees or licensing increase he can to force us to not only accept that which we have repeatedly said we do not want, but to pay for it too.

It is my hope that the recent election of David Madore to the three member County Commission, all of whom sit on the C-TRAN Board and have block veto power along with the reelection of 17th Legislative District State Senator Don Benton that enabled the formation of a “Philosophical Majority” of conservative and moderate Senators in the legislators, we will see powers taken to themselves by megalomaniacal proponents of the CRC and C-TRAN stripped away and they be held to the laws of our state and those set forth in the formation of the CRC.

Our state constitution begins with the words,

“All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.”

It is long past time that our state government and those agencies they have established were held accountable to those words.

It is time that Tim Leavitt, Steve Stuart, Jeff Hamm, Jim Moeller and the rest of the CRC proponents realized that ‘no means no,’ not seek a way to bypass us and force us to do their bidding anyway.

More information on the background of the light rail controversy is covered in a 3-part video series at Couv.com. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

See also, Highlights of Tiffany Couch’s fourth report on her forensic audit of CRC finances

11 Comments to “C-TRAN Seeking to Bypass Voters on BRT and LRT”

  1. I wonder how much CTRAN paid for that legal opinion? The legal counsel concludes his opinion by essentially saying “I don’t really know – the Clark County Prosecutor’s guess is as good as mine. Better get an opinion from the State Attorney General”.

  2. Follow the money. There are some powerful people who are bound to make big bucks on the building of this boondoggle. That is where the pressure comes from to proceed with the project despite failure to get the voter’s approval. The videos describing this trolly car project on Couv.com are excellent and well worth the time to watch them.

  3. You nailed it Lew! Where is the Columbian on this? Go David Madore! At last we elect someone who doesn’t disappoint.

  4. If the Columbian wasn’t wholly in the pocket of the CRC, maybe they would fulfill their purpose and be looking out for the interests of the taxpayers in Southwest Washington, instead of helping to find ways to further strap us with higher taxes, fees or licensing rates to pay for the boondoggle.

  5. The AG might decline to give an opinion because they will have to defend WSDOT in litigation.

  6. At one time the CRC proponents would have been correct to insist the service area would end where the proposed light rail terminus, in each case, ended; however C-Tran willfully rendered itself a component entity in the overall CRC project by pledging the continuation of service where each proposed terminus would end. With CRC approval therefore, C-Tran became a sine qua non of the entire project and since C-Tran serves pretty much the whole of Clark County, the service area is now county-wide.
    By the way, the AG would not be compelled to defend the DOT in litigation.

  7. At the last c-tran board meeting last week the “lobbyist” on the intercom system stated that he is looking to create or revisit legislation the pertains to how we source revenue for transit districts. They are looking to change or create new language to squeeze us out of our right to vote at all!

  8. Ms. Crain, if you feel such a way, why not get local people up to write to their state legislators and get people on record of how they feel about the changing of this language PLUS get all of the state legislative transportation chairs on record about THESE changes to the act, Yes, unless you can get people on the physical record with written commentary or TVW commentary, you can share with people.
    You might also want to look up Mark Browns commentary on this subject as well as the state lobbysit for Clark County. You know, it takes two or more lobbyists to change interest in Olympia? ;)

  9. I might also add that the City of Vancouver HAS options already provided by the statute that Mr. Moeller got through and signed by the governor to the effect of the subdistrict (commonly know by the opponents of the CRC as the gerrymandered subdistrct?) for rail and bus transit. Do I believe you might be seeing this for the Bus Rapid District Operations and Maintenance financing? Where the City of Vancouver COULD create their own sub-district for the City of Vancouver and put the onus on the businesses of the city to help PAY for the transit system over and above costs they can find through savings throughout their system. (per what the Identity Clark County or other special interests REJECTED a few months back?)

    That is probably just ONE way to do it?

  10. I am working on the angle of public comment at hearings in Olympia this session.

  11. Carolyn – Just a point of clarification for you. If you do go up and comment, you might want to follow the house and senate transportation committees from TVW.org. As you might know, Jim Moeller serves on the house transportation committee, so he might have a thing or two to say when you come up to testify.

    Also remember that there are going to be a LOT of new faces up in Olympia that were duly elected in November that might not know the thirty year history of locals wanting a new Interstate bridge and the 9+ history of the Columbia River Crossing. So you might have to do some educating. And you probably will see Mark Brown and other local lobbyists ready to comment on various bills.

    I expect Jim Moeller or someone else that is being lined up right now, will introduce a bill that will make it easier for the cutting out of public comment OR some how play games to make it easier to make the light rail portion of the bridge easier to ramrod through. Hope you have fun up there, Carolyn. You might see me up there as well…

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