Tualatin among 13 cities suing oregon to halt new climate regulations

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Hedges Creek Preserve in Tualatin, largely bound by industrial and commercial development, provides habitat for deer, fox, river otter, beaver and great blue herons.
Hedges Creek Preserve in Tualatin, largely bound by industrial and commercial development, provides habitat for deer, fox, river otter, beaver and great blue herons. File Photo/Tualatin Life

Tualatin joined 12 other Oregon cities and one county in a lawsuit against the state seeking to stop or slow the implementation of new Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities rules that mandate quick and substantial changes to some areas of land use and transportation.

The suit, filed in the state Court of Appeals in late November and spearheaded by the city of Springfield, also includes Sherwood, Oregon City, Cornelius, Forest Grove, Troutdale, Wood Village, Hillsboro, Happy Valley, Grants Pass, Keizer, Medford, and Marion County.

Collectively, the local governments are asking that new regulations that prohibit minimum parking requirements for new businesses, limit parking in some areas, and mandate the installation of more electric vehicle charging stations, among other things, be paused or stopped to give jurisdictions more time to plan and budget for compliance.

Two quick deadlines were written into the mandate. The first, which has passed, gave cities until Dec. 31, 2022, to change minimum parking codes for new construction. 

Other changes, such as installing tree canopies or solar panels in parking lots over ¼ acre, creating parking maximums near downtown areas and transit centers, and installing electric vehicle charging stations in new private, commercial, mixed-use, and multifamily developments, are slated to go into effect by June 30.

In a split 4-3 vote during a September meeting, Tualatin City Council approved joining the coalition despite some members’ reservations about the possible financial and relational costs of pursuing litigation rather than lobbying on behalf of Tualatin’s needs.

While the body was united in support of the directive’s intent, agreeing it aligns with city climate goals, some members questioned the feasibility of successfully implementing it on the state’s timeline and they fractured in their opinions on how best to proceed.

“A city the size of ours doesn’t have the staff (to implement changes so quickly.) I agree with it,” said Mayor Frank Bubenik during a September meeting in which he voted for joining the lawsuit.

Councilors Cyndy Hillier, Maria Reyes, and Council President Nancy Grimes joined Bubenik in favor. Councilors Brigette Bridget Brooks, Christen Sacco, and Valerie Pratt dissented.

Legal costs will be divided among litigants based on the size and budget of each jurisdiction, according to City Attorney Chris Crean.

Brooks was weary of the undefined expense possibly growing. 

“I’m not interested in joining a lawsuit. I think the (costs) are going to get multiplied. I think the relationships are going to get strained,” she said, arguing against the action and reiterating that the changes align with city climate action goals.

Her motion to cap Tualatin’s financial contribution to the suit at $10,000 failed to garner support, dying without a second endorser.

Instead of investing in litigation, she advocated for allocating funds to work towards meeting the goals.

“I’m very interested in creative solutions,” she said. “I feel empowered around being a change maker on this as an elected official, to represent my constituents that care deeply about this climate crisis.”  

Pratt concurred, saying: “My decision is based on what I think is best for the climate,” before voting against legal action.

City Council members began considering the initiative during an Aug. 11 executive session before discussing it at length during their Aug. 22 business meeting and ultimately asking Crean to draft a resolution.

“In terms of what is gained by litigation, it does give local government some leverage against the department if we want those conversations to actually occur,” he advised.

The department adopted the rules last July following two years of planning triggered by Gov. Kate Brown’s 2020 executive order requiring state agencies to make policy changes that would reduce carbon emissions and curb climate pollution. 

According to the League of Oregon Cities, compliance would cost each jurisdiction $5 million to $8 million.

The suit contends the prescriptive and restrictive mandate is an overstep of the Department of Land Conservation and Development’s authority. 

Tigard, after electing to not join, became the first city to codify changes when its City Council voted unanimously in December to eliminate minimum parking requirements from city building codes.

Under the change, developers there can continue including off-street parking in future commercial project proposals, but they are no longer required to do so.