Keizer joins lawsuit against state agency

Keizer will be joining a lawsuit that includes eight other Oregon cities in response to a set of pollution reduction rules issued by a state agency earlier this year.

In a move that angered many local government leaders in July, Gov. Kate Brown authorized the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) to set and enforce what some are calling a “burdensome and complex” set of rules intended to limit greenhouse gas emissions throughout the state.

This prompted a group of Oregon cities to organize litigation against the agency in an attempt to get a judge to issue a “stay” on any further enforcement of the new rules, some of which are already in effect, until more dialogue has occurred.  Keizer City Council voted unanimously on Sept. 19 to join the lawsuit.

The 400-page Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities rulebook, which was formally introduced to the city’s Planning Commission on Aug. 10, includes some rules which go into effect in January, while others won’t kick in for months or even years. 

Among the many new rules are changes to requirements for parking spaces in new developments, new requirements surrounding the installation of conduits for electric vehicle charging stations, complex annual reports submitted to the DLCD and restrictions on how city trees are trimmed.

City Attorney Shannon Johnson described them as “onerous and burdensome,” and said they were so broad and impacted so many areas of city management, they should have been reviewed and debated by the state legislature instead of issued by executive order.

In a brief for city leaders, Johnson wrote that the rules could impact city planning as well as eligibility for state and federal funding for certain projects, since if a city government is unable to provide the annual greenhouse gas reduction report on time and according to the rules, the state can “unacknowledge” their Transportation System Plan (TSP).  He said this could jeopardize access to funds already approved under the city’s current TSP.

According to Johnson, these kinds of enforcement measures combined with the “heavy-handed” way the rules were deployed this year convinced city leaders in Springfield, Medford, Happy Valley, Cornelius, Hillsboro, Troutdale, Tualatin and Grants Pass to take the issue before a judge.

In a work session on Aug. 14, Planning Director Shane Witham followed up the Aug. 10 DLCD presentation with more details surrounding the changes the rules will make to the city’s parking restrictions and requirements for EV conduits. He said he chose to discuss the parking issue because it was going into effect in January, and it was one of the best examples of how the agency had over-complicated the rules.

“They are giving us basically three options, and frankly I’m not a fan of any of them,” Witham told the Planning Commission in August. “They are so complicated and would be so difficult to implement that I’m recommending we simply do away with parking restrictions in the city, completely.”

Witham said the rules are designed to limit the availability of parking, but most of the parking-related complaints the planning office receives involve not having enough parking available.  Additionally, he told the council every time the city has limited parking availability through some kind of ordinance, like it did as part of the River Cherry Overlay District (RCOD) project, complaints come flooding in about people not having enough parking for their proposed business plans.

The RCOD is a perfect example of why the city should join the lawsuit, according to Mayor Cathy Clark.

 “The work toward being climate friendly is something we’ve already done work on,” she said.  “And we absolutely are working to find solutions to make Keizer a more equitable community, looking at ways we can get more people into home ownership.”

In fact, said Clark, the new rules have elements which will prevent Keizer from meeting some of its climate and community equity goals. She said that she, along with many other local leaders, have been working diligently to get the DLCD to listen to these concerns, to no avail.

“There are a lot of smaller cities who may have been thinking they were going to be fine because they were under 10,000 people, but now they are reading the fine print and realizing some of these rules will impact their communities, so I expect the number of cities joining this will grow.”

Johnson warned the Planning Commission on Aug. 14 that the lawsuit may not succeed because in order to issue a legal “stay” to the new rules, the cities would have to convince a judge that immediate and tangible economic harm would result from their implementation.

He added that the cost of the lawsuit was being split between the joint litigants, and because several much larger cities with much larger budgets are involved already, he expects no more than 4% of the total cost will fall to Keizer.