Metro councilors were undecided Thursday about how to react to legislation that could end a legal review of a 2011 urban growth boundary expansion in Washington County.
At a work session to review the council's legislative priorities for the upcoming short session of the Legislature, councilors went over a staff report that says "Legislation is expected in 2014 that would declare final the Metro Council's 2011 urban growth boundary expansion and moot all appeals of that decision."
That expansion added 1,985 acres of land near Hillsboro, Beaverton and Tigard to the boundary, land expected to be necessary to accommodate another 20 years of growth in the Portland region.
The expansion isn't final while it's reviewed in the Oregon Court of Appeals, which is notoriously backlogged. Land use observers are still awaiting a ruling on the legality of urban and rural reserves, a case that was argued before the court in January 2013.
Some speculate final legal resolution of the Metro Council's 2011 boundary expansion might not come until 2019.
Meanwhile, planning work is months away from completion on Reed's Crossing, the first development in the South Hillsboro area that was added to the boundary in 2011. Jeff Bachrach, an attorney for the project's developer, said they hope to break ground by the end of the year.
"Right now, the biggest impediment to reaching that goal is the UGB problem, and the uncertainty of the UGB process," Bachrach said in an interview Friday. "Job growth is continuing in western Washington County. There's a dire need for more housing and the growing imbalance between jobs and housing has lots of negative consequences."
But letting the Legislature fast-track the boundary expansion and disallow review by the courts could also have negative consequences, warned Councilor Bob Stacey.
"No matter how pressing the community needs, and the individual property owner needs and the needs of the region as a whole are for development certainty, I can't in good faith support something I think pierces and undermines the tripartite structure of our government," Stacey said in Thursday's work session.
Stacey agreed with a line on a draft statement of principles presented by Metro lobbyist Randy Tucker, saying Metro doesn't think the Legislature should "take actions that determine the outcome of specific local land use processes."
But Councilor Kathryn Harrington, whose district boundary is adjacent to South Hillsboro, said she was uncomfortable with that line, and the notion that Metro would be telling the Legislature not to exercise its authority.
"I have trust and faith in the system – that it'll be discussed and debated in committee," Harrington said after the work session Thursday. "For us to come in and say 'You should not do this,' to me it questions the legislative process. I don't want to undermine their responsibility and authority."
If the legislation validates the Metro Council's decision, it wouldn't undermine the council's decision anyway, she said.
Councilor Craig Dirksen, whose district includes the South Hillsboro area, said he felt that opposing legislation to lock on the 2011 expansion could imply the council's "approval, or at least our satisfaction, with the current process – and I don't think that's something we want to do."
But, he said, he's also generally not in favor of legislation directed at a specific instance.
"If we can't support the legislation, we should just say nothing about it," Dirksen said.
Less clear was the position of Metro Council President Tom Hughes, who offered a anecdote seeming to indicate his opposition to a legislative fix, but then later said he thought the council should remain neutral on the expected legislation.
In his anecdote, he said the social studies department he taught in at Aloha High School had permission from administrators to choose new hires for the department. That worked fine until one year, when the department couldn't decide between two good candidates, and left the decision to the principal.
"We never, ever ever again were asked to fill a position," Hughes said, seeming to indicate a concern that if Metro tells the Legislature that it can't make its system work, Metro might lose its role in the system.
He then wondered what would happen if the roles were reversed, and there was legislation proposed to unilaterally change the urban growth boundary a different way.
"The precedent is in going to the Legislature and saying 'We can't fix this and we need you to fix that,'" Hughes said.
But then Hughes seemed to walk back his opposition.
"I'm comfortable we'll be neutral and monitoring this and as we go through, we'll get a decision from the courts while the Legislature is in session," Hughes said.
One key element missing from Thursday's conversation was a copy of the expected legislation. Metro staffers hoped to have that by Tuesday, when the council is set to discuss the issue in another work session.
Note: An earlier version of this story has the incorrect date for oral arguments on urban and rural reserves at the Oregon Court of Appeals. The case was argued in January 2013. This version has been corrected.