The ongoing legal battle between Metro and opponents of a proposed convention center hotel was ratcheted up Wednesday, as the regional government asked a judge to issue a summary judgment in its favor.
In a 36-page filing in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Metro asks Judge Eric Bloch to declare its finance plan for the hotel legal, and to bar any initiatives or referendums to try to upend the project.
The filing is part of a proceeding called validation, which governments use as a way to protect its decisions from legal challenges. Insurers of government bonds generally shy away from bonds facing legal scrutiny. In validation, a judge reviews potential legal challenges to a government's decision, and declares whether the decision is subject to further legal review.
Metro says a favorable ruling would protect the bond sales from further legal challenges from opponents. Two other legal challenges to the project's finance plan remain tied up in court.
Mortenson Development is proposing to build a $212 million hotel across the street from the Oregon Convention Center, which it would then sell to Hyatt. About $18 million of the project's budget would come from direct government grants and loans; another $60 million would come from tax-free bonds that would be repaid off room taxes on stays at the hotel.
Opponents have argued that a 1970s state law requires Metro to get voter approval before selling bonds for the hotel. Metro, however, says its newer, voter-approved charter supersedes state law, and that Metro's charter and code give it permission to issue revenue bonds without voter approval.
"Metro's governing law makes it unmistakably plain that it was fully within the Metro Council's authority to authorize the issue of revenue bonds in connection with the project without a public vote," the filing says.
Metro's lawyers cite case law and legislative history to argue that state law does not pre-empt Metro's own rules.
The regional government also backed up an earlier request of the court, asking for the court to bar any efforts to put the finance plan and development agreement to a public vote. Metro says such a vote would be illegal, because the agreements were administrative, and not legislative, in nature.
"Neither the referendum process nor the initiative process can be used to interfere with the details of how Metro has chosen to implement its established policies," the filing said.
Even if an initiative were filed, Metro said, it could violate clauses in the Oregon and U.S. constitutions that say laws that impair the obligation of contracts can be passed.
Representatives of the hotel's opponents, the Coalition for Fair Budget Priorities, did not immediately respond to an e-mail from Metro News.
A hearing date has not yet been set.