Lawsuit alleges urban, rural reserves violate U.S. Constitution
A federal lawsuit, filed last week by Multnomah County property owners, alleges that the county, Metro and the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission violated the U.S. Constitution in designating urban and rural reserves.
In the suit, Katherine and David Blumenkron and Springville Investors, LLC, say that the county, region and state "did not apply the land use statutes… in the manner intended by the Oregon State Legislature" when designating urban reserves.
Urban reserves: Land that will be targeted for urban growth boundary expansions through 2060.
Rural reserves: Land that can't be used for urban growth boundary expansions through 2060.
Core 4: The negotiating team from Metro, Clackamas County, Multnomah County and Washington County. They represented their elected bodies in trying to reach an agreement that would get a majority vote.
The L: Also known as Area 9B, this farmland between Forest Park and Bethany was selected as a rural reserve.
The landowners, who have farm property in an area west of Forest Park known as The L (for its shape on a map) or Area 9B (as it was termed during the reserves negotiations), are asking the federal court to halt the implementation of reserves in Multnomah County; they also want the court to place their land in an urban reserve.
The suit says the Core 4 negotiating team that created reserves violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by imposing "artificial and arbitrary limitations on the process." Only one member of the Core 4, Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, is named as a defendant.
"The manner in which Defendants made their decisions regarding the designation of Plaintiffs' land in the 'L' in Area 9B as rural reserve, despite the fact that it qualified as urban reserve was unfair, inequitable and unrelated to any legitimate state interest," the suit says.
Kendra Hodson, an attorney at the plaintiffs' firm, declined to comment on the litigation. Metro also had no comment.
"Neither Metro, nor the individual councilors named in the suit, have been served, and so we don't have any comment," said Andy Shaw, chief of staff to Metro Council President Tom Hughes.
In the suit, the property owners allege that Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, and Metro, couldn't work together to fairly choose how much land to set aside as urban reserves, nor where to put those reserves; that, the plaintiffs say, violates the core of Oregon's land use system. They allege that Multnomah County predetermined that it did not want any urban reserves within its borders; the only urban reserves designated in Multnomah County were 857 acres east of Gresham.
"Multnomah County and Metro found that Plaintiffs' land was suitable for urban reserve designation," the suit says. "However, as a result of the preclusive effort of Multnomah County's actions, a rural reserve designation was applied to the Plaintiffs' land, a designation that prohibits an urban reserve designation or inclusion in the urban growth boundary for fifty years."
The suit also says the public hearings on the formalized reserves proposals were pointless, because no changes to the reserves plan were made after the mid-2010 hearings.
Greg Malinowski, a Washington County Commissioner who joined that board after the reserves decisions were finalized, farms land in the "L" near the plaintiffs' Multnomah County property. He said it was important to preserve the area in rural reserves because of its habitat value. Elk, deer, and bobcats live in the "L," Malinowski said.
"It gives a sense of place – if you're in Beaverton, you can see the hills rising up and see that it's a natural area, kind of like when you're in St. Johns and you look across the river and you see a big green hillside."
Malinowski said that close-in agricultural land is vital to smaller growers, who sell at farmers markets in Portland.
"If they had to drive another half hour further out, that would add an hour a day to their commute and would add an hour to hauling things into Portland to sell," Malinowski said.