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Cedar Mill News
Volume 5, Issue 11


November 2007

Powers that be
Urban Needs—Rural Government

Governing the urban unincorporated areas of Washington County
Part two: Annexation in Washington County

By Virginia Bruce and Bruce Bartlett

In the October 2007 issue, we explored the history of growth in the unincorporated areas of Washington County to understand how so much urban/suburban development occurred without incorporation of new cities or annexation into existing cities. This month we look at the history of annexation attempts from both Portland and Beaverton, and review the evolution of Oregon annexation law.

Up until the 1950s, the cities in Washington County were small and isolated. “You took the train to Hillsboro in those days,” recalls Dan Cooper, Metro Attorney, who began working for the City of Portland as an attorney in 1974.

Greater Portland?

Cooper explained that prior to the mid-1980s, the City of Portland’s Comprehensive Plan called for providing services to the area of Washington County north of Highway 26 all the way to 206th St. The plan was to eventually annex the area into Portland.

The 97229 zip code boundaries were drawn with the expectation that it would be part of Portland. All Portland zip codes start with 972

There were several consequences of this expectation. The Portland Water Bureau, which owns the Bull Run Watershed, had installed a gravity-fed water line along the Skyline Road ridge beginning in the 1950s, which was finally completed in 1983. The Bureau expected that the downhill areas would be annexed to the city. When the use of zip codes was established in 1963, the Postal Service took into account Portland’s plan and assigned Portland codes—97229 and 97225—to the northeastern sector of Washington County. However, Washington County residents were very reluctant to be annexed by Portland and a long stand-off ensued.

Who provides services?

From the late 1970s onward, the state required cities and counties to have a Comprehensive Plan in place to determine urban service boundaries based on who were the most logical service providers. This process was good for efficient policy but made for difficult politics. Water districts in particular were sensitive to the annexation of parts of their territory by cities because it reduced their tax base—they often led the fight against annexation.

There was a lot of wrangling over these service district boundary issues throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. The Portland Metropolitan Area Local Government Boundary Commission (surely one of the clumsiest acronyms of all time: PMALGBC) was a state agency created in 1969 to review and arbitrate annexations, incorporations, and other changes in local government boundaries. It also began to address the proliferation of small service districts.

When the first Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) was created in 1979, many property owners within the UGB were approached by residential developers wanting to take advantage of their location. Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties all allowed urban development inside the UGB but outside city boundaries as long as necessary services (water, sewer, schools etc.) could be provided. Often, developers created new service districts just for their developments. Some service districts cooperated with each other; fire districts had mutual aid agreements, police departments would respond out of their districts but would often defer action to the official law enforcement agency. (Beaverton Police did not want to arrest someone and have to drive them to the jail in Hillsboro.) But often the proliferation of small districts caused long-term jurisdictional and environmental problems.

Since there was no consistency among jurisdictions as to what services were required for residential developments, it was hard to manage the process across the metropolitan area. For example, Washington and Clackamas counties required sewers for new development, but Portland did not. The Boundary Commission attempted to ensure that boundaries were logical and that property was annexed to all applicable service districts if they wanted to be annexed to one. Actions of the Boundary Commission resulted in the formation of the Tualatin Valley Water District (TVWD) and the Unified Sewerage Agency (USA, today Clean Water Services - CWS) from a collection of small districts.

In 1993, the Boundary Commission was eliminated and Senate Bill 122 (ORS 195) was passed directing jurisdictions that provide urban services within an Urban Growth Boundary to create Urban Service Agreements (USAs) with boundary maps. One of the incentives for accomplishing this was that if a USA was in place, when an annexation was proposed that was consistent with the boundary map, it would not be necessary to attain a double majority during the annexation vote. Prior to this, annexation required a double majority vote —a majority of the registered landowners representing over 50% of the land to be annexed. After SB 122, most cities interpreted the law to require only a combined majority of the city residents and the residents in the area proposed to be annexed. The thinking was that if the city residents saw an advantage to the annexation, they would approve it. This was relatively easy when the city residents felt they were subsidizing or providing free services to residents of the unincorporated area to be annexed. The issue of ‘subsidizaton’ is raised often but has not yet been sufficiently analyzed by the county and cities to give a clear understanding of the flow of tax revenue and services.

Washington County adopted Ordinance No. 444 in 1993 which identified the Washington and Multnomah County border as the urban service boundary between the cities of Beaverton and Portland. Portland appealed the ordinance in 1993. Then in 1996 the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) took the case to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA), which said it was Metro’s job to reconcile the differences. Mike Burton was the Metro Executive and it was up to him to create a process to decide the boundaries.

Put the cats together in a room

Burton’s solution was to put all the affected parties together to find a fair and workable solution. Burton recalls, “I asked them to use all the public involvement processes they had to help make these decisions.” Washington County’s Citizen Participation Organizations (CPOs) got to weigh in. In a series of meetings, Portland and Beaverton officials presented the future annexation and service provision options to CPO 1 (Cedar Hills and Cedar Mill) and CPO 3 (West Slope/Raleigh Hills and Garden Home). After prolonged and heated discussion, the CPOs strongly expressed a desire to be annexed by Beaverton (becoming a “big fish in a small pond”), rather than Portland (“a small fish in a big pond”).

Representatives from the cities and county along with the leaders of Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue (TVF&R), law enforcement agencies, USA/CWS, Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District (THPRD) and other affected groups met for several days and eventually decided that the county line was the logical boundary between Beaverton and Portland. In 1996 the Metro Council endorsed the decision, pushing Portland’s city limits back to the county line with a couple of small exceptions where they had already annexed Forest Heights and the Metzger area.

In a presentation to the Washington County Board of Commissioners in November 1996, Burton explained that this was a service boundary—not annexation—question and added that annexations would not necessarily occur immediately. He said this whole process represented an effort to try to resolve a long-standing problem and pointed to the provisions of the agreement that call for joint planning to resolve further issues. Washington County moved forward in an effort to create Urban Service Agreements with Hillsboro, Tigard and Beaverton. Only the Beaverton USA remains unadopted today (with only an interim agreement in place).

Voter annexations

Oregon Communities for a Voice In Annexations (OCVA—ocva.org) was formed in reaction to the practice of single-majority annexation. They feel that a combined vote means that, “those most impacted by the proposed annexation effectively have little or no voice in the final decision.” They are in favor of “voter annexations” where those affected must be convinced of the benefits of joining a city.

They point out that the “subsidization” argument has resurfaced practically every time an annexation battle erupts in the state. A “Service Incidence Study” was conducted in Washington County in 2004 - 2005 by the county Auditor’s office to examine where county taxes are collected and where they are spent. The study found city residents receive services in proportion to the county taxes they pay. There was no specific evidence that urban unincorporated residents (those inside the UGB but outside city limits) were being subsidized by county taxes paid by those in nearby cities. The study did show that the rural county residents received more in services than they paid in taxes. The entire issue of how much, if any, city taxes paid by city residents subsidize non-city residents is unresolved and will require action on the part of each city to perform a similar analysis.

OCVA began working to modify ORS195 to give greater weight to those being annexed, and in June 2004 HB 2484 was passed to once again require the double majority.

Off the island

Island annexation was another legal way for a city to expand its borders. The logic of the city annexing a piece of land surrounded by a city was clear; services could be provided more efficiently.

However when Beaverton (and Eugene) started annexing streets and creating islands (cherry-stem annexation), it became controversial. A long cherry-stem on 185th was Beaverton’s plan for annexing the recent Bethany UGB expansion. Several patches of Cedar Mill south of Cornell were annexed this way in 2003.

Reaction to these annexations resulted in some of the recent legislative changes to annexation law, which now prevents an island annexation where more than 25% of the “island” is only bounded by roads.

SB 887, passed in 2005, gave Nike, Columbia Sportswear, ESI and Tektronix long-term immunity from annexation by Beaverton. It also prohibited Beaverton (but no other city) from forcibly annexing territory without approval of those targeted for annexation until January 2008. But that date is almost upon us now, so it will be interesting to see what’s in store in coming months.

“People are concerned about how growth patterns affect their lives and they want control,” says Dan Cooper. In the last decade a number of cities in Oregon (e.g. West Linn), have passed ordinances which modify the city charter to require that city councilors review and approve all annexations proposed by developers, not just the land use department. This gives residents of the city a more powerful voice in controlling growth through controlling annexation.

In the next installment of our series, we’ll survey the current situation. Some Washington County commissioners have been questioning the long-held belief that all urbanized areas must be incorporated or annexed into cities to provide services in the long term. The success of our service providers in meeting urban needs leads many to ask why they should pay generally higher city taxes to receive little perceived benefit. But is it enough just to have reliable water and public safety? Are there more intangible benefits, such as good planning, code enforcement and community identity, that only cities can provide? Should state law be changed to give counties a portion of state revenues currently available only to cities? These are some of the issues we’ll explore in upcoming articles. (Look for a timeline and more links in the web version of the News.)




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Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
12110 NW West Rd
Portland, OR 97229