Art Bullock's challenges are a public service

Editor's note: The Tidings published several articles regarding land use lawsuits against the City of Ashland brought by Art Bullock, a resident and principal party in all the suits. The following is part one of a two-part opinion regarding Art Bullock's legal challenges to the City of Ashland.

Ashland activist Art Bullock is performing a major public service as a citizen watchdog to prevent excesses in street construction, and shifting developers' costs to Ashland homeowners.

It is disturbing that Tidings articles have uncritically reported misleading statements by city officials and a few other critics that Bullock's challenges are frivolous, costly to the city, and opposed by neighborhood majorities &

all untrue.

1. In all three LIDs Bullock won important points

In the last four years, Art Bullock has challenged three LIDs (Local Improvement Districts) implemented against majority opposition. Bullock, who is not an attorney, did this as a public service.

Most of Ashland's unpaved streets are in neighborhoods opposed to paving. The City Council reached consensus &

interpreted by the staff as a "direction" &

to use LIDs as a vehicle to pave all 10.42 miles of its remaining alleys and streets, assessing homeowners to pay the costs. LIDs are expensive (one homeowner was recently assessed $20,000), and, of course, profitable to engineers and contractors.

Of the three LIDs challenged, Bullock and residents experienced some success in two, and won important points in the third.

On May 16, 2006, when the public works department recommended the Plaza Street LID, Bullock presented petitions showing more than two-thirds of the affected residents in opposition. This prevented the LID from proceeding. Plaza LID was dead on arrival.

On June 4, 2007, Art Bullock and three property owners challenged the Schofield-Monte Vista LID in Jackson County Circuit Court. Judge Philip Arnold ordered a stay of proceedings, stopping all work on the Schofield LID. A stay is issued only if the challenge is likely to prevail. Judge Arnold's order did not specify reasons, though it's likely it was based on some of the 15 filed challenges (LID design was unsafe, council's findings about bike pedestrian safety and water quality were unsupported by the record, etc.). Schofield LID has not moved since.

In the Nevada Street LID &

a sidewalk development on an already-paved street &

Bullock argued that the neighborhood wanted a simple sidewalk, not an expensive "bumpout" project that reduced safety. He did not succeed in stopping the excessive LID, but he won two important points, getting an order that the city make specific findings of fact on conflict of interest allegations and on how the boundaries were set.

2. Bullock has only challenged LIDs with majority opposition

Neighborhood majorities opposed all these LIDs on safety and costs grounds. Under Ashland's LID law, every property gets one vote. Large lots get a vote (and lien assessment) for every potentially subdividable lot. In the Nevada Street LID, for example, the city acknowledged that only the 54 Nevada Street property owners would vote. After 30 of 54 voted against the LID, the city exercised its power to give 69 votes to a Medford developer, who thereby became a one-person majority.

3. Bullock's litigation has cost city less than $10,000

Even if Bullock's lawsuits cost the city $150,000 as the Tidings reported ("Art Bullock given 'last warning,'" Jan. 3, 2008), it would be worth it to compel city officials to obey the law. But the truth is that all of Bullock's litigation, as the city admitted as of Dec. 4, 2007, had cost the city less than $10,000.

4. Even Bullock's failed challenges have served public interest

Not all of Bullock's challenges have succeeded. Yet they have all been responsibly based, and serve to keep the process honest. In each case, Bullock filed (as required of non-lawyers) a certification of the reasonableness of the petition by eminent attorney and municipal law expert William Mansfield. —

Moreover, Bullock has won rulings &

over the City's opposition &

establishing important rights for homeowners: The right to challenge LIDs before construction begins, and the right of family trustees to do so without hiring attorneys.

We need whistleblowers and gadflies &

especially those who, like Art Bullock, carry on their work with no self-serving purpose other than to protect the public interest.

(Tomorrow: Two judges misled)

is a retired, award winning trial attorney, who practiced law in Washington, D.C. for 40 years, including as Legal Director of the ACLU of DC from 1966-1980. He is currently active in Ashland affairs and the Oregon ACLU.

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