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SB 1573: Power from the People

See also: SB 1573 Document Repository

  Read SB 1573 (PDF) 

Introduction and background

SB 1573 is an assault by the Oregon Homebuilders Association (OHBA) and its allies to revoke citizens' right to vote on annexations in 30 Oregon communities with a combined population of close to 600,000. 

The citizens of these communities gave themselves the right, through the initiative process, to vote on discretionary annexation proposals in their towns.  Nearly all these “voter annexation” initiatives passed by wide margins and were written into local city charters.  Corvallis voters passed the first one in 1976.  Ever since then, development interests have been trying to void them.

All previous efforts during the past 40 years to revoke these local decisions have been rejected, for good reason, by the courts and the Legislature.  But with SB 1573, they have apparently succeeded... so far.

SB 1573 timeline

OHBA drafted the language for SB 1573 in 2014.  Sen. Chris Edwards agreed to sponsor it as SBs 497 & 498 in 2015.  Sen. Edwards, to his credit, apparently had second thoughts and did not allow a hearing on either bill.  At the 11th hour, the language was allowed to be “stuffed” into a bill we wrote, HB 2938-A, in the Senate Committee on Business & Transportation.  The -3 version ended up in Senate Rules at Sine Die.  It resurfaced in 2016 as SB 1573.

SB 1573 was introduced on 2/1/16, passed the Senate on 3/1/16 and the House on 3/3/16, and Governor Brown signed the bill on 3/15/16.  Since it was declared an "emergency", it took effect immediately.

What do its proponents claim?

Claim: Citizens regularly reject annexation proposals in these communities.
Fact: The vast majority of the proposals pass.  8 of them were on the ballot in our member cities in November 2014.  All passed handily.  On the rare occasions where an annexation is rejected, as was the case in Sherwood in November 2015, it was because the community simply could not afford it.

Claim: Voting on annexations violates state land use law.
Fact: As you can read here, voting on annexations is “not controlled by nor subject to state land use law.”

Claim: SB 1573 would apply in only a limited number of cases.
Fact: The annexations addressed by SB 1573 comprise the most common type that occur in Oregon.  Additionally, the bill would deny citizens in all Oregon communities the long-established right to this local control measure.

Claim: Voting on annexations leads to unaffordable housing.
Fact: There is no hard evidence to support this.  Portland and the coast have some of the state's highest housing costs.  Neither area requires voter approval of annnexations.  There are a number of factors that lead to soaring property prices.  We've seen no evidence that shows voting on annexations is among them.

Claim: This bill needs an “Emergency” clause
Fact: There is no “Emergency.”  Voting on annexations has been part of the Oregon landscape for 40 years!

Senator Beyer was a sponsor of SB 1573.  Read his statements about SB 1573 and OCVA's responses.

Why is SB 1573 a bad bill?

SB 1573 is extremely bad public policy:

  • It authorizes the state legislature to control and override city charters, contrary to the Oregon Constitution:
    "The people reserve to themselves the initiative power, which is to propose laws and amendments to the Constitution and enact or reject them at an election independently of the Legislative Assembly," (OR Const., Art IV Sec 1 (2) (a))
    "The Legislative Assembly shall not enact, amend or repeal any charter or act of incorporation for any municipality, city or town." (OR Const., Article XI Sec 2).
  • It revokes voting on most annexations, a right obtained by home rule, for some 600,000 Oregon citizens.
  • It sidelines discussion about the benefits and costs of growth.
  • It muzzles legitimate concerns about Oregon's rare plants and animals, productive farmland, historic locations, safe drinking water, unique natural landscapes, quality of life, carrying capacity.

Cities fight back

These cities are fighting back against SB 1573.  OCVA encourages residents of member cities to put pressure on their City Councils to defend their city charters.

Corvallis Jefferson Philomath Sherwood


On May 2nd, the Corvallis City Council passed a resolution declaring that SB 1573 conflicts with their City Charter, and that they intend to continue referring annexations to the voters despite its provisions.  They also directed City Staff to “seek assistance, resources, and support from other cities and organizations in order to defend the City Charter”.

On June 2nd, the Corvallis City Attorney filed a legal complaint against the State of Oregon, its Legislature, Governor, and Secretary of State, as well as several parties who have requested annexation under SB 1753.  The complaint alleges that SB 1573 is contrary to the rights granted by the Oregon Constitution, specifically, those of initiative and the right to amend their City Charters and enact other local laws.


Jefferson residents have formed Jeffersonians for Jefferson (J4J).  Among other actions, they are organizing a town hall meeting to discuss SB 1573, voters rights, and the upcoming annexation.  Please see their press release for more information.


On May 23rd, the Philomath City Council passed a resolution declaring that SB 1573 conflicts with their City Charter, and that they intend to continue referring annexations to the voters despite its provisions.  They also directed City Staff to “file appropriate legal action on behalf of the City” to defend its Charter and the rights of its citizens.


In the wake of SB 1573, Sherwood's citizens placed an initiative, Measure 34-244, on the ballot to provide greater citizen control over city government spending through the following provisions:

  1. Require voter approval for any NEW city-imposed residential tax, fee or charge, and
  2. Require voter approval for any city-imposed INCREASES of more than 2% annually on any residential city utility tax, charge or fee. This would apply to:
    • Water base charge
    • Water consumption charge
    • Sewer base charge
    • Sewer consumption charge
    • Storm water charge
    • Street maintenance fee
    • Street Light fee
    • Safe sidewalks (new sidewalks) fee
    • Sidewalk repair fee

The proposal did not prevent the school board from placing new bonds or fees on the ballot as stand-alone measures.


The greatest factor, by far, that gave birth to voter annexation city charter amendments is growth that citizens feel is beyond the “carrying capacity” of their communities; growth that doesn't pay for itself and which city taxpayers and ratepayers end up having to subsidize.  Sherwood residents appear to have found at least one other way to deal with the problem.  One of our Sherwood contacts opined that “This initiative paves the way for future citizen-led initiatives.”

Measure 34-244 is the first retaliatory blow against SB 1573. Kudos to Sherwood voters!

Press coverage of SB 1573

  • City residents can't vote on annexations anymore because of a new law
    (7/16/16) "The state has screwed cities over," said David Hatcher, the mayor of North Plains, a small Washington County town of barely 2,000. The city's size could double if the annexations happen, he said.  Read more…
  • Philomath eyes major annexation
    (7/1/16) While Philomath voters have defeated two previous attempts to annex the Chapel Drive property, in 2005 and 2006, the legal landscape has changed since then.  Last March, the Legislature passed a package of affordable housing legislation that overturned local ordinances requiring voter approval of annexation decisions.  Both Philomath and Corvallis, among other jurisdictions that had such provisions in their charters, have vowed to fight the new law, which has yet to be tested in court.  Read more…
  • Locals respond to annexation request for housing development
    (6/27/16) "When they tell you they want to do this for affordable housing, I applaud them as long as that's gold and on the other end, we get that," [Jeff] Lamb said. "But there's a lot more I think you need to demand from people that come before you on saying what they mean, mean what they say, go with planned unit developments and then they can't bait and switch."  Read more…
  • Editorial: Cities push back on annexation law
    (6/13/16) The city's lawsuit argues that Senate Bill 1573 is unconstitutional in part because it does not comply with state constitutional provisions limiting legislative authority. The lawsuit also argues that the bill is an unconstitutional limit on the right of local voters to enact and amend their own city charters.  Read more…
  • Editorial: A chance for voters to fight Legislature's emergency-clause abuse
    (6/13/16) [Eric] Winters is a chief petitioner of Initiative Petition 49, the so-called No More Fake Emergencies Act, which would make it tougher for lawmakers to stick emergency clauses on bills. … If you haven't signed the petition yet and have the opportunity, you should consider it.  Read more…
  • Corvallis files suit over annexations law
    (6/11/16) The city of Corvallis is going to court in an effort to preserve its system of voter-approved annexations.  Corvallis, which in 1976 became the first city in Oregon to require voter approval of land annexations, has filed a lawsuit aimed at overturning Senate Bill 1573, the state law signed by Gov. Kate Brown in March that limits such ballot requirements.  Read more…
  • OCVA guest editorial: Defend city charters to save local control, home rule
    (6/9/16) Once again, the long arm of the state Legislature responded to commands from the Oregon Home Builders Association, Oregonians in Action and their political allies.  They reached into every city charter in Oregon and made changes that only a lobbyist could love.  Read more…
  • Annexation request tabled until July
    (6/2/16) The Jefferson Planning Commission unanimously voted to table deliberations on a proposed 15-acre annexation to its July 7 meeting …  [Chair] Gilles quickly notified attendees that he didn't want to discuss the recently passed Senate Bill 1573 during the public hearing – which eliminated the ability of 35 Oregon cities, including Jefferson, to vote on annexations.  Read more…
  • Sherwood government prepares to co-exist with 2 percent cap measure
    (5/25/16) …measure backers point to construction of the Sherwood Center for the Arts, support for the construction of a new retail development anchored by Wal-Mart and repeated attempts – thwarted by voters – to annex about 100 acres south of the city for continued expansion.  Read more…
  • Residents oppose annexation law
    (3/22/16) Residents on Tuesday strongly encouraged the city of Corvallis to challenge a recently enacted law that limits voter-approved annexations.  Read more…

Updated January 2, 2018