Governments involved in a complex, nine-year effort that could expand city boundaries by about 30 percent plan to amass a $100,000 legal defense fund to fend off potential appeals.

Governments involved in a complex, nine-year effort that could expand city boundaries by about 30 percent plan to amass a $100,000 legal defense fund to fend off potential appeals.

At the urging of Jackson County, cities are trying to raise money to cover two years of possible challenges as the Regional Problem Solving process nears its conclusion. The money would come partially from local cities. Landowners who would benefit if cities are able to expand boundaries may also be asked to contribute on a voluntary basis.

Michael Cavallaro, executive director of the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, said he's trying to be optimistic about the possibility of appeals, but is also realistic about the complexities of the regional process. It's a process that already has caused friction among cities and organizations concerned about more growth in the valley.

After nine years, the RPS effort has generated hundreds of meetings and has cost about $800,000, said Cavallaro.

"We're almost certain to disappoint someone somewhere along the line," he said.

Cities involved are Ashland, Central Point, Eagle Point, Medford, Talent and Phoenix. Jacksonville had disagreements on the process and has backed out.

In about a month, the jurisdictions involved are expected to sign a participant's agreement, which will pave the way to change the county's comprehensive plan so that it conforms with the findings of the regional process. Barring an appeal, the regional process would be up for state approval next year.

Kelly Madding, county development services director, said changes in the plan will ultimately benefit the cities in the area, so the cost of any appeal should be spread out.

"The county recognized it is a regional plan and so do the cities," she said. "The county is desiring a commitment from the cities should there be litigation."

Brent Thompson, president of Friends of Jackson County, said it doesn't surprise him that a legal defense fund is being created.

"They are probably dead sure they are going to get appealed because they want too much land," he said. "It's a big developer-driven process."

He said cities should be looking at higher densities within their current boundaries rather than looking to spread out.

"You can't come up with the justification for what they want," he said.

Thompson said he's had conversations with state legislators who are interested in encouraging more density in communities as a way to lessen Oregon's carbon footprint. If legislation is created that encourages cities to achieve higher densities, Thompson said it would undermine the regional process.

He also took issue with asking landowners who will benefit from the expansion of cities to help foot the bill for the legal defense fund.

"The landowners should be out of it until the process is over," he said.

Cavallaro of RVCOG said it is not unusual to ask landowners to contribute voluntarily to a legal defense fund, particularly when the expansion of urban growth boundaries would benefit them.

"It's a private and public partnership," he said.

He disputed the idea that cities are asking for too much land.

"What's the math to back that up?" he said.

Cities currently have a total of 30,000 acres and want to add 8,800 into urban reserves, which he said is 1,000 fewer acres than local land-use planners were anticipating.

With less than 30 percent added to the current acreage, Cavallaro said, cities will have a difficult time managing a doubling of their populations over the next 50 years, which was a principal charge of the RPS process.

Cavallaro said he hasn't heard any viable suggestions about how the cities can handle that much growth without adding acres.

"What's the plan to (deal with) double the population?" he asked. "Give us some facts."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.