The headline in today's Salem Statesman Journal story said, "Pilot program loosens grip on land use plans." Subhead: "Door opened for southern Oregon counties."
Well, yeah. But the door isn't open very far.
As I noted in a blog post last March, Governor Kitzhaber's executive order and the legislature's appropriation of $550,000 to support regional land use planning looks to me a lot more like political expediency than a significant policy shift.
So if HB 4095 was unnecessary and didn't even get a hearing in the joint Ways and Means Committee, why was $550,000 in general fund taxpayer money allocated by that committee to enable three Oregon counties to do what already can be done under existing laws and regulations?
Apparently because lots of legislative "horse-trading" goes on at the end of a session. Republicans were stymied on some of their favorite bills and wanted to be able to point to some wins, no matter how small, in exchange for supporting Democratic legislative priorities.
Also, many people view Oregon's land use system as being too rigid.
So giving the three southern Oregon counties some money to support an attempt to come up with regional definitions of farm and forest land throws a bone to the barking dogs who would prefer to see land use planning go away completely.
From what I've been able to learn, whatever this pilot program in Jackson, Josephine, and Douglas counties allows to be done, the counties already were able to do. Meaning, regional definitions of farm and forest lands always have been possible under Oregon's statewide planning system.
So now the counties have some money to do what they could have done years ago. No big deal.
Reading Kitzhaber's executive order, albeit quickly, made me feel even more reassured that right-wing county commissioners in those southern Oregon counties won't be able to make an end run around the planning goals which protect irreplaceable farm and forest lands.
There are a lot of hoops that have to be jumped through before these counties can make any significant changes to how resource (farm and forest) lands are managed. They still must be protected from over-development, with very good reasons given for why farm or forest land should be converted to residential, commercial, industrial, or other uses.
My prediction remains: this pilot program is a bone that's been thrown to haters of Oregon's land use system so they can gnaw away on attempting to reconcile their extreme fantasies of paving over farm and forest lands with the realities of preserving our state's agricultural and timber resource bases.
Final note: if Josephine County wants to encourage economic development, the place to start isn't in relaxing land use laws. Try funding your law enforcement agencies first. Check this out:
Following the defeat of a local law enforcement tax levy, officials in Josephine County have begun to dismantle the sheriff's office and public safety operations this week.
Due to lack of funding, the sheriff's office has laid off 19 (of 25) road deputies, reduced its K-9 unit to one dog, and closed several divisions, including its major crimes unit and non-emergency calls department. The list gets worse from there.
How much worse? Yesterday, 39 inmates were released from the county jail. Local news crews were on the scene for the release.
Josephine County has ridiculously low property taxes, lowest in the state. Yet ultra-conservative voters decided they'd rather let government services such as public safety essentially disappear rather than pay any more taxes, even if county taxes still would be lower than average.
Great move, Josephine County.
Just picture a growing software firm in the Bay Area who is considering relocating to a less urban setting. Yet the staff still wants to live somewhere with good schools and public services.
"Josephine County: no sheriff's deputies or jail, but really low taxes! Just make sure you bring your own guns and concealed weapons permit."
Not a great economic development recruiting slogan.