Today Laurel asked the Marion County Commissioners a good question: “Should the right to profit from property take precedence over the right to sustain a decent life on the property one owns?” In other words, when a person’s desire for profit conflicts with the right of others to enjoy their properties, which right should take precedence?
Laurel was moved to use the public comment period to speak out on Measure 37 because she attended a meeting last week on Marion County’s implementation of this new law. She felt that the Commissioners didn’t have a good grasp of how Measure 37 threatens the health of Oregon’s environment and social fabric.
Neighbor is going to be pitted against neighbor, since land use rules now can be applied inequitably. If one person bought property in year X, the rules that apply to his or her land may be quite different from those that apply to a neighbor who bought property in year Y.
At the time of purchase the second person reasonably expected that the regulations which he or she has to conform to would apply to everybody in the neighborhood. But Measure 37 created favored classes of landowners. If you bought your property before a land use rule went into effect then you can be exempted from the rule, while those living next to you who bought their property later have to put up with whatever you decide to do with your newfound freedom.
Like, put a factory in a quiet residential neighborhood. Or build a subdivision in the middle of prime farming land. After last week’s hearing Laurel asked one of the county commissioners, Patti Milne, why she was so firmly on the side of people desiring to profit from a Measure 37 exemption, and seemed to be disregarding the effects of such exemptions on other people harmed by these exemptions.
Commissioner Milne said, “If Measure 37 claimants saw that their claims would hurt others, they would probably not go ahead with the claims.” Laurel was amazed and asked if Milne was serious. “Yes, I am optimistic about people.” When Laurel said that this was unrealistic, Milne said that Laurel had a negative view of people. Laurel replied that her thirty years as a social worker and psychotherapist gives her a pretty realistic view of people, and makes her confident in asserting that some people can’t be trusted to do the right thing.
It’s disturbing that an elected official would have such a misunderstanding of human nature. Patti Milne has such a rosy outlook, one might think she believes that society doesn’t need to have rules to curb human greed, ignorance, and selfishness. Does Milne believe that police should be abolished and the armed forces disbanded? Probably not. I bet she would say that we have to protect ourselves from criminals and threats from abroad.
So why isn’t society entitled to protection from people who want to harm the environment and the rights of neighboring property owners? Just as there are law-abiding citizens as well as criminals, so are there property owners with positive development motives as well as owners with negative motives. Land use rules are designed to protect the social fabric from ignorant, selfish people. Measure 37 has created the potential for a massive rip in this fabric. The 2005 Oregon legislature needs to get out needle and thread and fix it.
The January 3 issue of “The New Yorker” has a fascinating book review of “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” by Jared Diamond. The author of the review, Malcolm Gladwell, says that Diamond “looks at history’s losers—like the Easter Islanders, the Anasazi of the American Southwest, the Mayans, and the modern-day Rwandans…. ‘Collapse’ is a book about the most prosaic elements of the earth’s ecosystem—soil, trees, and water—because societies fail, in Diamond’s view, when they mismanage those environmental factors.”
Measure 37 gets mentioned at the end of the review as an example of how a society screws up. Gladwell calls the Measure “intellectually incoherent.” He thinks that the debate in Oregon over so-called property rights “values” misses the point:
“One can imagine Diamond writing about the Measure 37 debate, and he wouldn’t be very impressed by how seriously Oregonians wrestled with the problem of squaring their land-use rules with their values, because to him a society’s environmental birthright is not best discussed in those terms. Rivers and streams and forests and soil are a biological resource. They are a tangible, finite thing, and societies collapse when they get so obsessed with addressing the fine points of their history and culture and deeply held beliefs…that they forget that the pastureland is shrinking and the forest cover is gone.”
Read the whole book review to fully understand what Gladwell specifically is talking about (the example of Greenland).
While Patti Milne and other property-rights advocates are fiddling around with their incoherent abstract values, Oregon is burning. Hopefully Oregonians will wake up and douse the conflagration before the structure of our fine state collapses.