There was a loud pop in a Marion County hearing room last night. Dozens of our neighbors burst the bubble of Measure 37, the horribly flawed attempt to trash Oregon’s land use laws.
My wife and I have the unfortunate distinction of living near one of the first Measure 37 subdivision proposals to reach the county Planning Commission. Leroy Laack and his co-owners are out to convert 124 acres of beautiful farmland, perfect for growing grapes or some other crop, into 42 lots.
Just as Peter Bray predicted in his ironic Oregonians…Get Rich Quick With Measure 37! When I first saw this web page back in 2004, before Measure 37 was voted on, I thought it was humorous. Now it’s not so funny, because the paving over of Oregon by greedy landowners is coming true.
Thankfully, Oregonians are fighting back. Last night the Marion County Planning Commission got an earful. For four hours.
Dozens of people who live near the proposed subdivision, which adjoins our Spring Lake Estates neighborhood, testified about groundwater problems that already are bad and will be made worse by adding 42 more unplanned wells (and homes).
Laack’s hired gun planner admitted that the reason they want to build homes on mostly two to three acre lots rather than on larger acreages which wouldn’t cause such a risk to groundwater was simple: “To maximize income.”
Well, there’s nothing wrong with making money. Unless you’re earning it in a sleazy fashion. Person after person testified that their homes would drastically decline in value if their wells fail. And Larry Eaton, a professional hydrogeologist, testified that this is likely if the subdivision goes ahead as planned.
One neighbor said, “I don’t want to lay awake at night wondering when the faucet will go dry.” He shouldn’t have to. Yet Measure 37 elevates the right of privileged property owners to make money over the right of people already living in the area to protect the value of their real estate investment.
The Planning Commission heard repeated pleas from people who had bought homes adjacent to land zoned EFU (exclusive farm use), expecting that if the zoning were ever changed, it would be in a fair and open fashion.
But Measure 37 isn’t about fairness or openness. It’s mainly about making money (apart from the few claimants who simply want to build a single home on their land, after having been prevented from doing so by a regulation imposed after their bought their property).
Leroy Laack and company hope to be able to drain scarce water out of an aquifer located in an area that is officially designated as “groundwater limited.” As Eaton put it, it’s akin to putting 42 more straws into a bowl whose level already is dropping because more water is being sucked out than is going in.
Person after person pleaded with the Planning Commission to stop the unthinking pro-development madness that is Measure 37. There has to be a limit, they said. It isn’t possible to keep cramming more houses into an area where wells have to be replaced or deepened with depressing regularity.
Not one person testified in favor of the proposed subdivision, aside from Laack’s paid consultants. Yet often I heard, “I’m not against development. I’m just against development that harms the people who already live in the area.”
Our sentiments exactly. We’re grateful to own a home in Spring Lake Estates, a subdivision that dates from the early 1970s. But what made sense then doesn’t now. Today many more people live in the south Salem hills. Existing wells are draining the groundwater in an unsustainable fashion.
Yet Measure 37 attempts to roll the land use regulation clock back to whenever someone bought their property. Fortunately, there is an exemption in the law for health and safety concerns, such as the availability of water. Given the groundwater problems in our area, there’s no way this subdivision should be approved.
As Jeff Kleinman, attorney for the Keep Our Water Safe committee that Laurel is heading up, said last night: “Measure 37 isn’t a blank check to do whatever you want.”
(Update: A 5.7 MB PDF file of Kleinman's memorandum to the Planning Commission is available. It was given to us upside down; the Adobe Reader toolbar lets you rotate the pages to right side up; or, print the pages.)
You can’t ruin lives by taking away the water on which residents in our area depend. Nor can you make it difficult or impossible to farm on adjoining acreages by plopping a subdivision down in their midst.
The Planning Commission postponed a decision on the subdivision proposal for two weeks. We were pleased. It’s obvious that this Measure 37 development needs to be drastically scaled back or, ideally, rejected altogether. On January 2, we expect that the Commission will recognize this obviousness.