Yesterday Laurel and I sat through the entire three hour Land Use Fairness Committee hearing at the capitol. Though we got there 70 minutes early, and dutifully wound our way through the airport-screening-like line to sign up to testify, about seventy people got there before us.
Only the first 50 or so were granted entry to Hearing Room B, where the committee held forth. We found our way to one of the auxiliary rooms, where a large screen projected the proceedings in sort of a Big Brotherish fashion.
No doubt most of the Measure 37 faithful, distinguished by "I (heart) Measure 37" stickers, thought that co-chair Sen. Prozanski indeed was a malevolent agent of the Liberal Conspiracy to Destroy Citizen's Property Rights.
There was much speechifying from the true believers, a vanishing breed according to a recent poll of Oregonians, about the supposed All-American right to do whatever you want with your land, no matter how it affects your neighbors. There even was talk of the Measure 37 reform legislation being equivalent to the communist takeover of private property in East Germany.
Ironies, and a lack of ability to recognize them, abounded among the "I (heart)" crowd. Sen. Prozanski tried to get the public testimony underway quickly, so more people would have a chance to testify, but Republican members of the committee demanded to make some obviously scripted remarks.
"The Senate Republicans on the committee haven't been heard." "We were shut out of the negotiations that produced the reform framework." "The process hasn't been inclusive of all sides."
Unbelievable. These sentiments came from members of a party that unapologetically ignored Democratic legislators during the years they were in power. Last session, House Speaker Karen Minnis and her cronies refused to even bring up bills for a vote that had passed the Senate with bipartisan support.
And now Republicans are complaining about being left out of the process? Ridiculous. They should be thankful they're at the Measure 37 reform table at all. Sen. Prozanski and other Democrats on the committee have been more than fair in giving Republicans air time in both open committee hearings and the closed-door work group sessions.
Another irony was how the citizens who testified that Measure 37 should be left alone were adamant that the committee should respect the "will of the people" who voted for the initiative.
For one thing, I'm sure that most of these folks have no problem with the proposal to allow private hunters to use dogs to kill cougars under the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife "cougar management" (a.k.a., needless killing) plan. This clearly subverts the will of the voters who banned the use of dogs in cougar hunting.
Just as efforts to undermine Oregon's death with dignity laws undermine the majority of voters who wanted to allow someone to take his or her own life with death is near and all hope is gone. So the degree to which someone is offended by meddling with the will of the people obviously depends on whether that will is viewed favorably or unfavorably.
Also, the Measure 37 supporters said over and over that private property rights trump the rights of neighbors. They see people as isolated islands of free agency, able to do whatever they want without needing to consider how that affects the surrounding area. If I drill fifty wells for my subdivision and your well goes dry, tough.
Yet at even a hint that the Democratic majority on the committee might exercise their own right to do what they think is best, outrage! How could the committee members dare to construct their vision of a fair and balanced land use system on the foundation of a reformed Measure 37??!!
Horror of horrors—that'd be acting independently. Which is just what the Measure 37 claimants want to do on their own property. But in the strange world of "I (heart) Measure 37" (as in Animal Farm), all are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Measure 37 introduced a huge element of unfairness into Oregon's land use system. Some people get to roll back the clock on regulations they don't like, while their neighbors don't.
Yet when the public tries to get the train wreck of Measure 37 back on track, as happened last night (I counted 28 people in favor of fixing the measure, and 22 in favor of letting it be), the favored claimant class cries, "You can't roll back the clock on Measure 37! Only we get to roll back the clock!"
Wrong. U-turns can be made by anybody. And they should, as I argued recently on my other blog (see "U-turns often lead to a better direction." Oregonians in Action flim-flammed voters into turning Oregon's pioneering land use laws into a laughing stock. Measure 37 now is used as a model of what not to do by other states.
So it's time to change course again. Which the Land Use Fairness Committee is poised to do, thank god. We and our neighbors have spent $20,000 fighting a 137 acre Measure 37 subdivision that the claimant wants to put on groundwater limited farmland.
The proposed legislation would limit this development to three homes. That's three too many, from the point of view of our hydrogeologist, but a heck of a lot better than the 43 the Measure 37 claimant wants. We submitted written testimony last night to this effect: Download testimony_to_legislature.doc
Here's my favorite photographic memory of the lengthy proceedings. A Nature Conservancy speaker, whose name I didn't get, brought a stuffed animal to testify with him. I recall it uttered an eloquent birdsong.
I'm no ornithologist, but I'm pretty sure the bird was saying, "Fix Measure 37, Fix Measure 37. I love trees and earthworms, not concrete and asphalt."