Oregon's 2009 state legislature has many pressing problems to deal with, notably our steadily sinking economy. Proposals to reform the land use system should take a back seat, especially if they don't make sense -- which describes what the Big Look task force has come up with.
Today I went to a Salem City Club meeting where three Oregon land use experts shared their take on the Big Look legislative recommendations.
Mike Thorne, who chaired the task force, tried to present a rationale for "tweaking the system," as the Portland Oregonian called it in a story published today. But he failed.
He admitted that Oregon is way ahead of other states when it comes to protecting farm and forest land, preventing urban sprawl, and fostering economically vibrant city centers.
So the statewide land use system is working well.
However, Thorne said there's a perception that it needs to be more flexible. He didn't say what led the task force to conclude this. Facts weren't high on the Big Look task force's agenda, as I pointed out earlier in "Legislature should ignore Big Look Task Force."
After Richard Whitman (head of the Department of Land Conservation and Development) provided more detail on the Big Look recommendations, 1000 Friends of Oregon's Bob Stacey explained why the proposed legislation is a solution in search of a problem.
The task force wants to make it easier for counties to rezone farm and forest land so subdivisions can sprout instead of crops and trees. Yet the protection of resource lands is a clear success of Oregon's current land use system.
So why weaken it?
Stacey said it's a shame that rezoning farm and forest land to allow for more development is the top priority of the Big Look task force, especially since Oregonians voted overwhelmingly (62%) for more protection of these lands in approving Measure 49 in 2007.
Indeed, it's crazy to propose weakening Measure 49 when it hasn't even been fully implemented yet. Measure 49 allows property owners to have three home sites on farm or forest land, so it already compromises protections for resource land.
Plus, court cases involving Measure 49 are wending their way through the state and federal legal system. This is no time to further muddy the land use waters with the unnecessary Big Look proposals.
A reader's comment on the Oregonian story told it like it is.
As a rural Eastern Oregon property owner let me tell you this regional system will destroy meaningful land-use planning in this state- this is a state- not a bunch of artificial regions and we need statewide planning.
Most county commissioners in this state would vote for anything if you stuck a dollar bill in front of their face- As a whole they are the most parochial backward looking dinosaurs anywhere.
Yet the Big Look task force wants to allow politicians from two or more counties to band together and agree to pave over irreplaceable farm and forest land. Crazy.
We need to preserve what makes Oregon special, not trash it so a few people can make some extra bucks at the expense of the many. Our land use system is doing a good job enhancing livability and economic prosperity.
Yes, it can be improved.
Unfortunately, the main recommendation of the Big Look task force -- weakening of farm and forest land protections -- is a big step in the wrong direction.
1000 Friends of Oregon gets it right:
The Big Look Task Force was created in 2005 to evaluate Oregon’s land
use planning program and to recommend improvements to meet future
challenges. The Task Force’s work is drawing to an end; its
legislative recommendations and a final report will be submitted to the
Oregon will experience many changes over the next 30 years, providing both opportunities and challenges: almost 2 million more people will call Oregon home; global warming will continue to pose an environmental and economic threat; oil prices will rise; and Oregon’s economy will be operating in an increasingly global context. Our statewide planning program, while imperfect, has been remarkably effective in achieving its goals over the last 30 years. We have protected farm and forestland, contained sprawl, and managed growth far better than most other states. To turn future population growth and the challenges of climate change and globalization into opportunities, we must strengthen our land use planning program, not weaken it.
The Task Force’s legislative recommendations include several proposals that 1000 Friends supports. However, we oppose the most significant – and controversial – proposal, which would greatly erode protection for Oregon’s agricultural land.