Last Tuesday it happened again.
Four years after I blogged, "Why have a public hearing if you don't want to hear the public?," the Oregon Legislature's House Judiciary Committee held an excruciatingly inept, slanted, and frustrating public hearing on three bills that would drastically limit citizen involvement in land use decisions.
Yesterday, fellow hearing sufferer Kris Bledsoe wrote a terrific piece for Blue Oregon, laying out details of how committee co-chair Rep. Wayne Krieger (R-Gold Beach), who hates land use planning, threatened her when she asked why she never got a chance to testify.
In "A Formal Complaint for Deaf Ears," Bledsoe said:
By the end of the hearing none of the individuals who were opposed to the bills had the opportunity to testify. I was frustrated and seriously disappointed. When the hearing was closed I went up to Representative Krieger to voice my disappointment. I was angry and my voice was louder than my usual very soft voice but by no means loud.
He immediately said, "geesh you people!" I am not certain what group he was lumping me with but I knew this insult was not deserved. He was very disrespectful. I told him that I had been told each speaker would have a limited time so others could speak. He said who ever told me that was wrong. He, himself, had said that at the beginning of the hearing. When I told him that he threatened me by telling me he was going to call the police.
Let's be perfectly clear. No one would ever consider me a threat. I am a 60 year old arthritic small statured woman. He was on the other side on the desk from me. I was at least three feet away from him and he was on the other side of a big piece of furniture. I, of course, stopped talking but was quite bewildered. It is not okay to disagree with a State Representative?
Krieger indeed was a disaster. He started off the hearing by saying that emotions can run high when the subject is land use; lots of people had shown up to testify; so testimony would need to be limited to a few minutes so everybody could have their say before the committee.
He then proceeded to ignore himself, launching into an emotional rant about how unnecessary appeals held up some development in his district, then letting the few proponents of HB 2181, HB 2182, and HB 2610 blab on for much longer and more often than the much more numerous opponents, of which I was one.
What irritated me the most about this "public" hearing was how so many of the committee members obviously liked to hear themselves speak rather than listen to the people who had come to testify -- many of whom had spent hours preparing their testimony and driving to the Capitol.
Mini (and maxi) speeches about the horrors -- gasp! -- of allowing people the right to challenge land use decisions which affect them took up much of the hearing time. Again, legislators, why do you hold public hearings if you don't want to hear from the public?
Take me, for example. I'd worked on written testimony for quite a while the day before the hearing. It's pretty damn good, if I say so myself, which I am.
Download 2-15-11 Land Use testimony
My wife and I have led several fights against developments that threatened water supplies in our neighborhood, which is officially designated a groundwater limited area. We filed one appeal to LUBA (Land Use Board of Appeals) on our own. Another, we had the help of attorneys hired by our area's Keep Our Water Safe committee.
So I was eager to tell the House Judiciary Committee what a crazy idea HB 2181 is. This bill would make citizens liable for attorney fees of a land use applicant if they lost a LUBA case. But insanely, the reverse wouldn't be true: ordinary people and local governments couldn't get attorney fees from a would-be developer if they won.
This proposed tilting of the scales of justice is outrageous.
I suppose it's fitting that a public hearing on bills that would dramatically curtail citizen involvement in land use legal proceedings was chaired by a guy who was out to curtail citizen testimony on the legislation.
If you're afraid of letting ordinary citizens have their day in court, you're going to be afraid of what they have to say in a public hearing.
But here's the thing, Rep. Krieger and your fellow land use system-hating Republicans: it's exceedingly dangerous to try to make Oregon's courts into your political ally. If I'd gotten to testify, I was going to tell you how our neighborhood's Keep Our Water Safe committee is supported by liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, pickup-owning hunters and Prius-driving vegetarians.
What unites us is a committment to preserving our property rights against a 43-lot subdivision that would add that many wells to an area where homeowners already are finding their faucets going dry.
Also, a belief that the almost $40,000 people have donated to our fight, and the countless hours volunteers like my wife and I have put into this battle, will end up being worth it -- because even though land use decision-makers may make mistakes along the way, Oregon's courts almost always produce fair rulings after the appeals process has run its course.
The three bills being considered by the House Judiciary Committee threaten this perception of fairness.
Rep. Krieger and his allies are trying to achieve through unfair legislation what they couldn't win at the ballot box in 2007, when Oregonians strongly affirmed their commitment to protecting farm, forest, and groundwater limited land by passing Measure 49.
I hope the Judiciary Committee has another public hearing where the many people who were denied a chance to testify are allowed to do so. I also hope that Rep. Krieger loses his fear of 60 year old arthritic women who ask him a question after a hearing.
Because our Oregon legislators should never stop listening to the people who pay their salaries and whom they serve. Ever hear the term "public servant," Rep. Krieger? You didn't act like one last Tuesday.
1000 Friends of Oregon prepared some clear and cogent letters in opposition to the three bills being considered by the Judiciary Committee. Learn more about why the legislation is such a bad idea: