"There are two Oregon's," said Rep. Wayne Krieger (R-Gold Beach). "The Willamette Valley and everywhere else."
[Update: Glancing at the notes I took at the meeting before the paper went into recyling, I see that I jotted down "Rep. Esquivel" next to the two Oregon's mention. So, probably was him. But I'm sure Krieger endorses that notion.]
Waiting to testify on House Bill 4095 at a Judiciary Committee hearing this morning, I thought, What is he talking about? Two Oregon's? That notion is untrue and divisive.
Unfortunately, it's also an assumption that underlies a lot of bad legislative proposals, mostly initiated by Republicans who have an almost paranoid fear that people who live in the Portland Metro area or the Willamette Valley don't understand the supposedly unique needs, values, and worldview of Oregonians who live elsewhere in the state.
Again, not true.
Quite a few fellow testifers, along with me, took issue with Rep. Krieger in the course of our three-minute-limited remarks to the committee. Several people noted how they'd lived many years in southern or eastern Oregon before moving to a rural area in the Willamette Valley.
I said that in our rural neighborhood that's about six miles from the Salem city limits, property owners opposed to a subdivision which threatened our wells and surface water didn't think of themselves as Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or progressives.
We neighbors all agreed that land use decisions should be made fairly, through an open and transparent process, using facts and the law rather than personal political views.
Only a few people at the hearing testified in support of HB 4095. Someone representing the Oregon Association of Realtors, for one. Dave Hunnicutt of Oregonians in Action, for two. And a woman who used to farm in Josephine County.
It's a bad bill. I submitted some brilliant (in my humble opinion) written testimony which can be marveled at by clicking on the link below.
Download HB 4095 testimony Feb 2012
In the couple of minutes I had to summarize my opposition to this attempt to allow county commissioners in three southern Oregon counties to redefine what constitutes productive farm and forest land, I focused on how unwise it would be to politicize our state's land use system.
I said, "People in our neighborhood who bought property and built homes figured that adjacent farm land wouldn't be arbitrarily rezoned by some county commissioners who ignored facts, basing their decision merely on a feeling that construction of a subdivision should be allowed."
I'm sure the same is true of most people everywhere in Oregon. We don't want politicians messing around with rezoning farm and forest land unless there's a good reason to do so.
Short-term economic problems isn't one of those reasons. A woman opposed to HB 4095 (who farms in the Willamette Valley) spoke movingly of how, fifty years from now, we'll regret losing irreplaceable farmland through short-sighted actions today.
Others said that Southern Oregon's high unemployment isn't going to be solved by allowing developers to pave over farm and forest land. I'm pretty sure Jackson, Josephine, and Douglas counties aren't running out of homesites, small acreages, and industrial land. People need jobs; taking farm and forest land out of production will be a step backward in this regard.
State law, via 2009's HB 2229, already allows counties to re-map inaccurately designated farm and forest lands. Meaning, if a parcel isn't truly suitable for farming or timber production, its designation can be changed.
Oregon's land use goals allow for a lot of flexibility. In 2007 over 60% of Oregon voters affirmed their desire to preserve farm and forest lands through their passage of Measure 49. As someone testifying in opposition to HB 4095 said, these are "industrial" lands -- job-creating and income-producing.
But the proponents of HB 4095 want clusters of counties to be able to come up with their own definitions of farm and forest land. Huh? I don't get it.
Do crops and trees grow under different biological rules in southern Oregon? Are the laws of nature somehow different there? Again, Oregon's land use laws already allow for considerable flexibility, based on geography, soil types, and such.
Opponents of our state's highly successful efforts to preserve "resource" (farm/forest) lands and keep cities from needlessly sprawling onto them want to dismantle our land use laws. HB 4095 is a step in that direction.
Hopefully it will be voted down by people who reject the notion of "two Oregon's."
If you live in Oregon and want to express your opposition to HB 4095, 1000 Friends of Oregon explains how to do this:
Why 1000 Friends opposes this bill: HB 4095 could allow sprawling subdivisions on lands that have been in continuous farm or forest use for generations. This bill would, for example, allow LCDC to craft a definition of agricultural and forest lands that would allow counties to redesignate all lands near highways and urban growth boundaries (UGB) as "non-resource," even if they are still in active production.
Since most Oregon cities are located amid the state's most productive resource lands, protecting farmland around them is a fundamental mission of Oregon's land use program. Increased uncertainty for farm operators near UGBs will cause them to decrease investments in their lands, bringing valuable agriculture land out of production and making farming even more difficult for their neighbors. Furthermore, taking farms and forest lands out of production will cost Oregon jobs.
The bill would also add unnecessary complexity to the land use program. If Southern Oregon counties require a new definition of agricultural and forest lands specifically reflecting the usability of such lands for resource uses, current law provides the means to do so. Also, re-mapping of lands that do not meet the definition of agricultural land or forest land is already possible under HB 2229, passed by the Legislature in 2009. However, no county has taken advantage of that authorization. This bill is not only bad policy, it is simply unnecessary.
Status: The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on this bill at 8:00am Monday, February 6. Please contact the co-chairs of this Committee and your own legislator to tell them you oppose this bill. You can reach co-chair Rep. Jeff Barker at 503-986-1428 or [email protected], and Co-Chair Rep. Wayne Krieger at 503-986-1401 or [email protected]. You can find your own legislator's contact info on this page.