I'm feeling better about what I called "land use shenanigans" that popped up at the very end of the Oregon legislature's short 2012 session.
After learning more about what the $550,000 appropriated by the joint Ways and Means Committee for a pilot regional land use planning project in Josephine, Jackson, and Douglas counties would do, it looks like Oregon's efforts to protect irreplaceable farm and forest land from unnecessary development aren't much at risk.
This is because HB 4095, which was a major threat to Oregon's land use system, died without getting a vote in either the House or Senate. 1000 Friends of Oregon noted that HB 4095 was called a "major threat" by the Oregon Conservation Network.
What the bill proposes: HB 4095 would allow the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) to redefine agricultural and forest lands in three Southern Oregon counties based in part on factors other than the productivity of the soil or the history of resource use. The bill then allows the counties to redesignate current agricultural and forest lands as "non-resource", paving the way for development. The bill includes such factors as speculation about the future viability of resource use and proximity to other land uses.
Why 1000 Friends opposes this bill: HB 4095 could allow sprawling rural residential development on lands that have been in continuous farm or forest use for generations.
...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.
So if HB 4095 was unnecessary and didn't even get a hearing in the joint Ways and Means Committee, why was $550,000 in general fund taxpayer money allocated by that committee to enable three Oregon counties to do what already can be done under existing laws and regulations?
Apparently because lots of legislative "horse-trading" goes on at the end of a session. Republicans were stymied on some of their favorite bills and wanted to be able to point to some wins, no matter how small, in exchange for supporting Democratic legislative priorities.
Also, many people view Oregon's land use system as being too rigid.
So giving the three southern Oregon counties some money to support an attempt to come up with regional definitions of farm and forest land throws a bone to the barking dogs who would prefer to see land use planning go away completely.
It looks like nothing substantive will be done with the $550,000 until the next biennium, which begins on July 1, 2013.
The state Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) will have to come up with rules to guide the activities of the three counties. Then any request to redefine what is productive farm and forest land in southern Oregon would need to be approved by the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC).
Since all state land use laws remain intact, and no new legal criteria for defining farm/forest land were added because of the failure to pass HB 4095, if the three counties succeed in getting LCDC to agree to some proposal, it will be no different from what could have been done prior to the 2012 legislative session.
In the end, then, Republican members of the legislature will be able to claim a small victory for local control over land use decisions, even though actually Jackson, Josephine, and Douglas counties don't have any more control now than they did before.
They just have $550,000 to do what they could always have done: petition DLCD and LCDC to define farm and forest lands differently based on the usability of these lands in a regional area. LIke I said before, to me it seems like that money would have been better spent on other needs -- such as education, health care, or public safety.
But since the bad aspects of HB 4095 were pruned away by the Ways and Means Committee, what's left is almost certainly innocuous.
Land use system-hating county commissioners in the three southern Oregon counties will huff and puff about the need to pave over farm and forest land so that illusory jobs can be created. In the end, whatever definitional changes allowed to take place will be what is already permitted under state land use laws.