A few weeks ago a new sign went up along Liberty Road S, just north of Spring Lake Estates, where my wife and I live. It meant a lot to me, for reasons I'll explain.
Here's a photo of the land being offered for sale. The property extends beyond the crest of the hill. The acreage suitable for a vineyard is shown in the photograph I took, which includes a shadow of me taking the photo.
Back in 2005 I wrote my first blog post about these 217 acres, "Measure 37 hits close to our home."
For a lot of people, Measure 37 is a legal abstraction. For us, it means 215 nearby acres of farmland may become a subdivision. These rolling hills along Liberty Road about five miles south of the Salem city limits currently are zoned EFU (exclusive farm use).
If the Measure 37 applicants have their way 80 homes will be built and 80 wells will be dug in an area that already is designated as groundwater limited. I call that eventuality AFU (all...up; you can guess the rest of the acronym).
Measure 37 was a property rights initiative that voters mistakenly approved in 2004. It gave property owners the right to develop in accord with the zoning that was in place prior to Oregon's pioneering land use laws being put in place in 1973.
For five years my wife and I led our neighborhood's fight against this proposed subdivision. Laurel started off being the main subdivision battler. Then I took over. It was the toughest thing I've ever done. There were so many twists and turns, I'd get dizzy if I tried to describe them all.
In 2010 a Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of our neighborhood following the passage of Measure 49 in 2007, which negated most of Measure 37. I wrote about the victory in "Circuit Court reverses Marion County commissioners."
Last Friday our rural south Salem neighborhood got some great news: in Marion County Circuit Court Judge Nely Johnson reversed the Marion County Board of Commissioners' approval of Ridge View Estates, a 217 acre, 43 lot Measure 37 subdivision on Liberty Road.
That dry language didn't begin to capture how I felt, in part because it took time to realize what preserving the 217 acres from becoming a subdivision development meant to me. I've tried to do this over the years in some other blog posts, notably, "Judge's final decision on Laack subdivision: the meaning for me."
In this post I want to talk about the meaning this neighborhood land use fight has had for me. Hopefully I can share some ideas that will resonate with people who have no interest in land use issues, but can relate to the general nature of this sort of experience: working really hard on something, for a long time, when there is no guarantee of success.
As is the case with most things in life. Such as...
Raising a child. Pursuing a college undergraduate or graduate degree. Starting a business. Aiming for a martial arts black belt. Cultivating a happy marriage. Seeking better health. Writing a book for publication.
I've done all of the above, plus a lot more in my sixty-two years of living. Your list will be different, as the activities people engage in and the goals they pursue are marvelously diverse.
Now I can add "Struggling to save a neighborhood's water supply." A new activity, one of the most intense, difficult, and complex things I've ever done. But the meaning-of-life lessons I've learned in the process are extensions of earlier lessons.
I don't want to repeat what I said in that 2010 post.
I haven't even re-read it, because this is 2018, and I'm now 69, not 62. How I feel today about the sign that went up offering 111 acres of vineyard property for sale, along with an additional 106 acres, is different from how I felt eight years ago.
What I want to say now, in this age of Trump, when many people are feeling disillusioned, disheartened, and disturbed about where our country is heading, is this:
Citizen activism is both tremendously important and tremendously satisfying. I readily admit that the satisfying part obviously is most acutely felt when activism leads to success, as it did in the case of our fight against the subdivision.
But though this is a truism, it's a truth that needs repeated saying -- usually it's impossible to tell whether a fight is winnable. So the activist has to step into a battle without knowing if their efforts will produce a victory.
Writing those words reminded me that here in Salem, Jackie Leung stepped up to challenge incumbent city councilor Steve McCoid in the Ward 4 race last May. Most people didn't think Leung had a chance. Yet she won. A national example is the surprising victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over 10-term incumbent Democrat Joe Crowley.
You just never know. Well, except for this. If potential citizen activists don't try to make a difference, they can know for sure that their not-doing will lead to no change.
What kept me going during our five year fight against the Measure 37 subdivision was a conviction that I needed to do everything within my power to stop this threat to our neighborhood's surface and groundwater. I paid as much attention to tiny details as to grand strategy.
In the end, and I could only know this looking back, not forward, a few of those details played an outside role in our eventually successful legal battle. Again, though, I couldn't tell this at the time. All I could do was hope that a bunch of small things would add up to a large thing.
When I drive by the sign advertising the property for sale, I feel good.
Sure, there are many things larger than 217 acres of rural south Salem land. But the older I get, and I'm getting pretty damn old, I'm finding it more and more difficult to distinguish between the BIG things in life and the small things.
Is saving 217 acres from becoming a subdivision a major or minor accomplishment? I have no idea. All I know is that when I look at the still vacant land, that sight means a lot to me. I even imagine a scene that likely won't ever happen, but still manages to elicit a few wet spots in my eyes.
I'm near death. At my request, I'm taken in a wheelchair to a wide spot on Liberty Road where my wife and I can have a view of what has become a successful vineyard. Laurel holds my hand. I say to her, "Hey, way back when, we did something good here, didn't we?" She smiles. No more words are needed. We both know what we feel.