Come on, Democrats in the Oregon legislature, this is the time to show you've got some big cojones. (Yes, you too, female legislators.)
There are disturbing signs that the ten-member joint Committee on Land Use Fairness, which has six Democrats, may wuss out on the sort of Measure 37 fix that Oregonians are calling for.
A recent poll found that more than two-thirds of voters either want to fix what they see as significant flaws in Measure 37 or believe that it should be repealed entirely.
Today the state's largest newspaper, the Oregonian, ran a lead editorial titled "Find the guts to fix Measure 37." I couldn't find the editorial online for some reason, so scanned it—double click on the image to enlarge. The editorial board said:
"If legislators don't act, they will tip the state forever to developers and private interests. Legislators would tell farmers to forget it, to abandon the quintessentially Oregon notion of enlightened self-interest coinciding with the community's. It would be replaced by each individual pursuing his own private Oregon.
There won't be a second chance. Right now, Measure 37 developers are rushing for building permits to put a shovel in the ground to finalize their property rights. This takes a claim past the point of no return, past the point where legislators can actually intervene and stop development gone wild.
By 2009, it will be too late to reverse the damage.
Everyone would have preferred a consensus fix for Measure 37, but now there's not much time left. Now Oregon just needs a fix."
Amen to that. My wife and I have testified at several of the Land Use Fairness committee hearings. Aside from the Measure 37 claimants themselves, there is precious little sympathy for those who want to build large subdivisions on farmland. Even many of the claimants say, "I just want to be able to put a house on my property. I'm opposed to Measure 37 subdivisions."
So why is it that the committee has scheduled a hearing on HB 3546, which would extend the deadline for counties to process Measure 37 claims? 1000 Friends of Oregon is concerned about this. They say:
It extends government review of claims and is being introduced at a very late date. Measure 37 supporters have been lobbying the legislature for just such an extension while demanding "hands off" Measure 37. HB 3546 does nothing to fix the damage that Measure 37 has brought to Oregonians. We must encourage the Land Use Fairness Committee to fix Measure 37, not extend it.
Yesterday I sent an email to the members of the Land Use Fairness committee expressing my own concern, on behalf of our neighborhood's Keep Our Water Safe committee. We live in a groundwater limited area in south Salem, adjacent to a proposed 43-lot (and wells) Measure 37 subdivision.
We can't afford for legislators to take their own sweet time fussing around with a Measure 37 fix. Once the wells are dug and our aquifer starts going dry, it's too late. The time to act is now.
If Oregonians in Action and other die-hard proponents of Measure 37 don't like the fix, they can try to get another measure on the 2008 ballot. Let's see if the state's voters would fall for Oregonians in Action untruths again. I doubt it.
Here's the truth, according to a land use expert who describes himself as a "crass, unrepentant, real estate capitalist Republican type." Yet says:
So let's begin with the most commonly heard argument: It's my property and I have the right to do with it as I please. Well is there a right to own property? Absolutely. Is there a right to use property? Absolutely. Is either the right to own or the right to use absolute? Absolutely not!
… It amazes me that elected officials who go home at night and tell their kids "just say no" to drugs can't muster the political responsibility to "just say no" to any developer who happens to come down the pike.
Land use controls are, in fact, a capitalist plot to optimize the property values of the majority of owners, not some communist conspiracy to deprive individuals of some imaginary "property rights".
I met John Christensen at one of the Land Use Fairness committee hearings. He's a Corbett resident and a Democratic activist. Like me, he's worried that Democrats are going to cave in to Republican pressure. To its credit, the Multnomah Democrats web site has posted John's letter to "fellow Democrats."
He points out that Rep. Patti Smith, a Republican, represents his district. She also is on the Land Use Fairness committee. Rep. Smith's family has filed a Measure 37 claim for over $29 million in an effort to get a waiver for over 200 buildable lots.
That's almost a laughable (if it weren't deadly serious) conflict of interest. What chance is there of Rep. Smith voting against her own financial self-interest? Just about zero.
As the Eugene Register-Guard reported, "Measure 37 is paying off for big donors." Some of those who helped finance the campaign to pass Measure 37 have filed claims that would give them a huge return on their political investment. Just as Rep. Smith's family stands to gain a lot from her efforts to leave Measure 37 as it is.
That's outrageous. Democrats have both the moral and political high ground on this issue. They need to move boldly. Soon.
With as much urging as possible. You can contact members of the Land Use Fairness committee individually by email via this web page. Or if you want to make your concern known at one swoop, use Onward Oregon.
The Oregonian editorial lays out what is at stake for this state.
The battle over property-rights Measure 37 has turned into a tug of war over who inherits Oregon. In the future, will it be "mine" or "ours"?
On one side are 7,500 property owners who have filed private claims under Measure 37 seeking more than $12.6 billion in compensation. They know there's no money, but they want houses, subdivisions, strip malls and other developments on hundreds of thousands of acres of prime farmland and forestland. Many claimants would tell you it's not for themselves, of course, but for "my grandchildren."
On the other side are their neighbors and the rest of us, a group that could be loosely described as the Oregon public. This includes thousands of farmers whose livelihoods are threatened by Measure 37-spawned developments, along with millions of other Oregonians who depend on the state's $4.3 billion ag industry.
None of us is really a disinterested party either. We have our own economic claim, only it's public, not private. We want to protect the long-term health and wealth of our communities, our state, and, yes, our grandchildren. The Legislature must pick between these competing heirs.