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Stealth Attacks on Oregon's Land Use Laws 

Three bills now before the Oregon House represent the latest sneaky effort to erode Oregon's land use laws.

Almost 40 years ago, Gov. Tom McCall called for legislation to protect Oregon from the "sagebrush subdivisions, coastal condomania, and ... ravenous rampages of suburbia" that were threatening to blight the state. The legislature responded with Senate Bill 100, which created a land use regulation system that became the envy of the nation.

McCall's signature on the bill wasn't even dry before the development-at-any-cost bloc began plotting to dismantle it, and it hasn't stopped trying since. The opponents know they have virtually no chance of demolishing the whole structure, but that doesn't discourage them from stealthily chipping away at it whenever and in any way they can.

Three bills now before the Oregon House represent the latest sneaky effort to erode Oregon's land use laws. All three have been designated - with good reason - "major threats" to the environment by the Oregon Conservation Network, a coalition of more than 50 organizations.

Two of the bills - HB 4049 and HB 4032 - hark back to the bad old days of the 18th Century, when only landed proprietors enjoyed full rights of citizenship. Both bills stipulate that only people who own land within a certain distance (not yet specified) of a property involved in a land use decision can challenge that decision before the state Land Use Board of Appeals. HB 4049 goes even further and says somebody has to prove he'd be directly harmed by a decision before he can appeal it.

As the land use watchdog group 1000 Friends of Oregon says, "These bills are contrary to a fundamental tenet of Oregon's land use system, which is [that] citizens have the rightto participate in every level of land use decision making."

According to 1000 Friends, something like 40% of Oregonians don't own any land at all. But obviously they still can be profoundly affected by land use decisions. Development in their communities can pollute their air, clog the roads they use, crowd the schools their children attend and drive their taxes up. Even if they live far away from the proposed shopping mall, housing subdivision or factory, it could adversely impact their environment or recreation opportunities.

The third member of this trio of land-use turkeys is HB 4095, which is co-sponsored by a slew of lawmakers including Central Oregon's own Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver). It would permit the redefinition of agricultural land in the three Southern Oregon counties of Jackson, Josephine and Douglas in a way that would allow the counties to designate farm or forest lands near highways or urban growth boundaries as "non-resource," even if they're in active production. The end result could be "sprawling subdivisions on lands that have been in continuous farm or forest use for generations," as 1000 Friends says.

HB 4095 isn't just a bad bill, it's an unnecessary one. A law enacted in 2009 already provides for the remapping of lands that don't meet the definition of agricultural, but no county has used it.

These three destructive bills currently are before committees in the House. Legislators should give them THE BOOT before they get any further.


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