Laws can be a real pain in the ass. They often make you do things you don't want to do, or stop you from doing things you want to do. But without laws, society would be in one hell of a mess. Which is why state Rep. Gene Whisnant's effort to eviscerate the Urban Growth Boundary approval process is a mistake.
Under current state land use law, a city (such as Bend) that wants to expand its Urban Growth Boundary has to work with the state Department of Land Conservation and Development and ultimately get its expansion plan approved by the state Land Use Board of Appeals. Bend has had a hard time getting the DLCD to sign off on its UGB plan because (a) the area designated for future development - 8,500 acres - is much bigger than can be rationally justified, and (b) the new boundary takes in too much land in the wrong places.
Whisnant's solution is to do an end run around the DLCD. He's introduced a bill that would take the DLCD out of the UGB review process. Instead expansion plans would go directly to LUBA, which would make a straight up-or-down decision. (Whisnant's legislation wouldn't have any effect on Bend's current plan, but would affect future ones by Bend and other cities.)
Supporters of Whisnant's idea, including Bend City Manager Eric King, say it would streamline the process of UGB approval for cities, saving time and taxpayers' money. Also, says King, the DLCD tends to "control and regulate the process to have a desired outcome that might be different from what the local community wants."
True, the UGB approval process doesn't always produce exactly "what the local community wants." But that's the whole point. If the goal was to let every local community - which typically translates to "the local builders and developers" - do what it wants, there'd be no sense in having any state land use regulations at all.
It's by no means certain that Whisnant's proposal always would make the process quicker and cheaper either. By working with the DLCD, cities can fine-tune their proposals to ensure that LUBA will okay them. With the DLCD out of the picture, cities would be in a hit-or-miss situation and could conceivably have to go before LUBA several times before they got it right.
Anyway, Bend's problem with getting its UGB expansion approved is not the fault of the DLCD or the process in general - it's the fault of the city for caving in to development interests and drafting a bad plan. (The City of Redmond, in contrast, came up with a sensible plan and got it speedily approved.) Bend blaming the DLCD is like a driver blaming the cop for giving him a speeding ticket.
The fate of Whisnant's bill in a legislature that's nearly evenly split along partisan lines is uncertain. We're hoping the lawmakers will have the good sense to reject it; if they don't, we hope Gov. John Kitzhaber will whip out his veto pen. In the meantime, we're giving it THE BOOT.