Our Work in the 2012 Legislature: Protecting the Power of One Oregon

The 2012 Legislative session was short, but certainly not quiet for land use legislation. Fortunately, we were able to fend off significant threats to the great communities, successful working landscapes, and unparalleled livability that set Oregon apart. These outcomes are made possible by our pioneering statewide land use planning program, and we worked hard all session to defend the program’s successes.  

Even before the session opened on February 1, we were tracking several dozen legislative proposals, many of which demonstrated the continuing efforts of land use planning opponents to chip away at the foundations of our shared sense of purpose for Oregon communities and landscapes. These proposals’ sponsors and supporters employed various tactics in their attempts to justify the harm they would cause to Oregon communities’ future. Fortunately, most of these harmful proposals never received a hearing in the session’s greatly accelerated schedule. But we can be certain that many of these topics will see similar bills introduced in 2013.

As you’ll read below, we’ll be working hard to prepare for the 2013 session by emphasizing Oregon’s continuing interconnectedness, amid its incredible diversity of landscapes and communities. Ultimately, our shared values far outweigh our differences on the surface. In the coming months, we’ll continue making that case throughout this great state.

2012 Legislative Threats: Bills That Died Quickly

Several bad land use bills progressed beyond introduction, but died in committee. Among these were two bills (HB 4032 and HB 4049) that would have excluded ordinary Oregonians from challenging illegal land use decisions in their communities, unless they owned land within a certain distance of the area in question. Such an idea would bar the 40% of Oregonians who don’t own any land at all from full participation in land use decisions directly affecting them and their families, along with farmers and businesses that lease their land or buildings. Another bill (SB 1592) would have exempted eight Eastern Oregon counties from following statewide guidelines for resource land protection and wise transportation investments. These counties depend on strong resource economies, and eliminating guidelines protecting these vital industries in exchange for short-term economic gains would only hurt them. These are largely rural areas, but that doesn’t mean that their residents are less deserving of great communities with a variety of housing options, realistic transportation choices, and the knowledge that they can hold leaders accountable for planning decisions that spend their hard-earned tax moneys. Supporters of this bill never explained why residents of Burns, Ontario, or John Day do not deserve these benefits. Fortunately, these bills did not progress far in this session, though they will likely be back in some form next year.

HB 4095: The Session’s Biggest Threat

The session’s biggest land use threat was House Bill 4095, which would have caused grave damage to the land use program by severely weakening the protection of farm and forest lands in three Southern Oregon counties. The core of Oregon’s farm and forest protections are based on productivity of soil and history of resource use. That has worked for Oregon for almost forty years, supporting a growing agricultural sector, helping farmers feel secure in investing in their lands, and limiting urban sprawl on some of the nation’s best farmland. But HB 4095 would have allowed these three counties, working with the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC), to redefine and then remap resource lands based in part on factors that have nothing to do with the agricultural viability of these areas. The bill threatened family farms and productive private forests in operation for generations, based on arbitrary considerations.

And yet many of its supposed goals are already possible under state law, without fundamentally weakening the land use program itself. The real goal of the legislation was more insidious, and reveals a key strategy of anti-planning interests: create an unmanageable patchwork of regulations and definitions that would effectively undermine the statewide land use planning system. As HB 4095 was being debated, special interests and legislators from several areas were publicly indicating that they wanted their regions to be next in line for similar legislation in the future. HB 4095 was simply their first step toward splintering statewide planning for farm and forest land protection.

We saw the threat early on, and along with our partners and affiliates worked hard to mobilize our supporters to block it. Although it passed out of the House Judiciary Committee, HB 4095 was stopped in its tracks soon after. Thank you to all who spoke up, contacting your legislators and the House and Senate leadership, as well as Governor Kitzhaber, to express your opposition to this bill. Your voices made a difference in keeping HB 4095 from becoming law by reminding the state’s leaders that a threat to farms and forests anywhere in Oregon is a threat to all of Oregon.

This conversation does go on, however. On the final day of the session, the final budget rebalance bill included $550,000 for DLCD and the three counties for work “related to regional land use planning activities.”  We will be working with the Governor, his staff, LCDC, the Department of Land Conservation and Development,  and the counties to make sure that this money is spent in a way that supports the resource economies of Southern Oregon. We will keep you posted on opportunities to help shape this conversation.

SB 1544: An Opportunity for Industrial Jobs in Central Oregon

One land use bill that did make it to the Governor’s desk provides a significant opportunity for industrial jobs in Central Oregon. Senate Bill 1544 smoothes the path for industrial development on 465 acres inside the Redmond urban growth boundary, a parcel that was once intended for the Deschutes County Fairgrounds but never developed. This site is completely intact and has access to infrastructure that the state’s and region’s taxpayers have invested a great deal to build. It provides a unique opportunity for the region to attract a major industrial employer, or give one already in the region room to expand. As originally written, however, SB 1544 did not adequately ensure that this parcel would actually be developed for industrial use. To fix this problem, 1000 Friends worked with other stakeholders and legislators to amend the bill to ensure that this irreplaceable parcel stays intact and is not subdivided for smaller operations or rezoned for other uses like retail and offices. The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously. 1000 Friends looks forward to working with the city of Redmond and other local governments in Central Oregon to implement SB 1544.

Looking Ahead to 2013

In this session, land use planning opponents rolled out the same tired arguments they’ve long used to disparage the program that has done so much for Oregon’s livability, productivity, and economy. They claim that Oregon’s land use program is “one-size-fits-all,” despite numerous mechanisms for regional flexibility that are built into the system. They claim the program is outdated, even though it has been amended scores of times since SB 100 passed. They claim it stifles economic development, ignoring the fact that the program provides more certainty for businesses, and the program protects natural resource industries that account for over one-third of Oregon’s total economic production and employment.

Most troubling, they claim there are “Two Oregons,” fundamentally different in interest, culture and outlook. We couldn’t disagree more. Oregon has an incredible diversity of communities and landscapes, but its many faces are inextricably interdependent, as they have always been.

The 2013 Legislature may look different than it does today, after the elections in November. But whether it is on balance friendlier to land use planning or not, as advocates for Oregon we must continue to demonstrate how our shared interests and strengths far outweigh our differences on the surface. We all want to live in a prosperous state where every Oregonian has a chance to participate meaningfully in the decisions affecting his or her community. We all want our children to have clean air to breathe and nutritious local food. And we all want to feel confident that our communities are heading in the right direction for the future, achieving the balance of productivity, livability, and beauty that has long made Oregon the envy of the nation.

As we prepare for the 2013, we will work with Oregonians around the state to demonstrate how our statewide land use program makes such outcomes possible everywhere in Oregon. We will work for the continued viability and protection of working landscapes and the families they support, and for providing Oregonians with real options for housing and transportation, wherever they live. We will support the development of new statewide tools to provide more certainty for communities planning for future housing, employment, and transportation needs.

These aren’t issues that matter only to urban or rural Oregonians, or residents of Western or Eastern or Southern Oregon. They’re the values we share as Oregonians, and Oregon has continually shown that statewide land use planning is the best way to address them. It’s our mission at 1000 Friends to demonstrate, pursue, and protect such possibilities. As always, we’re grateful for your support as we continue our dedication to this work and prepare for the 2013 Legislature and beyond.

Thank you so much for joining us in our work for Oregon.

-The 1000 Friends Team

Keep in touch as the 2013 session approaches by signing up for our legislative action alert list, here.

Oregon Stories | March 2012

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