“Joining forces to form an even more effective organization”: Rogue Advocates celebrates recent successes and merger with Friends of Jackson County

By Kevin Pozzi, 1000 Friends of Oregon Communications Intern
May 25, 2011

1000 Friends and Rogue Advocates team up at a farmers market in 2010.1000 Friends is pleased to announce the merger of two of our Southern Oregon Affiliates, Rogue Advocates and Friends of Jackson County, with the combined organization to retain the name ‘Rogue Advocates.’

Rogue Advocates has been a very effective partner in Southern Oregon over the last seven years, pursuing livable communities and protecting the scenery and agriculture of the Rogue Valley.

Rogue Advocates Program Manager Sarah Vaile details the organization’s origins, highlighting the rural hike taken by Rogue’s Executive Director, Jimmy MacCleod, through the Applegate Valley during 2004’s Measure 37 battle.

 “‘Oh, what a beautiful valley—but how long will it really last given Measure 37?’” she recalls him saying. “What was really needed was an organization on the ground monitoring land use decisions when necessary.”

Rogue Advocates formed in response to the high number of Measure 37 claims filed in Jackson and Josephine Counties that would threaten the region’s agriculture and natural beauty.

Photo: Rogue Advocates and 1000 Friends team up at the Ashland Farmers Market

“A few individuals felt that there was really no group protecting the Rogue Valley watershed,” Vaile says. “Friends of Jackson County was around and great at focusing on issues of land use, but were lacking an active presence and paid staff.”

Using the Measure 37 battle as a starting point, other threats began to arise and take shape, including an ill-suited land use plan for Jackson County.

“We started working on an outreach program targeting ‘Regional Problem Solving (RPS),’ a land use plan on how best to handle the projected doubling of the population in the next fifty years,” she explains. “That plan determined that the urban growth boundary should be expanded on 8,500 acres of rural land—about 7,000 of that on farmland—and that all areas within that created an urban reserve to accommodate this future growth. We weighed in and provided local testimony explaining that they needed to use far less farmland.”

But Vaile is clear that Rogue Advocates is more than just a gadfly for the county and interested developers.

“We are not just about citing all of the things that are wrong with RPS, but are really trying to create a positive vision for the Rogue Valley,” she says. “It’s about focusing on mixed use development and having the opportunity to live close to where we work. We are doing education around this, tabling, and many other various community events.”

And thus the central question for Rogue Advocates: What are you doing to advocate for growing smart and not just out?

To answer that question, Rogue Advocates, along with a group of farmers and advocacy groups, has created “Envision The Rogue Valley,” a proposal for a program to conserve the highest quality remaining farmland in Jackson County, aiming to include this program into the RPS plan. The proposal builds off 1000 Friends of Oregon’s Envision Oregon process several years ago. If any farmland is developed, other areas would be mitigated and permanently protected through the use of conservation easements. Ultimately, the Rogue Valley would be a more livable, sustainable community.              

“Envision The Rogue Valley is not just an educational document but a policy campaign as well—a chance to bring together working groups for certain policy recommendations,” Vaile says. As a community we have come up with how to put smart growth in planning policy, and hope that some of those changes will be made.”

Some of Rogue Advocates’ work has come in the courtroom, too. “Many of our appeals have actually been really successful. We appealed to the 9th Circuit Court [in] a case that [had] asserted that Measure 37 claims are valid contracts,” Vaile says. “If that decision was upheld, it would have meant that 60,000 acres of farm and forestland in Jackson County would have been developed.” Fortunately, the 9th Circuit ruled that Measure 37 claims were in fact not contracts.

Opposition to Rogue Advocates’ work has primarily come from developers and those who would gain financially from development on existing farmland outside the urban growth boundary

The organization approaches smart growth with a two pronged approach, similar to that of 1000 Friends of Oregon: playing defense as the region’s land use watchdog through the appeals process, while also undertaking forward-looking, collaborative educational work like the Envision Rogue Valley campaign.

“What we are really trying to do is change the culture and political will of Southern Oregon to see if we can grow in a smart way,” Vaile explains. “Collaborating with Friends of Jackson County is a really exciting way to join forces and form an even more effective organization.”

Click here to visit Rogue Advocates homepage and learn more about the important work they do in Southern Oregon.