What is the Status of the Jackson County Regional Problem Solving (RPS) Process?
On November 15, 2012, the Land Conservation and Development Commission approved, or “acknowledged,” the final Plan. The decision was finalized in March 2013, and cities can now begin implementing it.
Several of the participating cities are now set to begin the process of examining and possibly expanding their current Urban Growth Boundaries (UGBs) using the provisions of the plan. For more details on what this entails, see "What Happens Next?” below.
The next step for the cities is to begin the work of analyzing the capacity of their current UGBs to meet the needs for the next 20 years and, if necessary, to expand the UGBs. Medford is the furthest along in this work (click here for more details).
The “Agricultural Task Force” that was required under the agreement will be tasked with assessing the impacts on the agricultural economy arising from the expansion of UGBs into the urban reserves. The task force has been appointed and has begun meeting. 1000 Friends' Southern Oregon Advocate, Greg Holmes, has been elected Vice-Chair of the task force, and will be active in its deliberations and recommendations to the Board of Commissioners.
The local participants as a group must also begin several processes, including:
· planning for future transportation connections between the cities,
· assisting Phoenix in plans to develop the South Valley Employment center, and
· developing regional housing strategies to promote a wide range of housing types throughout the region.
We will be participating in all of this work.
How Does Regional Problem Solving Fit Into the Oregon Land Use System?
Oregon’s statewide land use planning program was created following the 1973 passage of Senate Bill 100. State regulations governing land use are currently found in the 19 Statewide Planning Goals (created and maintained by LCDC), Statutes (created and maintained by the legislature), and Administrative Rules (created and maintained by LCDC).
Local regulations are found in the form of Comprehensive Plans (roughly equivalent to the statewide Goals) and Development Ordinances (roughly equivalent to the Statutes and Administrative Rules).
As a general rule, local regulations must be at least as restrictive as those of the state. (They can be more restrictive, but not less.) Regional Problem Solving (RPS) is one of the very few exceptions to that rule.
How Does RPS Work?
Statewide Planning Goal 2 requires coordination between jurisdictions when creating and implementing planning documents. Traditionally this has meant that one city must coordinate its plans with the county in which it is located. Coordination between several counties and/or multiple cities, although allowed and encouraged, is not as common.
RPS was created with passage of ORS 197.652 to 658 (or the “RPS statute”) during the 1996 special session of the legislature as a way to encourage that type of coordination. It was recognized that getting multiple jurisdictions to agree to a single plan might be politically difficult, so the authors of the bill offered a carrot: If all of the participants in the RPS process agreed on the problem, the solutions, and a means for implementing the plan, the state may approve local regulations “that do not fully comply with the administrative rules of the commission,” or the Administrative Rules. (See the RPS statute, ORS 197.656(2))
The stated purpose for this concession was that it allowed a region some flexibility in identifying one or more problems, and developing creative resolutions tailored to the unique attributes of the region. Full compliance with the Goals and with all Statutes is still required.
How is Jackson County Using RPS?
What became the RPS process in Jackson County began in the mid 1990s with an effort called OurRegion. This was an effort begun by citizens and agriculturalists who sought to identify the best agricultural lands left in the valley and figure out how to grow the cities around those lands.
Local governments became more involved, and in 2000 the Rogue Valley Council of Governments received grant funding for an RPS project, defining the local participants as Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford, Central Point, Jacksonville, Eagle Point, and Jackson County.
These participants reached an agreement on the problems they faced, and developed a set of Goals and Policies for the project. The second Goal is to “Conserve resource and open space lands for their important economic, cultural, and livability benefits.” Despite this goal, the emphasis of the project soon changed from identifying where to not grow and going elsewhere, to planning where to grow and trying to mitigate the impacts.
What are Urban Reserves?
The mechanism chosen for this plan was the establishment of Urban Reserves. Every city in Oregon has their city limits. State law requires that every city also establish an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB), which is to contain enough land to meet the city’s growth needs for 20 years. Although only a handful have done so, Oregon cities are also permitted to create a supply of land to meet their urbanization needs up to 30 years beyond those of the UGB, or 50 years out from the present. This is done through creation of Urban Reserves. Division and development on lands designated as Urban Reserves is restricted to minimize future conflict when that land is brought into the city and urbanized.
Establishment or expansion of a UGB is controlled by Statute. Establishment of Urban Reserves is mentioned in Statute, but controlled by Administrative Rule. This rule is one that the Jackson County RPS process is seeking to avoid having to comply with fully.
How do Lands Get Designated as Urban Reserves or as Part of UGBs?
The process for establishing Urban Reserves is set forth in Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR) 660-021-0030. This rule requires that a city seeking to create or expand its Urban Reserves first consider land that is zoned non-resource (ie, is not agricultural or forest land). Only if that land is not sufficient to meet the needs of the city can the city then look to low-quality resource lands. As a last resort, if none of the other lands can meet the needs of the city, the city can consider high-quality resource lands.
The adopted RPS plan proposes to not have to comply with that priority scheme—effectively considering non-resource and resource lands as the same when establishing Urban Reserves. The plan includes about 8,500 acres of land proposed for Urban Reserves. Nearly 80 percent of that land is resource land (primarily agricultural—both low- and high-quality).
In order to expand its city limits, a city must first look at lands within the UGB. If it needs to expand its UGB, the city must do so through a process set forth in statute. ORS 197.298 states that if a city needs to expand its UGB it must first consider its Urban Reserve areas as top priority for inclusion in the UGB. Only if the needs of the city cannot be met on those lands can they then consider non-resource lands, then low-quality resource lands, and then—as a last resort—high-quality resource lands.
The significance of the approach taken in Jackson County is that without Urban Reserves, if a city seeks to expand its UGB it would consider resource lands, and specifically high-quality resource lands, as a last priority. However, if it has Urban Reserves, and if those Urban Reserves include high-quality resource land, then that land becomes the first priority into the UGB, rather than the last. By avoiding compliance with the prioritization regulations when creating Urban Reserves, the region is effectively moving some of the lowest priority lands (high quality resource land) from last priority to first priority when it considers where to expand its UGB next.
How is the Quality of Agricultural Lands Judged?
Determining the relative quality—or “capability” as used in regulations—of agricultural land can be difficult. Much of the resource land included in the adopted RPS plan is of lower capability. However, much is in the other category as well.
The RPS statute requires an RPS project to establish a committee of experts to identify land that is “part of the region’s commercial agricultural or forestland base.” By any standard, this land would be among the areas that the initial OurRegion participants would have identified as off-limits for urbanization, and it is also land that is in the very last priority for inclusion in urban reserves if the priority of lands scheme in the Administrative Rules is followed. There are about 1,200 acres of this land in the adopted plan. (Those lands appear in red on this map.)
This land is being jumped to the top of the priority list for inclusion in the next round of UGB expansions in the valley.
Are There Other Problems With the Adopted Plan?
Other problems include the amount of land in the Phoenix urban reserves (far more than will ever be shown to be needed in future UGB expansions); the amount of land that the project’s experts said were “critical to the region’s agricultural economy” that is, nonetheless, included as future urban land for the cities; and the way that the designation of “unbuildable land” was used to inflate the amount of land “needed” for future urbanization. Read more about these problems here.
Is There Anything Good in the Adopted Plan?
Absolutely. There are several requirements that the participants imposed on themselves for future urban growth boundary expansions and future development. Some of these are quite progressive and can serve as models for other parts of the state. These include uniform standards for buffering the effects of urbanization on adjacent farmland, the creation of a task force that will develop additional mitigation measures to minimize the impacts of urbanization on the agricultural economy and on the ability of irrigation districts to serve agricultural customers, requirements for coordinated planning of transportation facilities and urban development, and others. Read more detail here.