2014 Oregon Legislative Recap: 5 Key Takeaways for Land Use

This year's short legislative session was a typically wild ride in Salem. When legislators concluded their work on March 7, we emerged with big wins on some important topics, but also some key questions left unanswered. Here are our 5 key takeaways from this session.

Acting in an exceptional circumstance to right a local government's wrongs, the Legislature wisely struck a balance to protect thousands of acres of farmland and confirm a fifty-year map for the Portland region’s future.

In 2012, 1000 Friends and other parties appealed Metro’s fifty-year urban and rural reserves map, based on Washington County’s designation of vast swaths of high-quality farmland for urbanization without justification. In February, the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected Washington County’s use of what the court called “pseudo factors” to mark rural reserves and remanded the map. Several legislators moved quickly to bring local leaders, business, and land advocates together to find a solution.

What emerged was House Bill 4078, which some called a “land use grand bargain”: an agreement that protects thousands of acres of quality farmland, many of which had been targeted for urbanization, while providing a clear map for development in the near-term and long-term. While the reserves should never have been finalized this way—if it weren’t for the poor decisions of Washington County, they would have stood the test—it is a great accomplishment for the region to have such a long-term vision in place.

However, the legislature’s action should be considered exceptional. Too many citizens were largely left out of the final decision, though they had many years of public comment before. Legislators had an interest in salvaging the reserves process, because they created it in 2007, and because local government had failed twice to show it could follow the rules. But as we explain below, some old opponents will try to use the decision to argue that land use is “broken” and needs more far-reaching “fixes.”

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The demise of the risky Oregon-only Columbia River Crossing project has created a huge opportunity to initiate a new conversation about mobility across a region and the state as a whole. 

We're proud to have played a major role in defeating this project and we're excited about the conversation to come. 1000 Friends had long opposed this megaproject because of its health and land use impacts. After Washington backed out of the project last July, Oregon’s risks were compounded—particularly the financial risks of a bloated project whose revenue sources would likely fall short, imperiling millions of dollars for transportation projects like sidewalks, maintenance, and transit all over the state. 1000 Friends joined a broad coalition asking state leaders asking to reject the Oregon-only project and begin a new conversation.

In January, we produced and released CRC Facts, which brought together all of the CRC’s many risks into one clear, concise format. Disseminating CRC Facts widely among legislators, the media, and the public, we were able to prominently raise the project’s many red flags. Many of our members and partners also put in long hours to talk with legislators and share their concerns—thank you!

Thanks to these efforts and those of many partners, skepticism grew in the legislature. Although a House Transportation Committee did hold hearings on the CRC and moved it to Ways and Means, nothing more happened on the CRC before the session ended. According to the Governor, that means the CRC as we’ve known it is now “dead.” The Oregonian and other media outlets were quick to note what a victory this is for conservation and livability groups like 1000 Friends.

But the demise of the CRC doesn’t mean the conversation ends permanently. It means we have a huge opportunity to initiate a new direction. It should focus on mobility as a tool to serve communities, not divide them; find solutions that are affordable and fair; and recognize that the way we’re getting around is changing, as people throughout the state drive less and seek better transit, sidewalks, and bikeways. 1000 Friends is excited to be a convener and a leader in this conversation as we identify a mobility solution that will last.

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Individuals and companies are still trying to use the legislature to create land use loopholes. Fortunately, we held these off for this session, but we need to remain vigilant.

Compared to past years, this session had fewer of these loophole bills—which often serve a single individual or company by making legal an operation that is already underway. This session’s primary bill had to do with a factory in a forestry zone on Mount Hood. Though the factory manufactures log cabin kits, the logs are imported, leading to conflicts on area roads, detriments to neighbors (including in a nearby residential area), and an improper placing of jobs that really should be in an industrial area to support a nearby city. The bill proposed to allow more operations like this and even large scale industrial facilities in forest zones. Instead, a work group was created to consider the issue in more detail; we’ll be a part of that conversation.

We heard more of the persistent fallacy that the only barrier to Oregon's economic development is a lack of raw land for development. 

This refrain is especially common in rural areas of the state, where this mistaken "strategy" will hurt the most.

As we demonstrated in our 2013 report on Oregon’s agri-cluster, Great & Growing, rural Oregon’s strength is its resource economy. This isn’t going to change. Agriculture is a flourishing and growing industry that we should celebrate, not harm by converting farmland to speculative urban uses. Agriculture supports one in eight Oregon jobs, and many more in rural areas, in businesses like food processing, marketing, and transportation. We need to keep legislators focused on solutions that will actually make a difference, from targeting state investments on value-added agriculture and education to repairing decaying infrastructure. More raw land, particularly when designated arbitrarily by legislation, will simply mean more vacant land and wasted infrastructure investments for local governments that can hardly keep up already.

Throughout 2014, we’ll continue working on reforms that help rural communities analyze their land needs and identify fact-based, workable strategies to develop their economies.

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Opponents of the land use program see an opening to dismantle the core protections Oregonians value. They're making no secret that they will try to do so in the next legislative session.

We’ve seen it in above-the-fold headlines, comments on the House and Senate floor, and op-eds. Next year’s session could see a significant cluster of dressed-up “reforms” that are really attempts to further exclude citizen involvement, remove farm and forest protections, and open the gates to sprawl. All of us who care about Oregon's future need to prepare to defend it.

The opponents of the program can be loud, and some of them are very influential. But the good news is they are the minority. Two-thirds of Oregonians believe strongly that farmland is one of our greatest assets and that development should be concentrated in existing cities and towns. The only way planning’s opponents will take that away is if we let them. And with your help, we won’t.

Stand up here to support our efforts for a healthy Oregon with a donation to 1000 Friends.

Thank You

Thanks to all who stood with 1000 Friends on key legislation this year. We worked with scores of Oregonians who took the time to contact legislators or even go to Salem to testify, often on very short notice. When you speak up, legislators take notice. Thank you for your time and energy.

We’d also like to extend a special thanks to several legislators who played a big role in pursuing positive directions for land use and transportation this session. These include Rep. Brian Clem, Rep. John Davis, Rep. Ben Unger, Senate President Peter Courtney, and Senator Arnie Roblan.

How You Can Help:

1000 Friends depends on our members, our friends, who share our belief in an Oregon that is healthy, productive, and beautiful—and who recognize that it takes people standing up for that vision to make it a reality. Are you one of those people? Please make a donation here to stand with us.