2018 Mid-Legislative Session Review

The 2018 Oregon legislative short session is coming to a close, sometime in the next two weeks, so we want to give you an update now. We will provide a full legislative summary when the session is complete. As a reminder, we shared a preview of this session just last month.

Thanks to the work of so many of you, it looks like we will be able to pass legislation to improve the land use program and stave off some serious threats to it. Here is a status update of some key bills.

HB 4075
Thanks to the outpouring of opposition from local farmers, residents, organizations including Save Helvetia, 1000 Friends of Oregon, Metro, and many others, we were able to stop this bill to convert 1,700 acres of high value EFU land from rural reserve to urban reserve in Washington County. The ink is barely dry on the regional reserves decision, and already the city of Hillsboro and some individual landowners were trying to change it by asking for a special deal from the legislature. Just a few years ago, with input from thousands of people around the region, every local government agreed to the delicate balance between the needs of the agricultural industry and natural resources, and those of urban development. That is reflected in the urban and rural reserves that exist today. Metro is relying on these urban reserves as it makes urban growth boundary decisions. Farmers are relying on rural reserves lands as they make long-term investments in growing food and fiber, and organizations focused on restoring and protecting natural resources are relying on these reserves for long-term habitat stability. 

It is time to let the reserves decision go forward. Just as importantly, it is time to stop dwelling on UGB expansions, and instead focus on how to build better inside our cities and neighborhoods – with more diverse and affordable housing types; better transit service to get workers to their jobs and relieve congestion; safe sidewalks and bikeways so people have a choice to not drive; and better use of the existing land supply where infrastructure already exists – especially in employment areas, where sprawling 1- and 2- story campus developments waste land and infrastructure and add to our climate challenges.

SB 1502 could have threatened these forests outside of Elgin, OR. 

SB 1502
This bill would have effectively removed most of the land use planning program from most of Eastern Oregon. HB 1502 would have allowed any commercial or industrial uses on lands outside urban growth boundaries that consist of agricultural soils of Class VI and above, declaring them to no longer be “resource” lands. This bill never had a hearing. Legislators heard from Eastern Oregon farmers and ranchers that these are the same lands, covering hundreds of thousands of acres, on which Oregon’s #1 agricultural product is raised – cattle and calves. Of Oregon‘s top 20 agricultural products, many are grown primarily in Eastern Oregon, including hay, wheat, potatoes, onions, mint, and, increasingly, dairy cattle. The iconic places and natural resources of Eastern Oregon also support a thriving, diverse, and growing tourism and recreation economy, including fishing, hunting, bicycling, hiking, camping, bird watching, boating, and more. Eastern Oregon agriculture needs investment in value-added production, marketing, transportation, processing, and agriculture extension services to continue to grow.  Eastern Oregon’s working lands do not need an array of conflicting uses making it more difficult and expensive to farm and ranch. For more information on the economic power of Oregon's natural resources for Eastern Oregon, download our one-pager on the topic.

HB 1502 is dead for this session, but we expect similar threats in 2019.

HB 4092
Again, thanks to your voices, HB 4092 is not currently moving. This bill would supersite expansion of the Aurora Airport, impacting high value farmlands in the fertile French Prairie area of Marion and Clackamas counties. A local land use process exists which, if the airport used it, could accommodate the needs of the airport, farmers, and nearby communities. However, the airport has not even tried the local application, instead going to the legislature to try to get its own special bill. We will be watching to ensure this bill goes no further.

Technical Fix for Housing Bill
A technical, but important, fix is needed to last session’s SB 1051, a bill we strongly supported and is now the law. SB 1051 included provisions designed to increase the production of housing, including affordable and “missing middle” housing types.  One provision of SB 1051 requires that accessory dwelling units (ADUs) must be allowed in areas zoned for detached single-family housing.  Previous versions of SB 1051 stated that this provision applied only inside urban growth boundaries. However, due to a technical error, that “inside the UGB” language did not appear in the final bill. That fix has been amended into this session’s HB 4031B, which we now support.

SB 1533
This bill, which 1000 Friends supports, clarifies that an equine therapy facility, which is an outright permitted use on farm land, can also hold related counseling and therapy off the horse but onsite through a specified process. We expect this bill to pass.

No Red Barn Amendment!
A cynical attempt to spot-zone a piece of high value farm land in the rural reserves of Clackamas County for the benefit of an urban commercial retail interest that speculated on farm land was soundly rebuffed.  With 3 1/2 hours notice before the public hearing, the “Red Barn” amendment was posted.  Nonetheless, a roomful of opponents showed up and about 15 testified, including Friends of French Prairie, three local farmers, Clackamas County Commissioner Ken Humbertson, Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp, Wilsonville City Councilor Charlotte Lehan, Metro Council representative Randy Tucker, Charbonneau residents, and 1000 Friends of Oregon.  That is an amazing turnout for a late Friday afternoon of a wintery week! Only one person testified in favor – the lobbyist for the urban retail operation that wanted to expand there.

The Red Barn amendment is an example of what makes some Oregonians deeply cynical about the legislative process and discourages people from participating.  A wealthy commercial business buys farmland - which is less expensive than urban land - knowing it is in a long-term farming designation and then tries to get the legislature to change the law just for them. Hard working farmers and residents and local government officials who would rather be back tending to their cities and county have to give up most of their day and get to Salem on short notice for something that should never have had a hearing.  Let’s make sure this does not happen again.


Photo Credits: Helvetia Autumn Meadow by Jason Harris, Creative Commons; Aerial view Elgin, OR by Sam Beebe, NE Going St. ADU from Portland For Everyone, Red Barn by Bruce Fingerhood, Creative Common.