The Good, The Bad, and The Dead: A Legislative Mid-session Update

Mary Kyle McCurdy
Tue, 04/25/2017 - 4:40pm

The Oregon Legislature has reached the halfway mark in the 2017 session.  This is the point when many bills die for lack of support and there is a clearer picture of which legislation still has a chance of becoming law by the time the Legislature ends this session, which will be in late June/early July.

1000 Friends is happy to report that our key priorities are still moving forward, and that some of the biggest challenges to Oregon’s land use program are dead. However, some significant threats remain.  Therefore, your state Repressive and Senator need to hear from you to keep Oregon both “loveable and livable” for all.

1000 Friends Priority Legislation to Pass

1000 Friends priority legislation reflects our commitment to ensuring the land use program supports livable urban and rural communities and protects family farms and forests.

Transportation Package
The Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation & Modernization spent the last 2 1/2 months in topic-specific subgroups to craft a comprehensive transportation funding package.  1000 Friends attended and participated in the subgroup that focused on funding for statewide transit and bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure.   We have been strong advocates for a significant increase in the state’s support for transit throughout Oregon, in rural communities and large cities.  We are happy to report that the legislative subgroup crafted a funding package that would significantly increase funding for transit provision throughout Oregon, from the current $28 million/year to $135 million/year.

Transit looks different in different places, and the proposal reflects that.  Most of the funds would go to local transit providers to increase service through funding operations, equipment, and technology.  A portion would be dedicated for improved long-distance inter-city connections, which is particularly important in the more remote parts of our state.

The full Committee is now integrating the recommendations of its subgroups into a comprehensive transportation package. We expect to see that around the end of April, so watch for more information from 1000 Friends, including how you can help support better transit service for all.

Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program: HB 3249
1000 Friends is part of a diverse consortium of organizations supporting the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program bill.  The land use planning program has protected the land base that has kept Oregon agriculture as the state’s #2 industry, producing diverse agricultural products valued at $5.4 billion annually. However, farms and ranches face challenges from increasing production costs, conversion to non-farm uses, loss of processing facilities, conflicts from non-farm users, and succession planning. 

HB 3249 provides for:

  • working land conservation easements and covenants
  • resources to aide in agricultural land succession planning, to bring younger people into farming

HB 3249 is currently in the Joint Committee on Ways & Means.

Housing for All:  HB 2007
Communities across Oregon are facing challenges in providing housing for all.  HB 2007 is the bill of House Speaker Rep. Tina Kotek. It takes significant steps towards implementing land use Goal 10, by making abundant, diverse, and more affordable housing available to more people of all ages, ability, income, and backgrounds in every neighborhood.  HB 2007 does this by:

  • Streamlining local government procedures to make it easier to provide more housing, and especially affordable housing, in all Oregon communities.
  • Directing the Department of Land Conservation & Development to study the amount of time cities take to decide housing applications, identify barriers to speedier decisions, and report back to the Legislature.
  • Strengthening requirements for clear & objective review standards for housing developments.
  • Recognizing that “families” come in all sizes, ages, and socio-economic backgrounds, and the notion of a “single family zone” as a neighborhood with only larger detached homes on larger lots must catch-up with today’s families.  Therefore, HB 2007 -2 provides that accessory dwelling units and duplexes can’t be prohibited in single family zones.

HB 2007 is currently in the Joint Committee on Ways & Means.

Housing Funding: HB 3373
HB 3373 would fund two positions, one each at Housing and Community Services Department and Department of Land Conservation and Development, dedicated to providing technical assistance and other services to local governments to increase the availability of affordable housing.

HB 3373 is currently in the Joint Committee on Ways & Means.

Threats to Oregon’s Land Use Program that are Still Alive

Aggregate Mining on Farm Land: SB 644
SB 644 would allow mining on Eastern Oregon farmland with no land use review at all and no permit. Counties would have no ability to limit or mitigate the impacts of mining on surrounding farm and ranching operations. This effectively turns a farmland zone into a farming and mining zone. Current law appropriately protects farmland while allowing mining through a conditional use permit process – that already balances these competing interests.

SB 644 is currently in the Senate Rules Committee.

UGB Expansion Bill:  HB 2893
HB 2893 would allow farm lands with Class VI, VII, and VIII soils to automatically move to the top of the list for UGB expansions and urban reserve designations, regardless of their current productivity or contribution to the area’s agricultural industry.  These soils are among those that support Oregon’s #1 agricultural commodity - cattle and calves.  They should not be automatically moved to the top of the priority list for development.  The city of Bend is asking for this bill.  We believe the bill is not needed for at least two reasons:

The law already provides two processes whereby a city can bring lesser quality farm soils to the head of the line for future UGB expansions and consider other factors like infrastructure.  Other cities have successfully used both processes.
Bend just expanded its UGB, and apparently has no plans to do so again for at least another 10 years. There is no reason to rush this bill; in fact, the entire issue of whether to expand the UGB and, if so, where, might change for a variety of reasons over the next 10 years.  This bill brings a broad brush to an important issue that should have a local conversation.

HB 2893 is in the House Committee on Rules.

Removing Land Use in Eastern Oregon: SB 432 
SB 432 allows rural counties with no population growth, and certain cities in those counties, to not comply with Oregon’s statewide land use planning goals.  This bill is aimed at opening up eastern Oregon lands to uncontrolled development. Unfortunately, SB 432 offers a false promise that if only more raw land were available, economic development would occur.  Not only is raw land very expensive to serve with infrastructure, but true economic development is more complex.

While parts of eastern Oregon have not experienced the same economic recovery and growth as the Willamette Valley, SB 432 is the opposite action that should be taken.  SB 432 will be detrimental to the economic engine of eastern Oregon – agriculture. 

The #1 agricultural product in Oregon is cattle and calves, which are produced largely in eastern Oregon. Southeastern Oregon has almost 3,000 farms, producing a market value of over $715 million, and generating many times that amount in related local jobs and businesses.  Malheur County is a stand-out, ranking #4 out of the state’s 36 counties in agricultural production – it grows more acres of onions, sugar beets, and alfalfa hay than any other Oregon county.  Agriculture is also Malheur County’s largest jobs provider, employing almost 25% of the work force. 

Agriculture value has increased in Morrow and Umatilla counties, in part because the Port of Morrow’s industrial facility provides space, utility, and transportation services to regional agriculture-related businesses.  It houses industries involved in frozen dehydrated vegetable and food processing; ethanol and biofuels production; dairy products processing and distribution; and vegetable and hay products.

Agriculture is the economic engine of much of rural Oregon. Land is the most critical asset for farmers and ranchers, supporting an industry that has been increasing in value steadily for decades, including through the recession.  SB 432 is detrimental to eastern Oregon’s economic health.

SB 432 is in the Senate Rules Committee.

Bills We Were Glad to See Die

Bills to allow additional housing on rural lands: HB 2937, HB 2938, and SB 1024
Several bills would have allowed counties to approve an additional house on each lot in “rural residential areas.”  These are areas outside urban growth boundaries that because of development patterns that existed before the enactment of Oregon’s land use program, have developed to an extent that they are not usable for farming or forestry. Oregon has 708,000 acres of land zoned for rural residential use outside urban growth boundaries – these areas vary widely, and are all over Oregon. They are generally served by wells and septic systems, and are zoned for a “rural” level of development.  It is estimated these bills could have added many thousands of houses across the countryside.  To uniformly allow another dwelling on every lot across these vastly different areas could significantly increase conflicts between farm and forest operations, including increased congestion caused by non-farm traffic; trespass and vandalism; water quality and quantity impacts; complaints about common farming practices such a noise; impacts on wildlife; and greatly increased wildfire risks.

Thanks to the many letters and in-person testimony from Oregonians like you, these bills are not going anywhere in this session.

Mega Bypass Tollway: HB 3231
HB 3231 authorized cities and counties to form a special taxing and revenue district to undertake everything involved with financing, designing, building, and operating a limited access tollway.  The bill authorized the tollway district to use eminent domain to acquire land and to establish, collect, and enforce tolls.   The HB 3231 also authorized the district to override designation of rural reserves.  Therefore, this toll district would have been able to pave farm, forest, and natural resource areas across the most resource-rich areas in the state.  The bill’s chief sponsor described a tollway extending from Woodland, WA, crossing to Highway 30 in Oregon at either Columbia City or Portland just west of the I-5 bridge and then through Forest Park, both intersecting with Highway 26 at Cornelius Pass, then paving a swath across the Tualatin Valley and French Prairie west of the current UGB and joining I-5 somewhere around Donald.

1000 Friends long ago dubbed the Westside Bypass – of which this is just another version – as a zombie, since it seems to refuse to die. We hope it stays dead this time. Thank you to the many, many Oregonians who contacted their legislators directly to speak out against this bill. Oregon should be investing in a multi-modal transportation system for the future, not an antiquated and ineffective “answer” of just more freeway miles.

SB 186:  Upends Metro’s Urban & Rural Reserves
This bill would have un-done specific rural reserve designations in Clackamas, Washington, and Multnomah counties, thereby opening certain areas designated as “rural reserves” for eventual development.  It would undermine the region’s multi-year effort to come to a consensus about where long-term growth should – and should not – happen.

Perhaps most importantly, it would undermine the region’s residents’ willingness to participate in any kind of process like this again – where certainty was promised, only to be taken away because some individual land owners were not designated “urban reserve” – a category that did not even exist a few years ago. The lack of being designated an urban reserve did not change those landowners’ property designation or expectations one bit.

Thanks to the voices of Friends of French Prairie, Washington County farmers, Save Helvetia, and many more, this bill is dead. 

SB 1048
This bill would have allowed additional and more rapid development approvals on farm and forest lands through changes to the law governing property line adjustments. The bill would have lead to more template dwellings, which are dwellings allowed on forest zoned land. It also would have allowed for more manipulation of rural resource-zoned properties so they would qualify for other dwellings. Further this bill appeared to be an attempt to get around a recent LUBA decision curbing serial property line adjustments. 1000 Friends and our affiliates including Friends of Yamhill County, Friends of Marion County, and Hood River Valley Residents Committee provided testimony on this bill.