Land Use Highlights and Lowlights of the 2015 Oregon Legislative Session

Mary Kyle McCurdy

The 2015 Oregon legislative session proved to be quite active on land use issues. 1000 Friends staff tracked over 300 bills and testified on dozens of them. Your financial support enabled us to be in Salem, working closely with allied groups and legislators to defend and improve the land use program. This support also meant we could keep in touch with all of you, letting you know when your voice was critically needed in Salem. Together, we were able to pass a few improvements and defeat many threats to the land use program. However, some other important land use initiatives failed – and we will be back with those! We thank our wonderful lobbyist, Meredith Shield, who was in the Capitol every day, helping to orchestrate our efforts and those of so many of you. Here is a brief summary of wins, losses, and draws. It is by no means a comprehensive list, so please contact us if you have specific questions or comments.

What Passed:  Improvements Made to the Land Use Program

Transportation:  Funding for Walking and Bicycling

1000 Friends worked with Transportation for Oregon’s Future and other advocates to obtain transportation investment and community design that supports people’s ability to safely walk, bicycle, and take transit. We successfully obtained bike and pedestrian funding eligibility in ConnectOregon VI, at a level of $45 million. For more information, please contact Mary Kyle McCurdy at mkm@friends.org.

1000 Friends will continue to seek increased funding for transit operations. The state of Oregon funds transit at a level significantly lower level than the national average – 3% versus 25%. 

HB 2831: Maintaining Agricultural Viability for Measure 49 Remnant Parcels

When voters passed Measure 49 in 2007, it included a simple mechanism to encourage continued resource use on farm and forest lands even after a Measure 49 claim was executed. It requires newly partitioned lots from Measure 49 waivers to be two acres or smaller on high-value resource lands and five acres or smaller on other resource lands. This ensures that, of the three lots that can result from a Measure 49 claim, one will be large enough to support commercial agriculture. However, Measure 49 did not clearly ensure that a subsequent property line adjustment would not reconfigure the lots, thereby increasing the size of the smaller lots and making the larger lot too small for commercial agriculture. This had been happening and HB 2831 corrected that oversight. Special thanks to Rep. Brian Clem and Rep. Ken Helm for their work on this important bill. For more information, please contact Steve McCoy at steve@friends.org.

HB 2830:  Making Local Land Use Decisions More Efficient

Until this legislative session, if the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) sent a land use decision back to a city or county because LUBA found the local government had violated the law, that decision could sit indefinitely at the local government as a “zombie” approval – partially alive because it was approved at the local level and partially dead because LUBA remanded the case. The only way to reanimate or terminate the zombie was at the request of the applicant. This was a problem because the applicant could wait until the appellant moved away or until there was a change in the composition of the approval authority. HB 2830 ensures that the appellant will also be able to start the clock for the local government to make a final decision on the application. Thanks to Rep. Ken Helm for his leadership on this bill. For more information, please contact Steve McCoy at steve@friends.org.

What Should Have Passed

HB 2564: Inclusionary Zoning

Land Use Goal 10 requires that all cities provide residential land zoned to meet the housing needs of all Oregonians. 1000 Friends worked with a coalition of organizations, individuals, local governments, and businesses that care about affordable housing to pass HB 2564. Local governments from Hood River to Lincoln County and Corvallis to Milwaukie supported HB 2564.

The bill would have removed the current state prohibition on "inclusionary zoning," an effective tool to provide for affordable housing that many other states and regions have successfully used for decades. Inclusionary zoning, or IZ, has two critical features: it can be crafted by local governments to fit local circumstances, and it enables every community to provide housing affordable to all. The common framework for IZ is a requirement that all housing developments over a certain size set aside a certain percentage of units for sale or rent to those at or below a particular income level. So, for example, an apartment building of 20 market-rate units might ensure that two of those units are affordable for sale or rent to those making the minimum wage. Most IZ codes provide that in exchange, the builder gets some sort of bonus – like a density bonus, a reduction in parking requirements, or a waiver of certain fees.

HB 2564 passed the Oregon House, thanks in large part to the leadership of House Speaker Tina Kotek and Representatives Alissa Keny-Guyer and Jennifer Williamson. Senator Sara Gelser led the effort to pass the bill out of her Senate committee. However, the bill never came to a full Senate vote, despite efforts by many to address the homebuilding industry’s concerns.

Stay tuned – 1000 Friends and a broad coalition will be back in to repeal the IZ ban. In the meantime, please send a thank you to Representatives Kotek, Keny-Guyer, and Williamson and Senator Gelser. For more information or to receive information about the February legislative session effort, please contact Mary Kyle McCurdy at mkm@friends.org.

HB 2633:  Planning for Natural Hazards

When Oregon’s Land Use Program was established 40 years ago to help local governments make wise decisions with respect to community growth and protecting the state’s natural resources, the citizens of the state crafted the Statewide Planning Goals. Goal 7 is dedicated to natural hazards. While most of the 19 goals have been implemented in state law or agency rule, Goal 7 has never been implemented in rule or law. This has resulted in a patchwork of hazard preparedness amongst Oregon’s communities.

Goal 7 encompasses several disasters exacerbated by climate change, including coastal and riverine flooding, coastal erosion, landslides, and wildfires, as well as tsunamis and earthquakes. It’s time for the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) to implement rules so that natural hazards will be adequately addressed as part of the planning process.

Benefits of implementing Goal 7:

  • Saving lives – by reducing the number of structures in hazard areas in the long term and the risk to firefighters trying to save them.
  • Saving money – by reducing the costs associated with structures in hazard areas, including firefighting, rebuilding, and infrastructure costs.
  • Planning flexibility – by allowing local governments to correct past decisions that did not take natural hazards into account and to effectively plan for future events.

The proposed bill had two major parts. First, it required LCDC to adopt administrative rules implementing Goal 7 and provided some money to accomplish this. These administrative rules would have ensured that local governments would take natural hazards into account when they planned for the future. Second, it directed the Department of Land Conservation and Development to work with local governments on adaptive planning for existing structures in hazard areas and to assist local governments in mitigating danger from natural hazards, including moving structures out of hazard areas. This would help local governments minimize the dangers to occupants of existing structures in hazard areas.

Unfortunately, despite Herculean efforts by Rep. Ann Lininger, Rep. Ken Helm, and Rep. Dan Rayfield the bill died in Ways and Means.  Thank you to those three and others that worked to pass this incredibly important bill.  For more information, please contact Steve McCoy at steve@friends.org.

Capping Local Appeal Fees

Again this session bills were introduced in both chambers to cap local land use appeal fees.  Under current law, certain local governments set onerously high local appeal fees. A local appeal is generally necessary before a case can be taken to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) and then to the courts. Unreasonably high local appeal fees thus close the doors of justice to those who wish to enter. Unfortunately, while the bill did get a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, it did not make it out of committee. For more information, please contact Steve McCoy at steve@friends.org.

What We Defeated

Bills to Supersite Special Interest Uses on Farm Land

This legislative session saw bills from special interests to override land use laws for their private financial gain. In particular, several bills would have allowed urban development on some of the most productive farm land in the world – the agricultural area south of Willamette River. Speculative development interests have purchased farm land in the area around Langdon Farms, knowing it was farmland, and have been relentless in their attempts to override local decisions, court decisions, and the law to develop it. Thanks to the tireless efforts of so many of you across the state who support the land use program and Oregon’s  #2 industry – agriculture – we were able to fight back these efforts. It is time for the Oregon legislature to just say “no” once and for all to bills to enrich individual land speculators. Please contact your state Representative and Senator and let them know that the legislature should not become the place where special, monied interests get to come to override the land use program.

Bills to Selectively Suspend or Repeal Land Use Planning

SB 25 and SB 748 were two bills brought by foes of planning that would have severely damaged the land use program in large parts of Oregon. Both bills received hearings in Sen. Chris Edwards’ Senate Environment and Natural Resource Committee.

SB 25 would have suspended the goals of Oregon’s land use program in eight Eastern Oregon counties, allowing the counties and the cities within them to rezone any or all farmlands and forestlands for development. This would have allowed sprawling subdivisions on lands that have been in continuous farm or forest use for generations or that have other important natural resource values, such as for wildlife. Protecting farmland, forestland, and other natural areas is a fundamental mission of Oregon's land use program. Increased uncertainty for farmers near UGBs would have caused them to decrease investments in their lands, bringing valuable agriculture land out of production and making farming even more difficult for their neighbors. Furthermore, taking farms and forestlands out of production would have cost Oregon jobs.

SB 748 would have allowed an easy path to an exception to any of the goals of Oregon’s land use program in about 23 of Oregon’s 36 counties, in certain circumstances. Specifically, SB 748 would have provided an automatic exception to any and all statewide planning goals in counties that were experiencing high unemployment, a lack of growth, or high poverty levels if the local government found that 10 high-paying jobs would be created. While apparently no counties would have met the poverty threshold set in the bill, rural counties all over the country are losing population (including 8 in Oregon) and the unemployment rate was set so low (7%) that much of the rest of the state (including part of the Willamette Valley) would have been swept in as well. The bill did not require that the exception be necessary to create new jobs and, while the salary threshold for the high-paying jobs was quite high, there was no requirement that the jobs that were promised would be permanent or even be located in Oregon. Also, there was no mechanism for ensuring claimed the job creation actually happened. SB 748 was a naked attempt to break the UGB and the land use planning program across a large portion of the state. For more information, please contact Steve McCoy at steve@friends.org.

Bill to Allow Firearm Ranges on Farmland

SB 86 would have allowed firearms training facilities as a conditional use on farmland. However, under current law, there is a preemption statute that prevents local governments from placing conditions on shooting ranges and from enforcing other laws, such as noise ordinances or restrictions on the types of weapons that can be fired. If SB 86 had not been killed in committee then neighbors would have been disturbed and possibly placed in danger and livestock would have been frightened. Thank you to Sen. Floyd Prozanski, Sen. Ginny Burdick, and Sen. Sara Gelser for stopping this bill. For more information, please contact Steve McCoy at steve@friends.org.

Bill to Allow Gravel Mining without Compatibility Review

HB 2666 would have allowed gravel mines to interfere with nearby farms with no review of compatibility. As long as the farm could continue to operate, even if it was at a much reduced capacity or profitability, the mine could proceed. While we do need gravel mines in Oregon, they can be sited away from excellent farmlands and sensitive crops. Thank you to Rep. Brian Clem for being a strong advocate against this ill-advised bill. For more information, please contact Steve McCoy at steve@friends.org.

Coming Next: February 2016 Legislative Session!

We will soon start working towards the next legislative session, which is just around the corner in February 2016. If you would like to be kept up-to-date on the legislative session, or make a donation to support our legislative work, please click here.