Op-Ed: Land Use Still Works

"Farmers can farm, and builders can build," writes 1000 Friends Executive Director Jason Miner. "Each plays a vital role in Oregon's future." Read his op-ed published recently by the Portland Tribune, Hillsboro Tribune, and Newberg Graphic.

Go to the intersection of Helvetia Road and West Union Road, north of U.S. Highway 26 in Washington County. Look around you.

Everything you see, and thousands of acres more all around our region, is now protected for a lifetime. Those fields and farms will stay protected from speculation and sprawl for 50 years. Farmers can securely make investments in land and equipment — manage the soil, plant orchards or vineyards, lease a tractor or build a barn.

Meanwhile, cities from Forest Grove to Troutdale have a clear map for their future. Businesses and homebuilders know where they can locate. Taxpayers can be assured that urban lands and infrastructure will be efficiently used.

Thanks to the urban and rural reserves, farmers can farm and builders can build. Each plays a vital role in Oregon’s future.

This is what land use planning does for Oregon. And it’s why we need to keep it working. Land-use planning is a recognition that Oregonians today and Oregonians tomorrow have equal interest in healthy communities, local food, a landscape that inspires. But only today do we have the power to ensure that Oregon grows that way.

The reserves are unlike anything we’ve done before in land use, making our greatest statement yet about what we believe Oregon should be like in the future.

They didn’t come about as many of us had hoped. This deal was seriously jeopardized by bad decisions on the part of local governments.

Quite simply, Washington County overreached in the reserves process, designating high-quality farmland for sprawl by creating its own unjustifiable rules. The county was caught by local citizens and by the Oregon Court of Appeals, which issued a sweeping rebuke of its proposal to urbanize vast swaths of farmland.

Legislators reacted swiftly, working with elected officials to strike a balance that reversed the harmful effects of Washington County’s proposal and honored the original intent of the 2007 law creating reserves.

But there was a serious cost to this deal. The Legislature stepped into a role it should never have to fill, bailing out a local government that willfully broke simple rules by creating its own. Citizens were largely left out of the final deal, which is one reason this should be an exceptional case.

Land-use planning has its opponents. It always has. The loudest voices claiming the land-use system is broken are usually those who stand to gain the most from dismantling it.

These folks challenge those of us who believe Oregon’s bounty is its land. They often cherry-pick examples of supposed injustice or unnecessary delay that, when further examined, prove as formless as spring mist. Sometimes they appeal to a sense of fairness or expediency that understandably resonates with Oregonians.

But make no mistake: they have a clear goal. They believe Oregon’s farmland is just vacant land waiting for development, that sprawl pays and should be unrestrained, and that your right to participate can be left by the roadside. Elected officials from all over the state will claim a precedent in the reserves decision and use it to their ends, including completely dismantling land use planning and our obligation to future generations.

We can’t let them. Large majorities of Oregonians — across political, demographic, and geographic lines — believe that farms and forests should be protected and development should be sensibly planned. Every Oregonian deserves a meaningful voice in determining how we do this.

Land-use planning is our place to work together for Oregon’s future. Anyone who cares about that future should stand ready to defend it.