Op-Ed: The Reserves Agreement and Oregon's Future

In an op-ed published March 14 on The Oregonian's website, 1000 Friends Executive Director Jason Miner describes how the urban and rural reserves agreement emerged from a local government's failure, and why supporters of farmland should be prepared to defend it.


Jason writes:

The future of Oregon land use planning is in your hands. But some are trying to deny that future.

Over the past two months, the Legislature crafted a rural reserves compromise in Washington County that protects thousands of acres of farmland that were wrongly slated for development.  Places like Helvetia will be protected for your lifetime.

Farmers in those areas can securely make investments in land and equipment and be confident that speculators won’t undermine them.

Meanwhile, the region’s cities have a clear map for their future, and taxpayers can be assured that land inside the urban growth boundary will be efficiently used before unnecessarily expanding expensive infrastructure.

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.   

Let’s be clear: This was brought about by local government failure.

Quite simply, Washington County overreached in the reserves process, designating high-quality farmland for sprawl by creating its own unjustifiable rules. It got caught by local citizens and by the Oregon Court of Appeals. The court condemned the use of “pseudo factors” in designating land for rural reserves.

Washington County ignored Oregonians’ long-held beliefs that farmland and urban land stand in balance. It ignored the input of local farmers and residents. It ignored the law that created the reserves process.

And so the Legislature brokered a compromise that saved the rural reserves.

Now old opponents of planning are arguing it is a reason to undermine the entire program. They are arguing that farmland needs no real protection, that development should be unrestrained, and that your right to participate can be left by the roadside in favor of expediency. Do not let them win.

Oregon’s land use program is designed to uphold core values that Oregonians have held for decades: economic development alongside meaningful protections of farms, forests and natural areas. The program is working. Our agricultural industry sets records and earns international praise almost every year. Our cities and towns are growing faster than the national average while sprawling less.

The program has changed dramatically over the past 40 years, and in 2013 legislation was passed to streamline urban growth boundary decisions for smaller cities, including those in rural Oregon.  What happened with the reserves isn’t evidence of a broken land use system. It’s evidence of broken actions by local governments that ignored the law and got caught, and of a Legislature that acted to save a rural reserves process it created.

This is not a pass for local governments that ignore the law. And it shouldn’t be an excuse to deny Oregonians the right to participate in shaping the future of their communities.

Oregonians themselves must determine the precedent set today, not legislators. Be assured those hoping to thwart the land use balance will argue for further legislative action. But citizens created Oregon’s land use program. Oregon’s future belongs to all of us, and so should the way we plan for it.

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