Wins, Wastes, and What's Next: Recapping the 2013 Legislative Session

Like most legislative sessions, 2013 began and ended with a flurry of activity in Salem. Back in February, over 150 bills – good and bad – were introduced that pertained to land use planning, transportation, housing, agriculture, and other issues that 1000 Friends works on.

Though early deadlines left many of these bills on life support, and a few others were passed quickly, many remained in limbo until the final days of the session. Land use bills are often held back to be used in “trade” for votes on unrelated bills at the Capitol, meaning those who care about  land use cannot really rest until the final gavel drops.

As in other sessions, 1000 Friends staff spent a lot of time in Salem this year: meeting with lawmakers, testifying, building partnerships, and monitoring proceedings right up until sine die on July 8. We worked to protect the core values of Oregon’s land use program and improve its outcomes. Overall, we had a largely successful session.

In short, here are the top 5 takeaways from this session:

  1. We helped pass several bills that will make smart planning easier for Oregon cities of all sizes, and protect opportunities for good jobs in appropriate places.
  2. We successfully fought off several attempts to override land use laws for speculative industrial development and other special interests, though one particularly bad bill did make it through.
  3. We helped improve and pass several bills that will help farmers, including protecting farmland from gravel mining and enhancing connections between small farmers and consumers.
  4. After a troubling start, our transportation outlook significantly improved by the end of the session with new revenue streams for active transportation and the failure of the Columbia River Crossing in Washington.
  5. We defeated several attempts to weaken citizen participation in land use planning and the judicial process, and significantly improved one bill that will lead to better assessments of how our land use judicial process works.

Our successes wouldn’t have been possible without scores of Oregonians who took the time to write testimony or speak to legislators and committees in the Capitol. Thank you to all who provided tremendous assistance to help us meet our goals. Thank you also to all of our members who make our work possible with financial contributions.

If you’d like to make a gift to support this work, you can do so here. Thank you!

We’d also like to thank a few key legislative champions who made great things happen this session, while stopping a lot of bad bills: Rep. Brian Clem, Chair of the House Land Use Committee; Senate President Peter Courtney; Senator Jackie Dingfelder; Speaker of the House Tina Kotek; Senator Arnie Roblan, Chair of the Senate Rural Communities and Economic Development Committee; Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum; and Representative Ben Unger.

If you'd like more information about this session, read on for a more detailed summary. Howver, there simply isn’t space here to provide an exhaustive list of every bill we tracked, supported, or fought. So here are some highlights (and a few lowlights) from a long session.

Grasping Wastrels and the Chase for Jobs

A recurring, and troubling, theme in recent sessions returned with a special vengeance this year. This is the push to waive core land use and environmental protections at the whisper of a new job creator coming to town--the current breed of what Governor Tom McCall once called "grasping wastrels of the land."

From our founding, 1000 Friends has been vigilant in fighting special legislation for special interests—particularly the practice of “super-siting,” which allows a specific user or type of use to supersede local planning and process to get their way at the expense of citizen participation and local preferences.

The 2013 session saw several particularly egregious examples of this unsavory approach to using our land. One bill would have allowed super-siting for several dozen jobs in Malheur County. Another would have waived statewide planning goals if a community wanted to expand its urban growth boundary for vague “industrial purposes.” A third tacked super-siting for public safety training centers onto an otherwise agreeable education bill. And Senate Bill 845, the so-called “Azalea” bill, would have given an anonymous company 330 acres of disputed farmland in North Hillsboro to use for a speculative industrial project, with little recourse for appeal by citizens.

None of these represents a smart way to make policy. 1000 Friends strenuously opposed all these bills, and fortunately defeated all but one—the training center bill—though SB 845 remained alive until the closing hours of the session. Thank you to many who answered our calls to express your opposition to these bills to your elected officials.

Better Strategies for Community Development

1000 Friends recognizes that economic development is crucial to giving Oregonians good jobs and building thriving communities. That is why we support bills that help bring jobs to lands that communities have agreed would be good for development, and also work to make planning easier for communities of all sizes. In this session, we successfully supported several bills to accomplish these goals.

House Bill 2839, a bill we authored sponsored that was one of our top priorities, passed with bipartisan support and was signed by the Governor. It will protect communities from incurring Measure 49 claims when local residents and leaders decide that vacant residentially-zoned land might be better used for jobs. We also supported bills that will ready polluted “brownfield” sites for redevelopment, and that would protect industrial lands from conversion to other uses. Unfortunately, the anti-conversion bill did not pass, so look for us to be back with that effort next session.

We also helped craft a pair of bills that will improve local planning by creating more consistent population forecasts and providing a streamlined UGB evaluation process, respectively. Each was passed unanimously in the House and Senate, and signed by Governor Kitzhaber.

Finally, with affordable housing a key concern for many Oregon communities, we supported a bill to give communities the right to use the very effective “inclusionary housing” tool to secure affordable units in new developments. Even the option to use this tool is currently outlawed in Oregon. Although the ban was not overturned, Speaker Kotek has pledged to create a work group to chart a solution that will improve housing options for all Oregonians.

Transportation: The Bad, the Good, and the Great

When it came to transportation, the 2013 session began with a bad decision and ended with a great one.

The bad decision: committing $450 million to the Columbia River Crossing project, a massive freeway expansion that was billed as a bridge replacement. 1000 Friends and the Coalition for a Livable Future, which we co-founded in 1994, have opposed this sprawl-inducing project for many years. While we were dismayed at the Oregon Legislature’s funding decision, the CRC ultimately met its demise just a few weeks ago when the Washington Legislature failed to commit its share of funds to move the project forward.

We are pleased to see this project's demise. But rather than walk away completely, this is a time toreexamine our priorities and needs in the entire region. In the months ahead, 1000 Friends and CLF will work with partners to begin this vital reexamination. Based on these assessments, the states and region should develop a stronger vision for cost-effective, collaborative solutions that better serve our needs and reflect our values. Ultimately, the solution is not about a bridge. It's about the entire region.

That said, death can sometimes be but a temporary inconvenience for freeway projects. Take the classic “Zombie Freeway,” the Westside Bypass--a proposal to slice up Washington County farmland for a freeway. A last-minute bill tacked on $1.5 million for a study looking at transportation in Washington County, at the request of Bypass supporters. 1000 Friends will monitor this process closely to ensure that real solutions are proposed, not just another rehashing of an ill-conceived freeway project.

The session ended on one very bright transportation note. Legislators not only renewed the important “Connect Oregon” program funding freight projects through lottery funds, they also added bicycle and pedestrian trails to the eligible list for the first time ever. 1000 Friends worked throughout the session with partners including the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Oregon Walks, and the Oregon Environmental Council to support opening this funding pot to these crucial, high-return-on-investment projects.

Rural Oregon: Fighting Loopholes, Finding Balance

Another frequent theme in Salem is calls to provide special loopholes for specific, non-farming uses on land zoned for “exclusive” farm use. This has been a perennial topic since the first days of the Oregon land use planning, and we are always prepared to defend the integrity of Oregon farmland.

One bill this session was particularly egregious. HB 3098 would open thousands of acres of eastern Oregon farmland to intensive new development as “youth camps.” Originally written to super-site a camp on the former Rajneeshee compound in remote Wasco and Jefferson counties, the bill was amended considerably and now applies to some farmlands in all of eastern Oregon. We fought hard against this bill, alongside eastern Oregon partners, residents, ranchers, and policymakers. Along with many of our partners and concerned citizens, we are encouraging Governor Kitzhaber to veto it. If he does not, we will remain vigilant as the state enters a rulemaking process to determine its full impact. Update, August 6: Governor Kitzhaber has signe d this bill.

Although HB 3098 passed, this session we saw many successes protecting farm lands from gravel mining, unnecessary privately-owned toll roads, and urban-style park uses. We also fought off several bills that aimed to dismantle protection of farm and forest lands regionally or throughout the state, and worked with legislators to improve bills meant to help farmers and private foresters.

One bill we actively supported allows modest poultry processing in farm zones, thus ensuring that smaller producers have more affordable connections to consumers. The bill was a priority of the Oregon Grows coalition, of which we are a member. It passed both chambers unanimously and has been signed by the Governor.

Full Engagement in Planning: An Oregon Cornerstone

Just as in every past legislative session we can remember, this year there were many bills designed to limit citizen participation in land use decision making in their own communities. Goal One of Oregon’s land use planning program in Citizen Involvement. One reason for Oregonians’ four-decade long support of the land use program is that it requires that citizens be provided opportunities to contribute on local land use decisions, including the right to appeal.

Yet some have consistently tried to weaken this core component of our system. Legislation proposed this session included limiting the right to participate locally to those who own land within a certain distance of a land use decision; making it more expensive to appeal local land use decisions to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA); and limiting the grounds on which an appeal could be made. Thanks to the diligent efforts of the 1000 Friends staff and supporters, all these proposals failed. 

We also succeeded in changing one bad bill into a useful one. SB 77 significantly improves how LUBA tracks data in cases that come before it.  This information will help inform future evaluations of LUBA, so that they are based on data, not anecdote.

Unfortunately, one good bill did not pass. Currently, some local governments charge exorbitant fees to citizens who wish to appeal a decision from the local Planning Commission or Hearings Officer to the County Board of Commissioners. For example, appeal fees in Crook County can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. HB 3087, introduced by Central Oregon Land Watch (COLW), would have capped this local appeal fee at $1000. Look for this bill to be introduced again next session, and for us to ask you to help get it passed.

Conclusion: On to 2014

​Although the Capitol is now quiet, we’re not resting for long. Many work groups, task forces, and commissions will now begin their work based on legislation passed this year. 1000 Friends will be a vigilant and active member or observer of these groups. We’ll also keep working with legislators in the interim to remind them of the importance of Oregon’s land use program. Through it all, and in sessions ahead, we will no doubt be asking our supporters and friends to help.

To get more involved in our work, visit this page. Or click here to make a special financial contribution to help support our work in the Legislature and communities around the state.

Thank you for all you do for Oregon,

The team at 1000 Friends of Oregon

Image credits (All photos Creative Commons):
Capitol shots: Travel Salem on Flickr
Family biking near Nehalem Bay State Park: Dolanh on Flickr
Farmland near Forest Grove: swainboat on Flickr
Hood River: 1000 Friends staff.