Monday, October 8, 2007


This entry is a bit along the lines of Lisa’s last entry, but a little different. In my case it’s disgust over a couple of fairly widespread ideas that some folks hold that really bug the hell out of me. I may have done entries on this earlier, I know I’ve thought about it. If I’m repeating myself, sorry. And my description of the hullabaloo of the attempts to tweak Oregon's land use laws is not exhaustive by any means. It would probably take an entire book to do it justice.

Number one. Back in the mid seventies Oregon put in place some fairly strict land use regulations. The idea was to protect farm and forest land from uncontrolled development. We didn’t want to end up as LA north. It was basically a one size fits all set of rules, and the way they weren’t handled wasn’t always fair. But, hey as we’re told from the age of five on, life isn’t always fair.

Having said that, Oregon is not an easy state to build in. Except for Astoria, on the mouth of the Columbia and Bend, just east of the Cascades, all the large cities, and I mean ALL of them are in the Willamette Valley. And most of them are between Salem and Portland. One set of rules for valley area and another for the rest of the state probably would have been a good idea. Heck seventy five percent of the state doesn’t have to worry about sprawl because it’s too dry, too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter and too far from anywhere else for almost anyone to want to live there. It’s the other twenty five percent that’s causing the problems.

And I have to agree that some of the irritation could have been averted if a way had been found to handle “set asides.” After the owner buys a house or a business the local city or county decides that some kind of easement is needed. Forflood control, or greenway, or something, that in the opinion of the elected or appointed hired help, that is needed to protect a flood prone area, help wild life, etc. Basically the land owner is told, it’s still your land but you can only do certain things with it and we aren’t going to pay for the use of it. Some of these situations could have been handled with a little more tact and probably would have gone a long way to defusing some of the irritation.  

The problem, as it was sold to voters when the land use laws were amended three or four years ago, was that people who bought property (speculated really) before the laws were passed couldn’t do what they intended to do when they bought the land. So, measure 37 was put on the ballot to correct this. The wording the ballot measure was basically let me use the land the way the law said I could use it when I bought it or pay me for the “lost value” due to land use restrictions. Never mind that there are twice as many people living in Oregon now as there were in the fifties and sixties. Never mind that most of the new growth is in the Willamette Valley. (because it’s the only part of the state that’s anywhere near level or has any water to speak of) Never mind that other people have built houses, farms, and vineyards since the land use laws were passed, had certain expectations based on the law, and would see their land values impacted, too. Repeat after me, “once you open a can of worms…….” Many of them are also saying “it’s not fair” too.

And I have to admit that this has impacted people in my own family. My great grandfather moved his family to Oregon in the late 1800’s. He bought property in the Newburg area. When he died the farm was subdivided between three sons. My granddad lost his farm in the twenties. The last of three pieces was sold recently after cousin Ernie passed away several years ago. The remaining section was too small to subdivide under the rules and too large for any single remaining member of the family to buy the others out. Or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I suspect that if any one of them had wanted to farm the place something could have been worked out with the others. Heck, Ernie hadn’t farmed the place for years. He’d leased the land to somebody else to work.

Anyway, we were shown ads with tearful oldsters who only wanted to build an extra house or two so their kids could live near them. Or they’d planned to sell the property as a retirement nest egg.  Three guesses who paid for the ads. The timber companies, the real estate companies, and developers looking for new land to build on. After all large scale developers are in business to build things and the real estate people are in business to sell them. And the land use restrictions have been making it harder to make a buck. But, hey life isn’t always fair is it?

One of the first things that caused a lot of screaming from supporters of the measure was lack of portability. After all it was sold to the rest of us as “I want to do …….” Not I want to sell the land to somebody else to do, whatever. You’d have thought a bunch of long tailed cats had been turned loose in a crowded rocking chair factory from the caterwauling when that little detail came up.

Anyway after a couple of years of court challenges, 37 was upheld and the claims started pouring in. Incidentally, there were no provisions in the ballot measure for any kind of verification of loss of property value claimed or any funds set aside to pay these claims. And at least one claimant has admitted that they don’t really know if their land is worth what they’re asking but “hey I might as well try to get as much as I can.” And if you can get enough people bidding on a tract in certain parts of the state, the sky is pretty much the limit.

One out of state timber company that had bought out a small local company tried to put in a claim to develop nearly thirty thousand acres in the coast range. That was one of the claims that broke the camel’s back. It has beenwithdrawn, by the way. I know what the press release said, but I suspect that someone from the company came out and actually looked at the property involved. The company is headquartered back east and most of those thirty thousand acres probably looks pretty vertical to somebody not familiar with the state. Most of the coast range valleys are short, narrow, and ten or twenty miles of narrow, curve filled roads from anything that looks like a store, or much of anything else, now that I think about it. Lots of miles of roads with a drop off on one side, a mountain on the other and no, I repeat no, shoulders.

Anyway, last session the state legislature finally rediscovered it’s balls, sort of, and put a measure on the November ballot to fix some of the flaws. It green lights the small scale claims that were used to sell measure 37 in the first place. It also sets up a case by case framework for larger claims. For those the  current owner will have to prove the land is worth what they’re asking for in lieu of the right to develop, take the availability of water and the impact on roads and schools into consideration, and if there is any justice force the developer to shoulder the cost of building the infrastructure needed for the new development.

Of course we’re being hit with the “it’s mine and I should be able to do what I want with it.” God, so many Oregonians sound like a bunch of spoiled brats. Hell, the land wouldn’t even be available if we hadn’t stolen it from the Native Americans in the first place.

After all, I’ve felt for a long time that “it’s not fair” that mom and I should have to subsidize the building of roads and sewer lines so a company whose business is to build mall space or houses and hope they can sell them and make a profit on it don't have to foot the bill themselves. Or, that unlike Washington, developers aren’t charged a surcharge on each lot to help build new schools for the new families coming in, and so on, and so on, until we reach infinity. But then, (all together now) “life isn’t always fair, is it?”

Geez, this got long and it's just number one, so I'll have to say……to be continued. (don't worry there's only two or three things that have really been bugging me every time I run across them) ;-) I mean besides the war, over population, the war, the Current Occupant, the war...............


tenyearnap said...

But isn't is great how "vertical" land has stayed undeveloped for so long. Too bad technology is catching up to that, too. Ooh, I know what you mean about those roads with no shoulder (I repeat NO shoulder--hahahaa).

Land use and zoning can get so tricky. It is a shame when people won't look past their own fences and build a communal big picture for the future. --Cin

toonguykc said...

The timber industry is as bad as the oil industry -- and almost as destructive to the Earth.  grrrrr