Citizens State of the City and County 2009
Land Use by Robert Emmons, Land Watch Lane County
Without Senate Bill 100 and the land use protections it provided 35 years ago, Oregon long since would have gone the way of California and all the other states across the country providing open range to unbridled development. To our system of locally administered, state-regulated comprehensive plans and Urban Growth Boundaries we owe what’s left of Governor Tom McCall’s legacy.
For from its inception those whom McCall referred to as “the grasping wastrels of the land” have been crippling his land use program little by little, lot by lot. If the statewide revision the Big Look Task Force (BLTF) intends to present to the 2009 legislature musters enough votes, they’ll have it by the throat. But more on that in a minute.
The truth is that county codes and state statutes have always suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous manipulation by development interests and complicit land managers and politicians. For over a dozen years now, LandWatch Lane County, the non-profit that I head, has been fighting sprawl on Lane County’s rural lands. And sometimes we've had to swallow hard while doing that because S.B. 100 puts us in the ironic and awkward position of defending agricultural and forestry interests whose practices, such as the use of toxic chemicals and clearcutting, run counter to sustainable land use and public health.
Be that as it may, the land itself is neutral and the soil on it essential to retain as resource, not real estate. Unfortunately, certain land planners – whose jobs, as we have seen, depend on the building permit fees they generate – eschew the precautionary principle when they routinely employ property line adjustments to justify dwellings on agricultural and forest lands. Moreover, Lane County is one of only two counties in the state with a Marginal Lands provision, a pretext – usually based on input from a developer’s “soil expert” – for raising houses on resource land. Under this provision much of the soil growing our world -class wine grapes would be classified as marginal. And, not least, concessions to developers have so weakened Lane County’s riparian ordinance that it offers little or no protection to our watersheds.
With some justification, therefore, land use planners can reply to critics that they’re only following the law. Legal bases for appeal typically hang by a thread, and the costs are so exorbitant as to effectively eliminate citizen participation.
Nevertheless, working with Goal One Coalition and affected neighbors countywide, LandWatch has successfully appealed proposed rezones to marginal land and unlawful property line adjustments. And we have proposed that the Board of Commissioners adopt an appeal review process that will consolidate the myriad hearings and reconsiderations presently costing citizens time and thousands of dollars into one local hearing with a fee capped by state law.
Meanwhile, as I alluded to earlier, a tsunami is moving toward Salem in the regulatory revision of our land use system proposed by the Big Look Task Force.
Far from recognizing limits to growth and taking measure to curb the overshoot that’s long since occurred, the proposed legislation would accelerate sprawl onto farms, forests and natural areas, increasing global warming and water and oil shortages. To accomplish this the task force recommends that the Department of Land Conservation and Development and its commission forego their regulatory function for long range planning: that only resource land of “statewide significance” be regulated by the state. All other lands would fall under local control and regional planning.
Throughout the draft great care is taken to assess and soften the economic impacts that property owners may incur from regulation. But there is no such concern shown for the degradation of natural areas that will surely result from the development policies dictated in this draft. Indeed, the BLTF fails to pay more than lip service to climate change and the water and energy shortages their recommendations will accelerate, or to address the consequences of increasing population and changing demographics.
To the contrary, the Big Look Task Force believes it must accommodate 1.7 million more arrivals to the state by 2040. It therefore accepts and promotes the faulty premise that growth is inevitable. But growth is not inevitable; it is a matter of choice, a matter of policy.
The proposed legislation assumes that the natural environment is a subsystem of the economy rather than the other way around. However, clean air and water and abundant productive soils are the foundation of a healthy economy. Functioning within natural limits, a sound economy could maintain and sustain indefinitely at a steady state in dynamic resource, production and waste loops.
Discussing his innovative land use program with an NBC interviewer in 1974, Governor McCall said that “ the Oregon Story is a hopeful force. I think it shows that the system can work and that people respond if there is leadership with imagination and guts.”
While the Big Look Task Force threatens to throw open the state capitol doors to the “grasping wastrels”, we have a rare opportunity at the county level to be proactive for a change. We look forward to a sympathetic majority of commissioners who’ll help us update the Oregon Story to meet the challenges of an exhausted and rebellious earth.
It’s a new, but no less hopeful, narrative that must anticipate and take immediate measures to cure the ecological abuse fueling what John Michael G reer calls “the long descent” of deindustrialization.
Legislators and planners may begin by strengthening and enforcing regulations weakened by growth addiction and enabling politicians and administrators. But, as my colleague Jim Just of Goal One Coalition has proposed, to do so they must:
- Move energy and climate consequences to the forefront of land use planning
- Evaluate, as a condition for approval, the carbon dioxide and energy consequences of development proposals
- Eliminate non-resource related dwellings on farm and forest land by, for example, eliminating the county’s marginal lands provision and template dwellings
- Foster the evolution of villages
Surely, if these qualifications are part of Lane County’s standard operating procedure, we also may soon expect the adoption of a new riparian ordinance that truly protects our watersheds.
To accomplish these objectives and effectively address the population, climate and energy crises, I believe that state-regulated regional planning must be based on the natural limits of watersheds, not the artificial boundaries of political jurisdictions.
The Big Look Task Force’s own statewide surveys show that a majority of Oregonians wants to protect our natural resources and the communities that depend upon them. It is imperative that we hold our representatives on both the state and local levels accountable to that majority.
‘Big Look’ at land use sees only growth
BY ROBERT EMMONS
Published: Nov 26, 2008 05:00AM
While Gov. Ted Kulongoski has excited the green community with solar energy buy-backs, electric-car tax credits and marine reserves, the committee he appointed three years ago to revise Oregon’s land use program promises to accelerate the climate change and energy depletion those other projects purport to curb.
Given its makeup, though, it’s not surprising that the Big Look Task Force has taken a big step backward. In charge of fixing Oregon’s land use program are five members with development and business backgrounds; a private property rights attorney; the mayor of Lake Oswego; the city manager of Albany; and, representing agricultural interests, a Pendleton rancher and an orchardist from The Dalles. No natural ecologists, botanists, biologists or conservationists need apply.
Years in the making, the committee’s revision of the Oregon land use planning system would be guided by four “overarching principles: provide a healthy environment; sustain a prosperous economy; ensure a desirable quality of life; and provide fairness and equity to Oregonians.”
What actually guided the task force, however, is its predilection for unbridled development and the strong-arm tactics of Oregonians in Action counsel Dave Hunnicutt and his private property rights zealots, represented on the task force by Measure 37 litigator Jill Gelineau.
Far from recognizing limits to growth and taking measures to curb the overshoot that has long since occurred, the proposed legislation would accelerate sprawl onto farms, forests and natural areas, increasing global warming and water and oil shortages. Conscientious legislators should declare it dead on arrival.
The draft of the task force’s revisions is rife with accusations that Oregon’s land use laws are “too complex” and take too long to implement; that they’re “unfair” and disenfranchise property owners. To facilitate its chief aim of growth (euphemistically labeled “economic prosperity”), regulations must be “simplified” and made more “flexible” in order to “grant greater recognition to personal property rights and regional alternatives on land use issues.” In other words, the task force believes that development should be granted even greater concessions than it already enjoys.
To accomplish this the committee recommends that the Department of Land Conservation and Development and its commission forego their regulatory function for long range planning: that only farm and forest lands and natural areas of “statewide significance” be regulated by the state. All other lands would fall under local control and regional planning.
Throughout the draft, great care is taken to assess and soften the economic impacts that property owners may incur from regulation. No such concern is shown for the degradation of natural areas that will surely result from the development policies dictated in this draft. Indeed, the task force fails to pay more than lip service to climate change and the water and energy shortages that its recommendations will accelerate, or to address the consequences of increasing population and changing demographics.
Oregon’s environment has suffered largely as a result of weakened land use protections and little to no enforcement. Divvying up the landscape into “significant” and, by default, insignificant natural areas will cause the continued spread of the mange of subdivisions and malls, degrading the natural landscape and resource lands while bankrupting local economies with unsustainable infrastructure costs. Incredibly, the task force recommends a real estate transfer fee be used only for infrastructure that will allow growth to occur “more rapidly” and “in higher density.”
In other words, the remedy exacerbates the illness it purports to cure.
Indeed, these draft recommendations embody the terminal delusion that Oregon can accommodate ad infinitum population growth and the unlimited use of its resources.
The task force believes it must accommodate 1.7 million more arrivals to the state by 2040. It therefore accepts the faulty premise that growth is inevitable. But growth is not inevitable. It is a matter of choice, a matter of policy. And the policy inherent in the recommendations is driven by dead-end concessions to the shortsighted, self-serving tactics of property rights extremists and big business lobbyists.
The proposed legislation assumes that the natural environment is a subsystem of the economy rather than the other way around. Clean air and water and abundant, productive soil are the foundation of a healthy economy. Functioning within natural limits, a sound economy could maintain and sustain indefinitely in a closed resource, production and waste loop.
To its credit the task force proposes that the Land Conservation and Development Commission support land trusts, conservation easements and the transfer or purchase of development rights; and the establishment of funding reserves for land purchases. But these market-based tools should not be used to cull so-called “significant” resource lands or natural areas for protection and sacrifice what’s left to development. Rather they should complement a strengthened, not a weakened, comprehensive state-regulated land use program — a system of regulations tailored to survival in a carbon-constrained world.
Robert Emmons is president of LandWatch Lane County. The opinions expressed here are his own.