Citizens State of the City and County
Policies and visions to address economic, energy and ecological crises
- CSCC January 12, 2009
- food: Aleta Miller
- transportation: Mark Robinowitz
- forests: Samantha Chirillo
- land use: Bob Emmons
- Lane County 2025: Jan Spencer
When: Monday, January 12, 2009, 12 Noon to 1 P.M.
Where: Harris Hall, Lane County Auditorium, 8th and Oak Streets, Eugene
Who: citizen experts on the critical issues of our time
Jan Spencer, (541) 686-6761, spencerj at efn.org
Aleta Miller, (541) 543-9103, vayamaji at att.net
CSCC Speakers and Topics
Food: Agriculture as if Food Security Mattered
Aleta Miller, Environmental Center of Sustainability. Aleta will discuss how the city and county can cooperate to strengthen food security, one of the most important goals for any healthy community. Relocalizing food production will become critical as transportation and fossil fuel based fertilizer continue to adversely affect cost, quality and availability of food. Analysis of needed infrastructure development for processing, storage and distribution will be addressed. The CSCC report includes a proposal to use the Lane County Fairgrounds as a hub for a new initiative to help make our region's food supply more self sufficient.
Mark Robinowitz, author of “Road Scholar: Transportation Choices at the End of the Age of Oil.” Mark will explain why Federal, State, County and City governments want massive increases in highway funding to “stimulate” the economy. These proposals include widening Beltline, Route 126 in Springfield and Interstate 5. However, traffic levels on Oregon State highways (and nationally) have “peaked” due to gasoline price increases. Recent decreases in the cost of oil are only temporary, we have either reached peak oil or are close to it. Peak Traffic, Peak Oil and increasingly constrained transportation funds mean that our priorities should shift to road and bridge repair, relocating highway funds from widening I-5 and building new roadways to upgrading regional rail service such as the Amtrak Cascades. Policy shifts should also increase funding to prevent planned cuts in Lane Transit District’s bus service.
Land Use: The Future Will Not be Like the Past
Robert Emmons, President of LandWatch Lane County, a non-profit dedicated to stopping sprawl onto farm and forest land. Bob will describe the consequences of weak regulation, lack of enforcement and the State's “Big Look” land use task force for City and County planning efforts. Emmons will describe some alternative means by which Lane County might achieve environmental health and economic resilience.
Forests: Restoration and Preservation
Samantha Chirillo, Cascadia's Ecosystem Advocates. Samantha will highlight how clearcutting, large-scale native public forest thinning and forest bio mass extraction for electricity and liquid fuel would destabilize our climate and economy. Chirillo will explain how policy and budgets should be redirected towardrestoration and preservation efforts that would provide clean drinking water,moist, fertile soil for growing food and provide greater economic security in both rural and urban communities. Removing poorly maintained logging roads, planting trees and trail repair surrounding urban areas are important restoration strategies that will also create thousands of green, living wage jobs. Applying tax incentives to forestry practices that have the lowest impact on stored carbon and waterways is also a key preservation strategy.
Letter from the Future: Benefits from Smart Choices
Jan Spencer, The Suburban Permaculture Project. Jan will present a “letter from the future.” The letter describes a future in 2025 greatly benefited by timely region wide policy changes in 2010. Lifestyles are far closer to home with people in town living much closer to where they work and shop. In rural areas nearly all agricultural land is in production for local food, fiber, and energy. Rural towns are revitalized thanks to visionary land use restoration and protection policies 15 years earlier. The region is linked by a network of biogas buses and electric railroads. Many economic and environmental challenges remain but there are numerous positive outcomes to this more local way of life in terms of public health, community cohesion, ecosystem vitality and economic stability.
CSCC 2009 Opening Remarks
by Aleta Miller
Welcome, everyone/ladies and gentlemen, to the 2009 Citizens State of the City and County address. My name is Aleta Miller, project coordinator Environmental Center of Sustainability or ECOS, a local non-profit group located here in Eugene. I would like to introduce our presenters and give you an idea of what will be ahead in the next hour.
I will be the first presenter today - Agriculture as if Food Security Mattered speaking on the topic of local food production, infrastructure revitalization and suggested initiatives for implementation and action.
Next, will be Mark Robinowitz - author of “Road Scholar: Transportation Choices at the End of the Age of Oil”. Mark will explain why Federal, State, County and City governments want massive increases in highway funding to” stimulate” the economy.
Robert Emmons - President of LandWatch Lane County, a non-profit dedicated to stopping sprawl onto farm and forestland will be our next presenter. Bob will describe the consequences of weak regulation, lack of enforcement and the State's “Big Look” land use task force for City and County planning efforts
The next presenter will be Samantha Chirillo of Cascadia's Ecosystem Advocates who will highlight how clear cutting, large -scale native public forest thinning and forest bio mass extraction for electricity and liquid fuel would destabilize our climate and economy.
And finally ending our address will be Jan Spencer of The Suburban Permaculture Project. Jan will present a “letter from the future”. The letter describes a future in 2025 greatly benefited by timely region wide policy changes in 2010
Before I begin my presentation the group responsible for producing the address wanted to let the audience know what the intention for creating an event of this sort was. To put the issue bluntly, all of the presenters realize that on the personal, household, municipal, national and global level we are out of time—the impacts of oil depletion and the technology dependent on it, the degradation and instability of the environment and its myriad networks of community and relationships and a grim economic future that is most certainly different than anything the world has ever known--all of these factors are racing towards us on an unprecedented global scale. Although there is no way to predict how or when these changes will affect any of us, to be sure the world as we know it will change in deep and profound ways and will most likely never return to its current state.
Now, on that cheery note, let me say this is not a presentation of gloom and doom. On the contrary, the group wanted to provide the audience information and resources to address mitigating the upcoming changes. Our resources are as local and up-to date as possible enabling those interested to take action, become involved and make a difference on more than just the personal level. Although all efforts are important towards mitigation, the time for a greater scale of proportion and delivery of those steps is fundamentally and unavoidably necessary.
All of us eat- and all of us need to have a secure food supply to insure health and well-being. A complete regional food system increases a region's food self-reliance and strengthens the local economy. There are many pieces to a discussion of food security and local food systems and any analysis must include some fundamental components to be complete. These would be the food infrastructure of growing, harvesting, processing, storage and transportation. Next would include the means to achieve these items, namely fuel for machinery and labor for all the related aspects of agriculture. Finally, a mechanism to encourage equitable access to more local food production by all community members
First, lets define the term food security. The United State Department of Agriculture uses the following definition:
Food security means access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum (1) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and (2) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies).
I would add one more element to this definition, namely the affordability of nutritious, acceptable and safe food.
The central focus for increased food security in Lane County needs to be the steady rebuilding of the regional food system which currently is little more than skeletal; however, we do have the most critical ingredients namely: plenty of fertile farmland, a reasonably mild maritime climate, and an agricultural history that includes a complete and working food system. Following are some of the critical pieces for revitalizing our local food security-
Farmland must be protected from development. The efforts of the Eugene City planners to implement densification of urban areas is commendable and a real alternative to sprawl into rural areas. Additionally, farmland and rural zoning must be reviewed to address the real need for multi-family dwellings and mixed-use zoning on rural property for the benefit of production, economic activity and diversification.
Next, as increased costs of fossil fuel based fertilizers continue, which is one of the cornerstones of current agricultural productivity levels, more integrated and biologically based methods of soil building and renewal will become necessary. There are multitudes of local farms already doing this and more will come online with depletion of petroleum products and the attendant rise in costs.
Looking at a diverse array of food crops to grow in Lane County is another key piece to food system health. Currently, grass seed is the major crop grown, which is then exported away from the area. The Willamette Bean and Grain Project has done research for the last two years and found that many varieties of beans, grains and edible seeds can successfully be grown in our area. Provable methods and economic viability for area grass seed growers transitioning to grain or bean production will need to be addressed and supported in as many ways possible.
Processing, storage and transportation take up the next set of components in a revitalized local food system. Small scale, decentralized processing and storage facilities are preferable due to the costs involved with transportation, both economic and ecological. There is currently no existing processing or storage facilities locally to address these issues on the scale required. The funding for this kind of infrastructure and support would be massive and there are yet no clear solutions for this need.
Transportation is another area where decentralization would provide a more stable delivery of locally produced crops to urban areas. Namely, if low-scale on site farm ethanol and biodiesel production was supported fuel produced could be designated to servicing only food related purposes, such as transportation. There are a number of local efforts throughout Oregon addressing this scenario with research and development, such as Umpqua Bio-Alternatives Cooperative in Roseburg.
If the predictions for oil depletion are correct-with attendant price increases-farmers may have to choose between crop fertilization and tractor use. Again the low scale bio-fuel model could prove beneficial—just to be clear I am not talking about corn or soy for this—addressing the fuel source as well as providing a useful waste product from the process to be used as fertilizer on soils.
Who will do the labor for all of this new development in crop production? There is not enough encouragement, either financially or socially, for young people to enter the path of farming. Developing more outreach with curriculum and on-farm experiences to students at all grade levels may prove beneficial. Also, revival and participation in Oregon’s grange system in Lane County would enable the recovery of a wealth of knowledge, tools and resources. These state treasures are fading rapidly as the old timers of our rural communities are leaving this world.
Movement towards smaller scale acreages could also address labor. Urban residents interested in being part of local food production could be part of a cooperative or work share arrangement. Many people and a tractor can grow a lot of food in less time than a single farmer.
The continued countywide participation in Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) community gardens, as well as home and school gardens will remain essential. Growing food right out ones back door or down the street provides food security and community connection like few other activities. Additionally, food-buying groups may see a resurgence and growth especially with the many local varieties of commodity crops that would be available from crop diversification.
Collaborations and coalitions abound in the area of food security, both regionally and nationally. Making those efforts more effective requires participation by the community. I have compiled a resource list of local groups for individuals to contact and investigate. This is an area of vast local activity with so many different programs and projects available nearly everyone can find something to participate in.
A revitalized and resilient food system is the most important element to real local food security. Securing its future in methods and practices that can carry us forward through this century and beyond is the best kind of crop we can all have a part in planting. I encourage everyone to begin planting something soon.
at the end of the age of oil
Citizens State of the City and County
Forest Restoration and Preservation
Hi, my name is Samantha Chirillo, and I’m a Co-Director of Cascadia’s Ecosystem Advocates. You can find our written report and a more comprehensive presentation at www.sustaineugene.org
Tens of millions of acres of clearcuts, herbicide spraying, and monocrop tree farms and tens of thousands of miles of logging roads -- courtesy of a century of industrial logging – destroy homes, disrupt transportation routes, and pollute our waterways.
It’s more than just the soil that’s washed downstream.
Such environmental degradation is a familiar pattern across the U.S. and coincides with a failed economic paradigm that is hurting low and middle-income families. Just like ships full of wood chips leaving from the Port of Coos Bay, their jobs have been exported overseas. The public is realizing that boom and bust economics are not limited to the BLM’s plans. Rather, they are pervasive across forestry and much of our economy. An economy that can support future generations must preserve the natural resources entrusted to us.
We need to chart a new course for forest policy. First, we should redirect the taxpayer dollars spent on logging road construction as part of the federal timber sale program to create thousands of living wage jobs removing ill-maintained roads, thereby protecting our waterways and saving taxpayers in the long term. We should also create jobs to rebuild local trail networks to relocalize recreation and ultimately allow the public to harvest food and medicine from our surrounding forests. Any plans that the County has to create forestry jobs on private lands should increase biodiversity, carbon storage, and soil retention. We need real restoration and real living wage jobs that employ local people and ideally are worker-owned cooperatives.
Each year more than a billion taxpayer dollars fund the Forest Service’s new logging road construction so that private companies can haul the public’s trees. Meanwhile, based on 2003 figures, the Willamette and Suislaw National Forests alone disclose enormous backlogs of logging road maintenance of about $10 million for nearly 10,000 miles of roads.
These roads cost just as much to maintain as to decommission. Decommissioning half of the roads, which the Forest Service says it does not need, would reduce costs, perhaps in terms of human lives, certainly in repairs to homes and infrastructure, as well as minimize the need for water filtration for clean drinking water.
We applaud Congressman DeFazio’s plan to get funds appropriated in the stimulus package for a Watershed Restoration Corps. However, only $250 million per year for only 2 years for work nationwide is just not enough when the Forest Service claims it has a $10 billion logging road maintenance backlog nationwide. Moreover, some of the money in DeFazio’s proposal would go toward new roads. We need more funding limited to road removal.
Here’s an example of why we need to address logging roads and forestry practices, all of this is directly from the 2006 Landslide Forum. In 96-97, severe weather events triggered massive flooding and landslides on steep slopes, many destabilized by clearcutting and logging roads. Five people died in Oregon, more than1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Disaster assistance for the 96-97 floods exceeded $217 million statewide. ODOT spent $150 million for landslide-related road repairs in 1996. Salem had to shut down its water treatment facility for a month, and EWEB nearly did. Yet the 1998 Interim Task Force commissioned to address the events of 96-97 concluded that ODOF is not able to address public safety in its rulemaking about forest practices. With climate change, we may see more of these severe weather events, all the more need to abandon outdated clearcutting, remove logging roads, and have local emergency preparedness.
Of course, preservation is crucial to both mitigate and adapt to climate change and provide for the economic needs of future generations. Regarding public forests, we initially must stop all native forest logging and reject ideas for large-scale conversion of forest biomass to electricity and liquid fuel. On private lands we need to stop clearcutting and herbicide poisoning of communities and waterways; we need to throw out forest economics based on greed, including unwieldy, inequitable carbon offsetting and certification programs, and start simply rewarding responsible management that preserves resources for future generations.
Forests and oceans are the two biggest carbon storage systems on the planet, and damage to both is jeopardizing our climate security. Because biodiverse forests of the Pacific Northwest store more carbon per acre than any forests on Earth, we have a responsibility to preserve our forests for carbon storage.
But our forests also help ensure regional climate security by creating, retaining, and channeling precipitation so that we have clean water to drink and to irrigate and by retaining fertile soil. We need our forests for local food security.
That’s one reason why we applaud the City’s purchase in 2008 of half of the development-threatened Amazon Headwaters Forest parcels, and we look forward to the protection of the other half in 2009. As this forest is situated on a landflow, the protection of this forest also protects the downhill residents from landslide risk.
This forest provides unique local educational and recreational opportunities, it makes forest appreciation accessible. We want to help build community by doing manual invasive weed removal which will save the City money and labor and also protect the ecosystem and the public from herbicide poisoning.
Unfortunately, the timber industry (with help from the BLM & Forest Service, the media, and some elected officials) have taken advantage of the public’s instinctual fear of fire by expanding logging in our public forests. Today, the US Forest Service’s # 1 priority is planning and implementing logging operations of unprecedented scale under the guise of “fire fuels reduction” and extraction of the leftover forest biomass to meet grossly consumptive energy demands. Hydrologist Jonathan Rhodes and the Sierra Club have already documented the negative impact to waterways from public forest thinning. The impact of thinning alone on carbon storage is largely yet unknown.
Backcountry native forest “thinning” -- such as the “Oakridge Thinning and Fuels Reduction Project” -- will neither “fireproof” our forests nor protect communities from the natural and inevitable presence of wildfire. Any form of native forest logging, even “thinning,” can actually increase the intensity of wildfire by opening up the forest to sunlight and wind, which dry out the forest and can hasten the spread of flames. According to experts -- including the Forest Service’s own scientists -- the best way to protect homes and lives from wildfire is to take firesafe precautions within 100 feet homes. CEA has already held one fire home demo of this sort. (This would be another ideal job creation program, with service priority given to low-income, elderly and alter-abled homeowners).
In addition to removing billions of board feet via remote thinning projects, DeFazio also proposes to spend $466 million on research and development of three new, centralized wood-to-energy conversion facilities that will require a constant inflow of woody biomass.
It is a myth that the biomass left over after logging is “waste.” Rather, such biomass is a crucial source of carbon that fungi and microbes recycle and store in the soil. We cannot expect to store carbon while converting forest biomass to electricity or liquid fuel for so little return on energy invested.
The labor paradigm in our forests, just like our factories, is also in drastic need of change, as well – from one of timber removal by helicopter and migrant worker coercion and abuse to one of many living wage jobs employing rural citizens who have a say in their treatment and their pay.
An archaic Oregon Forest Practice Act and a timber industry-dominated Oregon Board of Forestry mean our state’s primary logging method is clearcutting followed by the application of toxic pesticides, which poison rural communities and deprive all Oregonians of the public resources acknowledged by state code of clean water, healthy fish runs and abundant wildlife. In 2007, a "small" timber harvest year, a half billion board feet of timber was logged from Lane County. This is about the same as the extraction volume for the entire WOPR. Lane County's timber harvest is the largest in the State, constituting 13% of Oregon's total. Eighty percent of the timber harvested in Lane County is off industry lands, nearly all of it from clearcutting. Of course, the Oregon Forest Practices Act prohibits any county in Oregon from implementing its own forestry regulations in except in urban areas.
In 1999, the Oregon Legislature and John Kitzhaber signed HB 3575 into law that exempted landowners who own more than 5,000 acres from paying the privilege tax on the timber that is extracted from those lands.
Another financial incentive in the form of $1.2 billion biennial property tax subsidies also props up large timber comapanies’ outdated clearcutting and pesticide practices. These clearcut subsidies also allow them to flood the market with cheap lumber, making it nearly impossible for small, ethical foresters who use selective logging (without pesticide application) to compete.
Re-enacting a harvest tax (like Washington has) for industrial forestland owners of over 5,000 acres on clearcutting, streamside logging and short rotations would provide a substantial funding mechanism to the state that is fair and simultaneously encourages large timber companies to employ more ecologically socially sound forestry practices. Passage in 2009 of state legislation for a NEPA-like public involvement process, which many other states have, would also be helpful to achieve climate, watershed, and economic security.
Ultimately, we must save and restore the forest, not only to limit our “carbon footprint,” but also to have healthy and resilient watersheds best capable of adapting to the effects of climate change.
Thank you for your time. You can find a more comprehensive presentation and the written Forest Report at www.sustaineugene.org We’ll be making a few edits and would appreciate your feedback.
Citizens’ State of the City and the County: 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.
Lane County 2025 by Jan Spencer
Dear Citizens of Lane County 2009,
Here are the best words from the future we have to offer to fit this space. By mid 2009, we finally admitted the economic disarray was not a recession. It was the end of a period of history - economic growth as we knew it was ending. Combined with a changing climate, erratic energy supplies and the natural environment in steep decline, we admitted it was time to redefine our cultural and economic needs.
By late 2009, leadership converged from diverse points of the city and county – government, education, unions, faith communities, nonprofits, business, neighborhoods and grange halls. The group articulated what we call the County Plan. It coordinated both urban and rural means of production for a clear and ambitious campaign to meet our county's important needs from sources closer to home in a way the environment could sustain.
The first part of the Plan created an emergency preparedness strategy that addressed a broad range of contingencies such as transportation disruptions, food and energy shortages, floods and economic instability. These contingency plans proved their value much sooner than most thought possible.
Next, the Plan identified a surprisingly large and diverse number of civic assets county wide - prototypes already in place - that fit perfectly with the goals of the County Plan. There were businesses, school curriculum, urban land use, neighborhood projects, city programs, innovative approaches to food production, energy ideas and ad hoc arrangements of all kinds Most people had no idea all this creativity was happening.
The Plan set out to expand and replicate these prototypes with new policy initiatives and unprecedented budget shifts, boosted by the “Invest Local” campaign. Transportation, food production, environmental protection and restoration, urban land use, education, neighborhoods, manufacturing all received attention that lead to impressive progress towards our goals.
Vital to the Plan's success was a public education campaign that clearly explained how and why we were making these changes. Media, schools, civic organizations, professional networks, neighborhoods all contributed to put out the message. It was during this time that we became aware of the power of community cohesion.
By 2010, suburbia ended its historic expansion as new policies placed a priority on creating urban villages. Some villages were new, but most were redeveloped from existing commercial zones, often built on increasingly empty parking lots. Now they are places for employment, residential density, shops and offices for everyday needs, culture - accessible to nearby residents by foot or bike.
The Plan was visionary in rural areas, too. Agriculture shifted to food, fiber and limited biofuel, for local use. Small towns revitalized with new residents and small businesses that sprang up to serve area markets. Lane County now feeds itself, although our diet is simple, while climate change imposes ongoing concerns.
In 2009, the County Plan and grassroots pressure on the federal government lead to new programs that created thousands of jobs restoring the forests to health by removing logging roads, planting diverse species of trees, and removing obsolete dams. We now see the benefits of this labor: improved forest biodiversity, soil conservation, clean drinking water and increasing wild salmon in local waterways. We enjoy nearby recreation, more native food and medicines from local forests with former mill towns perking up with new economies that protect the forests. Preservation remains important.
Public health has improved in many ways. Practically everyone has exercise - it's a normal part of life. Junk food is a memory, our food is fresh and vital. We focus on disease prevention, not repair and every neighborhood has a community clinic.
Schools teach practical “closer to home” skills such as resource conservation, permaculture, food sciences, effective communication and service to the community. Classes at all levels are widely available.
We have seen unimaginable changes in these years. They have been challenging but we are becoming a more compassionate culture. No one is hungry or sleeps under a bridge. We are more inclusive and multi-generational in every day life. Most people live in co-ops that are like extended families. These positive social relationships greatly benefit our quality of life and our metrics prove it.
Regional industrial coordination means the Northwest produces most of the manufactured products we need, even many kinds of sophisticated machinery. Products from rural areas and urban industries, along with human passengers now benefit from an extensive rail network in the region, supplemented with biogas buses. The new transportation choices occurred, because of budget changes in transportation policies about 2010, as money destined for new highways was redirected to rail.
Many jobs and products of your time are no longer with us, yet we enjoy diverse benefits from these changes. We value our new social cohesion more than you can probably understand. We have redefined prosperity.
Citizens of Lane County, 2025