Friday, June 24, 2005

Lesson from Oregon Measure 37 -- Pay Attention to Public Sentiment!

Neil Lindberg recently passed along an interesting link to a piece written for the Land Use Law website at the Washington University School of Law, called "Paths Not Taken: Oregon's Response to Measure 37," by Ed Sullivan. Sullivan is a partner in a Portland law firm who specializes in local government and land use law.

Sullivan's piece confirms some of the things that I've heard, that Measure 37 came about in part because of the refusal of groups like 1000 Friends of Oregon and other pro-planning, pro-environment groups to even consider making minor changes (i.e., easing some provisions) to Oregon's land use laws.

Sullivan says that "the response of the planning and environmental communities to the passage of Measure 37...serves to explain how the measure passed in the first place. Living in righteous denial and discussing the future only with the like-minded, (they) are likely to wind up no better than as of November 2004... ." The piece then goes on to show how wrangling over peripheral issues has resulted in no well-formulated challenge to Measure 37 in either the courts or the legislature, and time to address land use claims is here.

Sullivan ends by saying, "Those reading the history of this part of Oregon's land use program may well ask what the executive branch and conservation groups were thinking in frustrating a legislative response and being so far behind in the courts. ... The Oregon Chapter of the American Planning Association has long advocated a review of the State's land use system. More than half of today's Oregonians were either not born or in the state when that program was enacted in 1973. While it is unlikely Oregonians will repeal that program, they appear open to blandishments, clevely put forward through the use of anecdote, to change the program for the worse."

Perhaps our work here in Utah on SB60 was in part a "relief valve" to address concerns over Utah's land use laws that were being expressed by developers and land owners, and our willingness to do so allowed us to keep most of it, and in some ways even make it better. I know there were those in the planning community in Utah who were none too happy (and still aren't) that we would even agree to working on what became SB60. But what happened in Oregon with Measure 37 may serve as a good warning and lesson for us.

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