Monday, August 08, 2005

Measure 37 Planners' Fault, Former Portland Metro Director Says

Read some interesting comments today about Measure 37, the extreme roll-back of land use regulation laws in Oregon (of all places), written by Richard Carson, former Director of METRO, the Portland regional planning authority. Carson is currently Community Development Director for Clark County, Washington, the rapidly growing area just over the Columbia River from Portland.

Carson describes the extreme effect of Measure 37 on Oregon's vaunted statewide land use planning and regulation system that has been held up as a model for many years. And indeed, he says, the system was visionary when it was first created.

But lack of response to public desire and progressive tightening of the screws ultimately led to its demise. A first attempt to overturn the system by a public initiative vote passed in 2000 with 54 percent, but ultimately the measure was overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court for technical reasons.

Carson says, though, planners and friends of planners didn't take the warning shot seriously, and four years later, viola, Measure 37 passes with 61 percent in favor.

Carson writes, "Certainly there is a lot of hand wringing and wailing by Oregon planners these days. But one thing you won't hear is anyone acknowledging that planning caused this revolt. Indeed, in typical response, the planning profession simply says, 'The voters just didn't understand. ...'

"Why is it never a failure on our part as planners to understand what citizens really want? Why is it always a failure on the citizens' part to understand what a wonderful gift we are giving them? Do we not understand that we are guilty of the sin of pride and the ballot measure was the price of our prejudice? Why do we continue to believe that the voters aren't capable of making intelligent decisions?"

Carson goes on to warn the rest of us around the West, saying, "Whether we planners like it or not, one thing is certain. Ballot measure 37 will plant the seeds of discontent nationally. Just as in 1978 Proposition 13 tax limitation movement spread from California to the nation..., ballot measure 37 will gain national political attention. Sadly, the legacy of the Oregon planning experiment will not be leading America into the planning of the 21st century. It will be the unraveling of the planning gains made by others in the 20th century."

I am often asked, in my role as Utah APA's legislative chair, if I am hearing any rumblings about something like Measure 37 being considered here. I must say, so far I have not heard anything. Knock on wood.

Let's see what happens, both here and in Oregon, in the near future.

Read Carson's essay here.

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