A new low for land-use laws?

A new low for land-use laws?
by Dave Hunnicutt,
guest opinion in The Oregonian

Land proposed for a destination resort in the Metolius Basin west of Sisters. This is a view from one edge of the land, looking toward Three Fingered Jack (left) and Mt. Jefferson.I know it’s not shocking when a politician talks out of both sides of his mouth, but Gov. Ted Kulongoski is becoming a master at this craft.

In November 2007, Oregon voters approved Measure 49. The official ballot title for Measure 49 proclaimed that the new law would, “modify” Measure 37, the property rights ballot measure that Oregonians had previously approved in 2004. Measure 49 was the product of the Oregon Legislature and Ted Kulongoski. In fact, Kulongoski was instrumental to the passage of the measure, both professionally and personally.

The governor raised money and campaigned for Measure 49’s passage, stressing repeatedly to voters and the media that Measure 49 struck a balance between Oregon’s unique and controversial land-use planning laws and the rights of Oregonians to own and use their private property.

As the governor stated in the official Voters Pamphlet that accompanied Measure 49, “Measure 49 will deliver something bigger: a workable land-use policy that will allow us to keep our precious assets – the things that make Oregon special – and be fair to property owners.”

Within the “workable” and “fair” land-use policy in Measure 49 are sections requiring state and local governments to pay fair compensation to property owners before adopting new land-use regulations that take away property uses. In other words, if the state decides to change the rules and take away your property rights, it must pay fair compensation for what they are taking.

That seems fair. And it’s proven to be a popular idea with Oregonians. In fact, the passage of Measure 49 marks the third time in a decade that Oregon voters have approved this concept.

So imagine the surprise when Kulongoski introduced House Bill 2226 earlier this month. HB 2226 is a bill designed to do one thing – stop the development of a destination resort near the Metolius River in Jefferson County.

Despite the fact that the Jefferson County Commission carefully weighed all the arguments for and against the destination resort and followed all of the state’s land-use laws in making its decision, the governor didn’t like the outcome, and now he wants to change the law to override Jefferson County’s decision.

This is odd. Kulongoski’s stated policy has always been that the Legislature should not interfere with a local government land-use decision, as long as the local government followed all of the land-use laws. In fact, the governor used that logic in 2003 when he vetoed the Legislature’s attempt to help Dorothy English, the elderly widow from Multnomah County who became the “poster child” for Measure 37.

But the governor’s flip flop isn’t the most troubling aspect of HB 2226. What is particularly remarkable is that in the first major land-use bill since the passage of Measure 49, Kulongoski has demanded that HB 2226 contain a section that exempts the bill from Measure 49.

If HB 2226 passes, the property owners who have spent thousands of dollars, and countless time and effort to comply with lose their rights overnight, with no Measure 49 relief.

Wait a minute, governor. Didn’t you just spend considerable time and effort convincing Oregon voters to approve Measure 49? And didn’t you file a Voters Pamphlet statement in favor of Measure 49, claiming that the “workable” and “fair” policies embodied in Measure 49 were a vital part of our land-use system?

Did you really mean what you said, or were you trying to pull the wool over the eyes of Oregon voters?

If House Bill 2226 is approved, it will set a new low for Kulongoski and for land-use law in Oregon.

Dave Hunnicutt is president of Oregonians In Action.