Oregon’s war on cars

Samantha Bayer
By Oregon Property Owners Association,

What if I told you that the state of Oregon doesn’t want you to drive anymore and wants to pass laws making it harder for you to do so? Or that the state of Oregon would like to make roads narrower, eliminate parking requirements, and prevent businesses from having parking lots in the front of their stores? What if I told you that the state of Oregon doesn’t want you to live in the suburbs with a yard and a garage, because that might encourage you to drive a car – or worse – a diesel truck!

Now, what if I told you that this already happened and you didn’t even know about it? I hate to tell you this, but it did.

You’re now probably thinking – WAIT WHAT? When? Why would Oregon do this?

Well, because Kate Brown said so.

Executive Order spurs rewrite of planning system.

In March of 2020, then Governor Kate Brown enacted Executive Order 20-04, which directed all state agencies to take actions within their authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Chomping at the bit to get to work, DLCD immediately launched the Climate Friendly & Equitable Communities rulemaking (CFEC).

Over the course of the next two years, while most Oregonians grappled with the pandemic, a small group of DLCD staff and a handful of stakeholders worked on rewriting all of Oregon’s transportation planning and housing rules to do one thing – reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT). The thought process was simple: If they can make it annoying, difficult, and frustrating for people to find parking and drive cars, people won’t! People will instead opt for public transit, riding bikes, or walking.

To be fair, they also want to increase opportunities for people to walk and bike, which is great, but there’s plenty of overt social engineering throughout rules geared at disincentivizing vehicular travel.

The CFEC rules were adopted on July 21, 2022, and have subsequently had a few revisions. The rules apply to Metro and cities in Oregon’s major metropolitan areas, including but not limited to Eugene, Springfield, Bend, the Rogue Valley, and more. Cities are already working on implementing them now, and we will start seeing major changes to zoning codes over the next year.

The rules contain several changes to transportation planning rules, zoning regulations for commercial businesses, and changes in housing regulations. I will do another post highlighting the joys of CFEC for our small business, but will just focus on housing for now.

CFEC rules poised to make housing crisis worse.

Apparently, not only should people not drive anymore if they don’t have to, we also shouldn’t be building housing that encourages them to own cars. According to DLCD staff, single-family homes (the ones where your kids get their own rooms and have a backyard to play in) aren’t considered “climate friendly.” Instead, the CFEC rules require cities to designate large swaths of their jurisdiction as “climate friendly areas” zoned to hold 30% of all future housing needs at extreme densities while imposing limits on vehicle dependent land uses like gas stations or drive-throughs.

In practice, these high-density walkable zones will not allow the development of single-family homes or even duplexes. Instead, we will see a near exclusive development of high-rise apartment buildings, which means limited opportunities for home ownership and high rent prices. Did I also mention that the rules eliminate most parking minimums? Prepare to spend $3,000 a month on a 900 sq-ft apartment with no parking. Sweet!

These rules don’t just alarm us. Many cities also share significant concerns about the impacts to housing from the rules. Check out the City of Springfield’s most recent comments or the City of Hillsboro and City of Cornelius’s comments.

The state mandated “climate friendly areas” will force out existing residents and the poor. Why does the state want to do this?

To make matters worse, the state acknowledges that these rules will result in inequitable housing outcomes (despite their name). Specifically, DLCD and local governments acknowledge that because of the nature of climate friendly areas, there is a heightened chance of gentrification and displacement of protected classes.

Here is an excerpt from the City of Eagle Point’s Climate Friendly Area study:

“Due to the nature of the regulations, an area designated as a climate friendly area gains the capability to be redeveloped for a wide variety of uses and dense housing types. While these factors intend to promote nodes not reliant on personal automobile use, they also have the capability of creating modernized, attractive, and competitively priced developments which can subsequently displace protected classes.”

Cities are supposed to take steps to steps to “reduce the risk of displacement” and DLCD has given them a handy anti-displacement toolkit, but it remains unclear how that is supposed to happen in real life.

Moreover, it begs the question, in the “most woke” state of the union, why are we adopting policies we know are going to cause gentrification and increase cost burden on families in the middle of a housing crisis? Does Oregon, which only produces about 0.00164% of all carbon emissions, need to take such drastic measures knowing the consequences for our communities?  We’ll let you decide, but from our vantage point, this is needless virtue signaling with real impact on Oregon families.

DLCD putting lipstick on a pig.

Despite repeated calls from cities and affordable housing advocates begging DLCD to change course and conduct a thorough analysis of whether or not the rules would have a negative impact on housing, the agency adopted them anyway. And instead of working with housing advocates to ensure that the rules do not make our housing crisis worse, DLCD has instead embarked on a PR campaign to sell these rules to the public.

For example, here’s DLCD’s response to the concern that these rules will increase the cost of housing:

“Helping Oregonians Afford Housing. Housing and transportation are the top two expenses in most households’ budgets. CFEC aims to reduce transportation costs, thereby increasing budget available and expanding housing options.”

Oh, since I’m going to be biking my toddler to daycare in the middle of January, I will have more money left over to pay for my extremely high rent. Wow! I feel so much better. Don’t you? THANKS DLCD! 😊

Cities, Housing Advocates, and Business Groups push back with lawsuits, ask Governor Kotek for help.

Getting nowhere with the agency, a group of cities, housing advocates, and business groups have sued DLCD over the rules. Oral argument took place in July, and we are waiting to see what the Court does with the suits.

In the meantime, OPOA has joined the fight along with our housing partners. We sent a letter this week asking the HPAC to move a recommendation forward to the Governor asking her to stay the CFEC rules until the Oregon Housing Needs Analysis (OHNA) rulemaking is completed.

OHNA is the new set of laws that dictate how local governments are to plan for future housing needs. OHNA requires local governments to take meaningful steps to encourage development of affordable and equitable housing, and local governments can face enforcement orders for policies that inhibit equitable access to housing choice.

While OHNA isn’t perfect, we hope that over time it will breathe life back into Goal 10 (Housing). However, OHNA won’t be successful if our local governments are stuck enforcing the CFEC rules, which actually work against the objectives of OHNA. That was the crux of our letter, but here’s an excerpt:

“We fear that without significant Legislative and Executive oversight, the conflicts between CFEC and OHNA will not be properly addressed. This will result in disastrous outcomes for our local governments who are responsible for promoting needed housing development under OHNA, which in turn will have negative consequences for housing producers who will be caught in the crossfire of bureaucratic whiplash.”

Our hope is that Governor Kotek will pause the CFEC rules to ensure that they do not do greater harm to our already struggling communities and task an objective third-party with determining whether CFEC and OHNA misalign.

The Governor has a goal of doubling housing production and affordable housing has always been one of her biggest priorities. We fear CFEC puts her goals in jeopardy. Luckily, CFEC is a mess she inherited, and she has the ability to direct her agency in a different direction.