We haven’t heard much about Measure 37 recently, but that’s not because much isn’t going on — it is, and the biggest pieces of this fractured story are the least obvious.
First, to the obvious: Measure 37 is about the money. The money that landowners claim they’ve lost or will lose by the state or counties barring them from developing. The money that lures forestry companies to turn from logging to condos.
And the money that farmers, house-holders and others with what they see as presently useless or excess land are costing the rest of us with their claims. Claims may be totally legit (though numerous ones in Hood River County, at least, have asked to make developments that were never allowed under their original zoning), but they take public time to assess. That’s cost Wasco County, for one, several thousand dollars; and the real impact will come with the May rush, of some 30 claims to assess, according to The Dalles Chronicle.
Wasco County doesn’t charge landowner claimants for its planners’ time. Hood River County, with many more claims, does; but nowhere near enough to pay for their efforts. Measure 37 presently accounts for an estimated 70 percent of the planning staff’s time — and the fees the county charges cover less than 10 percent of the planning budget.
Hood River County officials’ recent decision to up its fees has Steven B. Andersen advising his clients to sue. Andersen represents the majority of the county’s M-37 claimants.
Expenses and litigation have become a common aspect for all involved with Measure 37. Whether that law has brought fairness to Oregon’s land-use laws is probably in the eye of the beholder. A farmer who sees a way to subdivide a portion of his land, make a profit and stay in business, probably sees this as fairness deferred, after many long and aggravating years. Someone who lives next to a slated new rural subdivision might see the fairness issue somewhat differently.
So, fairness and money. That might be said to be the heart of the entire land-use discussion. It’s an ongoing discussion, via the Big Look committee, which holds meetings and talks around the state, including a recent one in Hood River.
The Big Look is forming longterm recommendations about Oregon’s entire landuse schematic. Focused more on Measure 37 is a quiet negotiation between legislators hoping to “fix” the 2-year-old law. Freelance writer Sam Lowry is reporting that the negotiators are drawing close to something rare and wonderful in American politics: a thoughtful compromise.
Said one of the participants of the legislative committee: “The parameters are set” for a compromise bill.
The talks to smooth out the inequities and impacts of Measure 37 involve (writes Lowry) everything from how to value land development claims and impacts on groundwater, to capping the size of claims and transferring development rights.
Being as a contentious an issue as it is, these talks could fall apart at the last minute, as a similar quiet negotiation did in 2005. And any agreement reached by the committee would need to be approved by the Legislature, of course. So, there are hurdles. But maybe … maybe there’s a finish line up ahead.