Since the 1970’s, an ongoing ‘tug of war’ has been at the center of Oregon politics. On one side is a coalition of environmentalists, some ardently anti-growth. On the other side is an equally diverse cross-section of private property rights advocates. So how does 1970’s Oregon relate to today?
Ever since then, Oregon’s ‘urban-rural divide’ has been widened by increasingly well-funded political war chests, land use skirmishes and close-quarter zoning combat. These battles have come at the cost of freedom and money. Lots of it.
Enter Oregon SB 100
Signed into law on May 29, 1973, Oregon Senate Bill 100 implemented statewide planning. SB100 required every Oregon city and county to prepare a comprehensive plan in accordance with a set of general state goals. It also established what has become an ever-creeping bureaucracy.
Is Half-Century Old Legislation Still Relevant?
Oregon legislators representing the highly populated Willamette Valley were largely favorable toward SB 100. Yet sentiment was unfavorable from other quarters. Ever since then, Oregon’s ‘urban-rural divide’ has been widened by increasingly well-funded political war chests, land use skirmishes and close-quarter zoning combat. These battles have come at the cost of freedom and money. Lots of it.
SB100 changed Oregon, beginning with the added layer of government called LCDC, or Land Conservation and Development Commission. Such agencies morphed Oregon into a place where now some suggest trees have more rights than owners of the property where they both stand. As just one example, the city of Portland can insert their bureaucratic involvement with a permit requirement, simply for a property owner to remove their own tree.
Why Is Most of Oregon Undevelopable?
Despite decades of significant population growth, Oregon’s lawmakers and agencies have managed to essentially make roughly 98% of Oregon property off-limits to development. Perhaps most dismaying, some of these decisions were not executive or legislative. Instead, they’re administrative, where unelected and essentially unaccountable state agency employees create rules that negatively impact Oregonians. As a result, we’re now trying to cram nearly all of our population on a fraction of land that isn’t expanding sufficiently to meet population demands.
Dolan v. City of Tigard
Few land use cases make it to the Supreme Court. One that did is known as Dolan v. The City of Tigard, a landmark case pushing back against Oregon’s onerous land use laws.
Dolan v. City of Tigard Backstory
The Dolan family owned Tigard’s A-Boy Plumbing and wanted to expand their store. Tigard, Oregon officials tied approval of the Dolan family’s expansion to not only giving up some of their land, but also developing a pedestrian and bicycle pathway. To those valuing private property rights, the City of Tigard had clearly overstepped their authority. So the Dolan’s legally navigated their way to the federal level.
Victory, At A Cost
The end result was the Dolan family winning the decision in the United States Supreme Court. The court held their private property rights had been violated and Tigard’s action was deemed a ‘taking’ of rights from the Dolan’s. Yet this was after significant cost and hardship to the ultimate victor, a commonly recurring theme when government abuse occurs.
But the Dolan case is not an isolated case. There are other well-documented regional examples of government overreach. This includes the story of Portland widow Dorothy English and another, involving the Bea family in the Columbia Gorge. They each underscore how well-funded government agencies and environmental groups use expert legal maneuvering to override the property rights of ordinary citizens.
Metro: Yet One More Layer of Government
Oregon’s centralized land-use program consists of a mind-numbing tapestry of layered regulations. Environmental activists tend to embrace them as a ‘governor switch’ of sorts on growth. Farmers, ranchers and private property rights defenders see things differently and point to such zoning regulations as partly responsible for housing shortages and a rise in home prices.
Oregon is unique as an early state to create a new regional layer of government bureaucracy. Focused on the Tri-County area (Clackamas, Washington & Multnomah counties) Metro is an added layer of government surrounding Portland. The bottom line is that any decision for the highest and best use of Oregon’s public and private lands remains largely a political process. And given deep-seated political differences about livability and housing, therein lies the rub.
Urban Oregonians are familiar with the statewide mandatory urban-growth boundaries that surround cities and metro areas and prevent sprawl. In addition to impacting private property rights, such boundaries tend to force greater urban density. This can create shortages, while increasing home prices.
Don’t expect Oregon’s battle over private property rights to end anytime soon. Just a few reasons for continued fights include:
1. Government’s propensity for control & power
2. Voracious legal litigation appetites
3. Fundraising incentives, especially among special interest groups
The next time you wonder why Oregon home prices seem out of reach, consider not only the cost of materials, but as outlined here, the restrictive maze of zoning and planning requirements that make the entire homebuilding process even more expensive.
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