Last week I presided over a packed room in the state Capitol hearing testimony from Oregonians who are angry about Measure 37. Some complained that they still can't build a home on their property despite having received a waiver under the measure.
Most others were upset about the amount of development it may allow. No one liked how Measure 37 stands now.
I presided over that hearing as co-chair of the Joint Special Committee on Land Use Fairness in the current legislative session. The committee was appointed to fix the flaws in Measure 37, passed by initiative in 2004.
The measure requires public entities to pay compensation to owners of property reduced in value by land use restrictions or to waive those restrictions. Because Measure 37 did not identify a funding source, no compensation has been paid to any property owner. Claims under the measure are all about waiver of land use restrictions.
Over 7,000 claims have been filed under Measure 37, mostly with the state and with counties by landowners seeking to build houses on farm and forest land outside urban growth boundaries. The stakes were raised substantially last fall as a procedural deadline approached. Over half of all the claims made during the first two years of the measure were filed in the five weeks ending Dec. 4.
The recent claims include some covering large acreages. Plum Creek Timber Co. filed claims on over 32,000 acres of timberland in the coast range.
This deluge of claims has swamped land use offices. The director who oversees processing of Measure 37 claims filed with the state estimates that it will take 18 months for the existing staff to handle the ones now pending. Some counties find themselves even further behind.
This situation puts taxpayers at risk. Measure 37 states that the public entity has 180 days to determine whether a claim is valid and to waive land use restrictions. If a public entity does not complete work on a claim in 180 days, the claimant can sue to collect compensation plus attorneys' fees.
State and county agencies have struggled to complete processing of each claim by the 180-day deadline to avoid exposure to claimed compensation. But they have to be careful, because granting waivers to invalid claims could bring lawsuits from neighbors who oppose development by the claimant.
In testimony to our fairness committee, state and county officials described a developing crisis. If they don't get more time to process the claims already made under Measure 37, claimants can sue for compensation that totals several billion dollars.
At the same time, the small claims for an additional house by long-time landowners are held up while large claims by developers consume the time of land use offices. The fairness voters sought in supporting Measure 37 is being lost.
These are the challenges facing our fairness committee in the Legislature. To respond effectively to the crisis, I need to hear from Oregonians about how Measure 37 is working.
Therefore, I'm holding a town hall on Measure 37 on Monday, Feb. 12 from 7 to 8:30 pm at Lake Oswego Junior High School, in the library. The school is located at 2500 Country Club Road in Lake Oswego.
Rep. Greg Macpherson, Lake Oswego, represents Oregon House District 38.