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Its a critical time for land use in state

Next two decades will see tremendous changes; planning needs to occur now

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and state legislators must retain what appears to be a shaky commitment to a citizen-led effort to review and make recommendations on how to improve the state's land-use system.

Oregon is at a critical land-use crossroads:

n The state's cities and counties, which are dealing with urban growth boundaries and infrastructure that were planned and paid for years ago, face huge difficulties as they scramble to accommodate 2 million more people in the next two decades.

n The state's economy continues to change. Agriculture and forestry still are important. But in the 21st century, land use must nimbly serve economic decisions that are made in a matter of weeks. And it must support businesses and jobs not even imagined when land-use planning was initiated in the 1970s.

n The desire to protect land for the environment has never been greater - even to the extent that some people say urban growth boundary decisions should protect natural areas first and agricultural lands next.

n Meanwhile, there is a widening recognition among some Oregonians that the state's land-use attitude - one of regulate, restrict and require (the three R's) - may not be the only way. Other states are using incentives to manage growth and enhance the economy, environment and farm and forest lands.

n Finally, mounting pressures continue without resolution over how to balance private property rights and a mandated statewide land-use system that has limited ability to recognize individual, local or regional differences.

Legislature placed work on hold

That's why Oregonians should be concerned that, in the final days of the 2007 Legislature, funding for a citizen-led land-use reform task force called the Big Look was dramatically cut and the work of its task force put on hiatus.

This Big Look was sponsored by Kulongoski and approved by the 2005 Legislature. The 10-person task force includes four Portland-area residents: Land-use lawyer Jill Gelineau, Metro President David Bragdon, Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad and Steve Clark, president of Community Newspapers Inc. (which includes the Lake Oswego Review) and the Portland Tribune.

The task force was created to review the state's land-use system and to make recommendations to the 2009 Legislature. Yet without notice, the Legislature put the task force on ice while Oregonians consider a November vote on changes to 2004's Measure 37 - which required compensation to landowners whose property has lost value due to land-use regulations.

Absent any direct legislative instruction, it is believed the task force may restart its work in February. But with less time and a substantial cut in budget, the land-use effort might more appropriately be called the Big Peek, not the Big Look.

Ready or not, future is coming

That's too bad. Regardless of whether voters decide to reshape Measure 37, the need for Oregon to evaluate and improve its land-use system has never been greater. Such an effort starts with the continued leadership, investment and commitment of the governor and the Legislature - and all parties who care about Oregon.

The chance for Oregon to balance growth and improve the economy, the environment and the state's communities is not a threat but an opportunity that requires consistent involvement of everyday citizens who care about their state's future.

That's why the governor and legislators need to commit clearly to the Big Look and the means by which land-use review and reform recommendations can still be provided to the 2009 Legislature. The pressures of the future, including growth, will not wait.