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Measure 49 is a start; say yes

Oregon voters have a choice in the Nov. 6 election as they seek to balance private-property rights against the need for orderly land use planning: They can stick with the flawed Measure 37 that they approved in 2004, or they can replace it with another imperfect measure — one that the 2007 Legislature drafted in its attempt to clean up Measure 37. Voters should hold their noses and approve the Legislature’s version, which appears on the ballot as Measure 49. This measure clarifies key aspects of Measure 37 and would allow reasonable development — no more than 10 homes — by property owners who once lost their right to subdivide their parcels because of land use regulations. Our support for Measure 49 is not an endorsement of the process used by the Legislature to rewrite Measure 37. Lawmakers could have done far better. Democratic legislators had the chance to present a measure that had broad bipartisan support, but in the end they took the expedient political route. Along the way, legislators produced an overly complicated measure that carries a one-sided ballot title. But despite its drawbacks, Measure 49 has one saving grace: It offers a better starting point than Measure 37 to continue discussing reform of Oregon’s nearly 35-year-old system of statewide land use planning. Measure 37 went too far The problems and unintended consequences of Measure 37 have become all too apparent in the past three years. The measure was supposed to give property owners who believe land use regulation has diminished the value of their property the right either to develop the land or receive compensation. But that simple concept has spawned nearly 300 court cases. It has pitted neighbors who want to develop their property against neighbors who oppose such development. And it has failed some of the very property owners it was supposed to help. The types and scale of developments proposed following the adoption of Measure 37 have exceeded what Oregonians probably had in mind when they approved the measure. This law has allowed farmers to propose subdivisions next to other farmers and would permit billboards to be erected in unsuitable locations. It has opened the door to the possibility of shopping centers in inappropriate places, and it even has attracted claims from developers of high-rises in the midst of Portland. Most people — including, Oregonians in Action, the organization that sponsored Measure 37 — realize that the Legislature should clarify the law. Measure 49 is only a beginning While Measure 49 is the result of that legislative effort, it absolutely must not be viewed as an end in itself. If legislators do not recognize that more work needs to be done to reform the state’s land-use system and to ensure the smooth implementation of Measure 49, then they should fully expect to be fighting ballot-measure battles for years to come. The irony of Measure 49 is that if the Legislature had taken these simple steps to restore fairness to landowners years ago, there never would have been a need for Measure 37. It was legislative inaction that led to the mess we are in today. And it was the Legislature’s decision to slash funding for the Big Look land use task force earlier this year that contributes to continued suspicion that the Legislature is incapable of dealing with Oregonians’ real concerns about land use. We recommend that voters approve Measure 49, and that legislators, when they meet in minisession in February, restore funding for the Big Look task force and thereby open the door to meaningful land use reform.