Score one for property rights, in Oregon of all places: In a state better known for its planning than for its sports teams, approval of a sweeping property rights measure signals a major shift in attitude. Politicians can no longer rely on regulations to mold the type of communities they want — not without public buy-in or the money to pay off nonbelievers. “Every elected official has to face the fact that we no longer have zoning power in the sense that most communities do,” said Bob Stacey, director of 1000 Friends of Oregon, the environmental watchdog group. “That’s a new day. It’s a very strange situation for Oregon to go from a national leader in community planning to a place where only with the greatest of caution will anybody even talk about planning and zoning.” Oregonians in Action, the property rights group, drafted Measure 37 to address concerns that land-use rules had grown too restrictive. The measure requires every Oregon government, from cities to state agencies, to excuse property owners from rules enacted after they have bought their land or compensate them for complying. Tens of thousands of Oregonians will be eligible to make claims. The majority probably will ask for things that seem reasonable to most people, such as splitting their property to build a house for a family member. Some may ask for unpopular things, such as plopping a convenience store among single-family homes or developing on sensitive wildlife habitat. The measure passed with 60 percent of the vote, according to unofficial election results. Supporters even carried Multnomah County, the epicenter of planning. Cities, counties and state agencies have 30 days to start accepting property owners’ claims. Most governments say administrative costs will strain them so much that they’ll be forced to strip away planning rules rather than pay claims for lost property value.
Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.