Monday’s Measure 37 forum turns to history

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

February 28, 2007

A Measure 37 discussion on Monday turned into a brief history lesson as both sides used the words of America’s founding fathers to back their viewpoints.

Steven Andersen, a private property rights advocate, was the first to take the podium at Dog River Coffee Company. The owner of Cascade Planning Associates has prepared almost all of the Measure 37 claims filed by local landowners.

Andersen told the 50-member audience that if the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Section 18 of the Oregon Bill of Rights had been followed in state land-use planning, Measure 37 would not have been necessary. He said 61 percent of voters statewide had marked their ballots in 2004 for “fairness” by reclaiming property rights.

Measure 37 opened an avenue for property owners to seek compensation from government agencies for restrictions that devalued land. In lieu of making that payment, regulatory bodies can restore the use allowed when the property was acquired.

Andersen referred to John Adams as one of the many founders who rejected a hereditary monarchy for a rule by the people. He then quoted Adams to sum up the present situation, “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.

“What the Oregon Legislature needs to recognize is that a supermajority of voters said loudly and clearly that they are unhappy with the land-use system and it needs to change,” said Andersen.

Jeff Hunter, a member of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee and a local Realtor, then took an opposing stance. HRVRC, a land use watchdog group, has worked since 1981 to protect resource lands from development.

Hunter said the concept of private property rights in America had an English origin. He said the king had once owned all of the land but had provided his vassals and peasants with protection, which created a balance.

He said that system of governance broke down when the king demanded taxes from the new colonies, but was too far away to provide protection. However, Hunter said early settlers still acknowledged a responsibility to society as they acquired holdings. They recognized that property should not be used in a way that injured others, and that people had the right not to be “bothered” on their property. In addition they believed that the good of the people as a whole was the supreme law.

Hunter said Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin acknowledged that property rights needed to be balanced with the needs of society.

“Without government we don’t really have private property; we don’t have anyone to defend it,” said Hunter. “The challenge is to decide how to be fair to private property but conduct policy that is fair to all of us.”

Both Andersen and Hunter agreed that the Oregon Legislature played a key role in “fixing” the land use system.

Andersen said zoning laws had originally been enacted by cities — and he believed control needed to be returned to local governments. He said the state currently required even towns such as Granite, with a population of 12, to enact stringent land use guidelines.

“Local jurisdictions should be given the authority to develop their own plans and policies for management of growth without a state commission dictating to them,” said Andersen, who believed most issues could be resolve with “creative and innovative” thinking.

Hunter acknowledged that Measure 37 had highlighted a need to revamp Oregon’s centralized land use system. He suggested there be greater flexibility in allowing non-productive farm lands to be used for a limited number of home sites. And development rights transferred from an area unacceptable for development to a suitable location. However, Hunter said the state needs to hold the line against any massive development of resource land.

“If we start a process now to let our best farmland go into subdivisions, we’re going to start a process that we can’t stop,” he said.

The “coffee talk” discussion on Feb. 26 was organized by the Columbia Gorge Earth Center as part of its ongoing film and lecture series on topics of sustainability.

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