You see, this is what I was talking about. From today's Oregonian: The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners decided Tuesday to speed the processing of claims made under Oregon's Measure 37 property rights law by preventing residents from testifying about filings. The commissioners will approve valid Measure 37 claims without question or public comment.
Here's a potentially good idea about which I'm rather ambivalent: rules requiring in-city developers to include robust landscaping features such as green roofs and vegetation-covered walls. It's easy on the eyes, but it may not be smart public policy. To begin with, it's unclear how much burden Seattle's cutting-edge new rules would impose; and it's unclear how much benefit they'd achieve. But if most developers are skeptical -- and they are, at least according to this article -- then policymakers should listen very carefully. Burdening developers with additional layers of regulatory complexity, especially here in regulation-heavy Seattle, may not be such a hot idea. Those regulations tend to reduce the viability of further in-city development or raise the cost. Either is bad. No, I haven't been reading Milton Friedman over the holidays. It's just that when it comes to urban development, I'm not sure that we need a lot of elaborate new policies and procedures. In some case, we simply need less red tape. Here's why ...
Here's a perfect example of why pay-or-waive laws don't work. In the rural Oregon community of Prineville, a property owner filed a claim under Measure 37 demanding to be allowed to build his house on a specific portion of his property that's zoned otherwise. Instead of waiving the zoning law, the county council became the first in Oregon to offer taxpayer compensation instead -- to the tune of about $47,000.
Five outta six ain't bad. As I mentioned earlier, the takings measures in Montana and Nevada were yanked by the courts. Then last night, the good news just kept on coming. Voters in three Western states -- California, Idaho, and Washington -- soundly rejected ballot measures that aimed to hamstring local governments and cripple environmental protections. It wasn't close. In most places voter's message was deafening: we want to protect our communities and our natural heritage.
In my previous posts on the 2006 takings ballot measures (here, here, and here), I promised I'd get out the tinfoil hat and talk conspiracy theory. So here goes ...
For two days now, I've been blathering on about the unholy "property rights" ballot measures in 2006 -- see here and here. But if you really want to understand the potential impacts of these takings initiatives, there's one real-world example: Oregon. For two years, Oregon has been the only state in the nation with a pay-or-waive law on the books: Measure 37. The results clearly illustrate the dangers facing other Western states. So as a way to warn other places of what can happen, Sightline Institute (where I work) recently compiled a batch of real-life stories from neighbors and communities in Oregon. You can read the full stories, along with some additional context, in our report, Property Wrongs (PDF). If you don't have time for that, here's the bite-sized version:
I love sewers. I love them because the alternative is so much worse. Ponder that for a moment. What the heck do sewers have to do with property rights and regulatory takings? Patience, grasshopper. As I wrote yesterday, a rash of so-called "property rights" ballot measures in the West are threatening the very basics of community planning and environmental protection. Arizonans are facing Prop 207; Californians are battling Prop 90; Idahoans are up against Prop 2; and Washingtonians are facing Initiative 933. (Montanans and Nevadans recently dodged a bullet when their initiatives were invalidated because of little things like fraud and constitutional violations. More on that in a later installment.) By design, all the 2006 property ballot measures deploy the same scheme: "pay or waive." That is, you can pay a property owner to obey the law, or you can waive the law.
A couple of weeks ago, while hurrying to a favorite trout stream, I was pulled over for speeding in a small town. I must have been fried from months of research and writing on the so-called "property rights" movement, because it suddenly occurred to me that the current system is backward. So I said* to the officer: "Listen, if The Man wants me to obey his laws to keep this town safe, then he should pay me for my time." Now if my reasoning with the cop sounds ridiculous to you,then you may have difficulty grasping the thinking behind the rash of ballot measures spreading across the West like ... well, like a rash. But there you have it: there's a well-funded and highly ideological campaign with national marching orders. In 2006, they've landed initiatives on the ballot in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Washington. All the initiatives have the same aim: to force communities to pay property owners to obey land-use laws. And if communities can't pay, they must grant waivers from the law. (Don't live in one of these states? There's one headed your way soon. Live in Europe? You're next.)
It seems that wolves are returning home to Oregon. A little more than a decade ago, Oregon was wolf-less, along with the rest of the American West, a legacy of government-sanctioned poisoning, trapping, and shooting to make the land safe for cows and sheep. (Here's a cool animated map depicting our shrunken wolf range.) But then in the mid-1990s, federal biologists reintroduced a few dozen wolves back into their native habitat of Yellowstone National Park and the wilderness of central Idaho. And the wolf population grew faster and healthier than anyone had been expecting.