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:
Monument meets a pumice mine. A property inside Newberry Crater National Monument is likely to win approval for a pumice mine, geothermal plant, and vacation homes. Unless, that is, the county coughs up $200 million.
Bye bye farmland, hello lawsuits. One farmer, whose family has been on the land for more than a century, is suing to keep surrounding farmland from converting to suburbs, contrary to its agricultural zoning. The proposed subdivisions around him will jeopardize his ability to keep farming.
Gravel mine threatens neighbors. Over the objection of neighbors, a gravel mine was approved near homes. One neighbor worries about the constant noise stressing her farm animals. Another next-door neighbor, an elderly couple who needs to move off the land, can no longer find a buyer for their property. After all, who wants to buy a couple hundred feet from a gravel mine?
Foresters cope with subdivisions. A fourth-generation logging family that has repeatedly won awards for conservation and stewardship may be put out of business. The land on three sides of their property was given an exemption from forestry zoning to allow suburban subdivisions, in an area with almost no fire protection service. And a fire could wipe out their assets and livelihood.
Endangered water supply. A homeowners association is struggling to preserve their access to well water. Farmland adjoining the homeowners won a Measure 37 claim and is now slated for subdivisions, which will rely on wells that may impair existing wells and harm a wetland the homeowners manage as a nature preserve.
These stories are just an appetizer. The main dish in Oregon is the nearly 3,000 claims filed under Measure 37, demanding roughly $6 billion in compensation — or exemptions from the law.
These horror stories from Oregon are probably most relevant to its northern neighbor, Washington, where Initiative 933 — the most batshit insane of all the 2006 ballot measures — is also retroactive. I-933 will roll back laws by at least 10 years. In other states, the measures are prospective: they won’t turn the clock back, they’ll just stop time in 2006. (Of course, many of the other states, Idaho for example, have very few land-use protections on the books now.) So in the other states, the stories from Oregon in 2006 are more like a glimpse into the future. It’s what will happen under pay-or-waive in five or 10 or 20 years.
How on earth did a progressive state like Oregon get into this pickle? Well, that’s too long a story for a blog post. But here’s the short version: In 2004, after decades of leadership in growth management, Oregon led the nation in a new direction: toward planning paralysis. In that year, residents of Oregon overwhelmingly approved Measure 37 by a margin of 61 to 39. It passed in all but one county in the state, and it passed in every county in the Portland metro area — proving just how dangerous and difficult to defeat these measures are.
So extreme have the results been that just two years later, a recent poll shows that Oregon residents have undergone a complete reversal: the measure is now opposed by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. And the more a person knows about the measure, the more likely they are to disapprove of it.
On Monday, I’ll put on my tinfoil hat and explain the national strategy of property-rights activists. They’re well-funded, impassioned, and they have stated marching orders to export Measure 37 to every other state. Stay tuned.