More on greed

February 25, 2005 at 5:39 am (Planning, Portland)

In 1974, Gov. Tom McCall signed Senate Bill 100, which established Oregon's innovative land use planning system. Drafted by rural legislators intent on saving farmland, Act 100 imposed several requirements on municipalities. Among them were comprehensive zoning and the establishment of Urban Growth Boundaries. All substantial development must occur within the UGB, and the UGB must be large enough to accommodate 20 years of expected growth. So in rural areas, with maybe a gas station and a general store, the urban growth area is very small, and there are entire counties (counties are big out here) zoned almost exclusively as farmland, forest, etc. It was a major accomplishment, and if you drive around Oregon you will see dense, pedestrian friendly cities and a notable lack of cookie-cutter subdivisions and strip malls. It is the best thing to ever happen to the state.
A drawback should seem obvious. If I am a farmer who is retiring, and I want to divide up and sell my land to a developer, I can't. Well technically I could, but the developer couldn't do anything with it. This has become a particularly contentious point, especially among such civic-minded Oregonians as the CEOs of Target and Wal-mart. They were just outraged that I couldn't sell my farm…until now.
In November ballot measure 37 passed. It requires local governments to compensate land owners when regulations decrease property value, or waive the regulation. Sounds reasonable. But it is so broad that it applies to all zoning and land use regulations. There are a few exeptions, often for "moral" reasons: if I want to be gay in a county that is zoned exclusively Christian, I am out of luck. But if I want to open an aluminum smelter next to an elementary school in a residential neighborhood, goddammit that's my Constitutional right! ("LALALALA FREEDOM FREEDOM NINE ELEVEN" said the Republican representative with his fingers in his ears.)
Of course it is an unfunded mandate. If I divide my 1000 acre farm into quarter-acre lot fast track housing units and want to sell them for 50 grand each, well the county better waive the ordinance preventing dense housing on my land, or hand over 200 million dollars. Obviuosly, that's not going to happen, so the clear intent of Measure 37 is to overturn decades of land use policy in Oregon.
Which brings me to my point. Why do people think they have absolute ownership of their land, and should be able to do whatever they want with it? Nothing else is like that. Government regulates what, where, and when we can drive, what countries we can visit, how and when to tax us, even what we can eat and drink to a certain extent. And conservatives tend to support these restrictions (think Cuba and prohibition). Why should land be any different? If I ask a supporter of 37 where she lives, I'll bet one of her first responses will be Oregon. Does that not give the state some sort of implicit claim to your land? When you die, it won't be yours anymore, but it will still be in Oregon.
If they have their way, pro-37 folks will be complaining in a few years that the Wal-mart, McDonald's and Payless Shoe Outlet opening across the valley are obstructing their views and corrupting the young people. Not that everybody supports these outcomes–I don't think people knew what they were voting for. People are really stupid.
Get rich quick!


  1. corthar said,

    I don’t know about you, but frankly, I hope that Porky Adult Shop pops up before I come visit this summer.

  2. Underused said,

    “Why do people think they have absolute ownership of their land, and should be able to do whatever they want with it?”Ummm… because we got rid of feudalism centuries ago. The rezoning of land can constitute a taking (in specific situations), and is thus an exercise of eminent domain for which the owner must be compensated. This measure doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me prima facie, but I’m sure the end result will be an abuse of the principle.

  3. JB said,

    Euclid v. Ambler (1916) established the constitutionality of zoning laws.

  4. Underused said,

    Ok, but that has nothing to with whether rezoning constitutes a taking of property, which is constitutional so long as the owner is compensated for the loss.

  5. JB said,

    Do you really think that zoning constitutes a taking? Nobody is taking anything away from you, only restricting use. People have an incorrect notion that property values will always rise so therefore any restriction is seen as a potential monetary loss. But real estate is really as speculative as any market venture.If someone wanted to build a cement factory or a stockyard across the street from your condo, should he be compensated for lost revenues if zoning prevents that type of use? Where should the money come from? Some people here are proposing that properties positively affected by zoning be taxed at a higher rate to pay M37 claims. But good luck establishing those standards.

  6. Grundle said,

    is that get rich quick dude for real”?

  7. JB said,

    I don’t think so. My favorite is the open pit leach mining.

  8. larry said,

    I say we finally break down and create the cabinet level Department of For The Children™. Then the enlightened benevolent wisdom of the government will always tell us how we should think and what we should do.

  9. JB said,

    Opposition to building Wal-marts in the Columbia Gorge equals support for Ingsoc? That’s quite a leap larry.

  10. larry said,

    To be honst, I had that response canned and was just looking for a post to drop it on. Your blog provided the first opportunity. As to the issue, you’re obviously never finding anyone who would support putting an aluminum smelter next to an elementary school in a residential neighborhood. That’s a strawman. Nor would you find anyone serious who truly believes doing so is a constitutional right.As in all things, moderation. I would say that zoning laws are necessary for a community, but thay can’t be absolutely final. That gives too much power to the government. I would try to make more sense, but I want to go back to playing video games.

  11. Eric Pritchard said,

    The idea that zoning is not regulatory taking is completely wacko. Consider this. Any law can be an easement. Easements can be sold. Thus the law takes the value of the easement. It iis as simple as that.

    The pro-zoning folks covet other folks’ lands. They want to control them, but they don’t want to pay for the control. They want to take it like theives in the night.

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