Tuesday, February 20, 2007

School Districts Suing Counties for M37 Money? Oy

The debate continues to roil in places like Blue Oregon: what's the real impact of Measure 37, and what are the implications for the future? Kari was clever enough to figure out a way to represent part of Clackamas County's Measure 37 claims map in a pictorial format; it gives you a feel for how slapdash and widespread the effect of claims development will be. As someone who lives very near the area pictured, and who takes great pleasure in the unbroken rural character of the land, this is a pretty depressing picture--but it's one that's being repeated across the state.

Courtesy of Peter over at Land Use Watch, the next image is the view of Hood River County, featuring not only some of the most beautifulvistas in the state, but a prime agricultural region where the soil yields bushels and flavor profiles unequaled in the world. I'd have to rewind the Land-Use Fairness Committee hearing from the 13th to give you the fella's name, but he stood as a Hood County farmer and said, "Some say pears are a dead industry in Oregon...but I didn't get that particular memo. I had my best Anjou pear year ever, which came after last year's record year. I got the best price ever for my Jonagold apples, too."

But will those summers (and falls) of great content continue? Hood's map makes the pattern of Clackamas claims look like bird droppings on a page. Large chunks of the southeast of Hood River stand to be completely turned over, and the entire valley's character is under direct challenge from Measure 37 claims. I don't say that without consideration; I'm not laying a value judgement on what the result might be, as much as pointing out that the way things are now are not due to remain. With that kind of development, they simply can't.

My wizardry (cough) with getting loadable images out of pdf's thus spent, I direct you to pictorial versions of the claims in Yamhill County, Washington County {pdf}, both the West side {pdf} and East side {pdf} of Multnomah County, and also Jackson County {pdf}. If you find more maps let me know and I'll link 'em up. And no Measure 37 junkie should hold forth at the next cocktail party, without at least having been to Portland State's excellent M37 database, containing almost every single claim statewide. Do a run on claims for subdivisions, four or more lots, and you'll see just how much those types of claims will play a role, despite the assurances of supporters that much of it won't even get built.

The maps represent broad, summary views of the situation; what I've been watching and reading about the last couple weeks are more often the anecdotal, personal stories from both sides at public hearings and forums, and in the news media. The balance of testimony has seemed fairly equal, but that in itself is a distortive view, given that almost every person I've heard speak out against SB505, the "time-out" bill, has been a M37 claimant. It's their right of course, and some of their stories do make you wonder how all this could have been avoided with some flexibility for owner-utilized development back in the day.

But those with skin in the game are a very small percentage of Oregonians, and almost by nature its wealthiest, given that they own fairly sizeable hunks of land. Even if they're income poor, as many of these retired landowners are, they are sitting on land worth good money. The rest of us, who do not see a direct financial benefit to M37 claims in the abstract, seem to be sitting on the sidelines. Thus the claimants are suggesting the illusion of balance by lobbying Salem in force.

So as long as we're talking anecdotes here, this item from Rogue Pundit is a jaw-droppingly craven example of what the gold rush of M37 has spawned--a rush not drawn from the overwhelming desire of retired Oregonians to 'bring families closer together', but simply to cash out. In the category of cashing out, give this one the prize. The school district in Grants Pass filed a claim against Josephine County, for land originally deeded to it by the county for use in a school forestry program...I'll let Rogue continue:
The forestry program ended long ago, but the school district still owns the land...which isn't far south of town in an area increasingly attractive to those seeking rural homesites. That land would be worth a lot more if it weren't now zoned "woodlot resource," which restricts most development. So, the Grants Pass School District filed Measure 37 claims with both Josephine County and the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. The following excerpts of an article in Thursday's Daily Courier (dead tree only) give a summary of how that's gone.
Denying a Measure 37 claim may have been an expensive decision for Josephine County commissioners.

Last week, the Grants Pass School District filed a $6.7 million lawsuit in Josephine County Circuit Court against the commissioners, the state and the Department of Land Conservation and Development.

The lawsuit asks the court to reverse the Board of Commissioners December decision to deny the district's Measure 37 claims on three properties on Stringer Gap Road and Elk Lane. The district is seeking $6.7 million in compensation for the loss in property value.

According to the lawsuit, the reasoning that a public entity cannot hold private property is not based on law. The district contends it is the nature of the property's use--not the nature of the entity--that should determine whether the property is "private real property." Grants Pass is currently using the property for investment purposes, not public use.

The district is seeking compensation from the state and county because both entities have enforced their land-use regulations on the properties.
Who are they kidding? As Rogue points out, the text of M37 is actually clear on this point; we're talking only about privately held land. Which is eminently sensible, otherwise you might have one cash-strapped entity decide to sue another entity--no matter if that entity is even more cash strapped than yours--as a way to avoid the hard questions of taxes vs closures for another year. You might even sue the very entity that gave you the fucking land in the first place, if you didn't get what you wanted and were calculating enough to go that far. So yeah, that's probably a good idea, to prevent public entities from being able to make claims.

Is this really the behavior we want to encourage? Let's take a time-out and review what should and shouldn't be changed on this nightmare of a law.

Update 1pm--
Courtesy of Peter at Land Watch Use, a couple more maps:

Washington County:

Lane County: