Thursday, March 08, 2007

SB 505 Comatose, Its Replacement Looking Anemic

While we were wrapped up in all things Dorchester for the last few days, some excellent reportage has come from two different perspectives on recent Measure 37 activity within the Joint Special Land-Use Fairness Committee (JSLUFC, ugh). One provides all you need to know from a technical angle--something that can be quite handy on complex issues like land use. The other is a more personal and sense-of-the-room analysis of the discussion on the same topic, and captures more of the human element of the controversy. Both add much-needed detail to the continuing proceedings in Salem.

Peter Bray at Land Use Watch has been keeping his eye on Measure 37 news like a hawk, and was no fan of SB 505, the time-out bill designed to give the legislature breathing room to address the mess. We thought it represented a reasonable compromise and holding pattern to make changes simpler; Peter thought it gave too much away to M37 proponents. As we reported Friday, the testimony from many, many claimants over several meetings seems to have built opposition to the bill...despite the admission by co-Chair Greg Macpherson that so much of the testimony wasn't even aimed at 505, but M37 itself. Still, cold feet apparently has led the committee to back-burner the bill, replacing it with SB 833. Peter takes it from here:
Some notes about the fast track development waiver:

1. Unlike SB 505, only claims made between October 15 and December 5, 2006 can benefit from the fast-track development;

2. Like SB 505, the claimant waives other development rights;

3. Like SB 505, transferability is explicitly not mentioned; in particular, the regulations are waived only for the claimant: note, for instance, that the release a claimant must sign explicitly precludes all future claims and “binds all heirs, successors and assigns of the owner or owners” — but when describing the waiver that a claimant will get the Bill always uses language such as “shall approve a waiver as described in this section for a claimant“, “[l]and use regulations that prevent the claimant“, etc, rather than flowery language approving that waiver to the claimant and all assignees;

4. Unlike SB 505, the fast-track development is not limited to areas outside UGBs;

5. Unlike SB 505, claimants using the fast-track option do not explicitly have the right to file a judicial action “arising out of the action or failure to act of a public entity on a written demand or a use of private real property”.

So, 833 restricts fast-tracking to those claims already in the pipeline; it grants no transferability of fast-track development; it requires release of future claims; and it effective suspends all non-approved claims (assuming that the particular county plays along). The drawback, of course, is that it does nothing for already approved claims.

So, 833 is a watered-down version of 505 with more restrictions placed on who can use the fast-track development capability (except for the inclusion of inside-UGB development).
Chair Macpherson indicated to me that it was a move of simplification, to go ahead and address the core issues driving SB505 but which were purposely being left unaddressed until 505 passed.

I tend to agree with Peter, however: the committee started taking a little heat and decided to head back to the drawing board. What they came up with is perhaps marginally better, but that's not really the point: if the time-out bill had a particular function--which I think it did, to retain fairness and change the rules in as much of a streamlined and universal fashion as possible--why is that function suddenly no longer applicable or beneficial? Was it deemed unimportant? I don't think so. But it's been jettisoned for a bill that does largely the same thing as before, except under an entirely different set of arbitrary timelines.

Brian Hines and his wife Laurel cannot treat Measure 37 as an academic test of planning theory. They are the largely forgotten interest group in this clash--the neighbors of people proposing large claims. They too bought their land with expectations on the zoning laws affecting their area. Why are their expectations not equivalent to "property rights" concerns that claimaints rely on so heavily? Because they don't encourage development or the right to maximize profit independent of the social millieu?

In this context, Brian describes the scene:
Of the twenty-eight people who testified against SB 883, fourteen had reasons related to being against Measure 37, and fourteen had reasons related to being in favor of the law.

Dan Goffin, a farmer and member of the Marion County Planning Commission, said that "agriculture has been gut-shocked" by Measure 37. He mocked the notion that governmental land use laws have markedly reduced property values, noting that his land once was worth $15,000 and now is over $1,000,000. "That's a pretty good return," he said.

The most nonsensical pro-Measure 37 statement came from a woman who intoned, "God gave me the right to control my land when He created the earth." I dearly wanted to know more about the theology behind that statement, but questions weren't being asked by the legislators and I never got a chance to talk to the woman.

Before the hearing started I got to meet another of the owners who are trying to develop a 217 acre Measure 37 subdivision adjacent to our Spring Lake Estates neighborhood. He came up and introduced himself. I shook his hand and said, "Nice to meet you. I'm part of the group fighting your proposed development."

"Oh, so I guess you want to make this country into Venezuela and socialize all of our private property," he said to me.
Si, se puede, Hugo! It's still not clear what reforms will eventually come out of committee and receive debate on the House floor, but I'm starting to get the same sick feeling in my stomach that I have regarding Congress and Iraq: I think the Democrats are getting ready to fold on an issue in which they hold both the upper hand and the popular viewpoint. Prove me wrong, folks!