Monday, March 26, 2007

Steady Goes the Ship Towards M37 Compromise

It surprises me a bit that the McMinnville News-Register seems to have scooped everyone--at least The O, S-J and R-Guard--on this story about fixing Measure 37
Developments this week raised hopes for a workable compromise. Reports circulating at the Capitol this week have had Garrard, Prozanski and the younger Macpherson basically locked in a room with fellow committee members and staffers, Camp-David-style, struggling to reach a land-use compromise before the session's clock runs out.

"We are slogging through very difficult issues," the younger Macpherson said, tight-lipped, after a recent committee meeting. Rumors swirling about the Capitol early Tuesday indicated the negotiations had broken down, perhaps irreparably. But a Tuesday evening meeting reportedly ended in handshakes. Contacted Wednesday, Prozanski called Tuesday's exchange a "wonderful discussion." In fact, he went so far as to say, "The parameters are set."

Garrard's office confirmed both the report of progress and the positive tone.

Prozanski said announcement of a deal could come as early as next week, but declined to discuss specifics Wednesday, saying that would be premature. He said concepts still need to be reduced to language acceptable to both sides.
This seems like a good thing to me. There's no reason for the Democrats to ram changes through the Legislature unless they've already been brokered by the committee. Oregonians want the law changed, but they don't want to see the government appearing to disregard the will of the voters in so doing. While it's theoretically possible that a full rollback or very narrow rework could get past both houses, it's more likely to fire up a moribund GOP that is backpedaling so far this session. And a voter referral of the repeal might be upheld, and it might not, depending on how clumsily it was handled.

The Democrats obviously have the votes on committee, so unless Macpherson and Prozanski aren't terminally stupid they will eventually take the better end of the deal in some fashion. The reality is that what they can most feasibly and safely give away while maintaining land-use control as their main goal, is happily also the compromise that both sells best with the public and leaves M37 proponents with little room to maneuver: limited personal lots for family houses.

I'm one of the people who has believed it would come down to a debate over the number of lots--anywhere from 2 to 7, depending on how negotiations went, with 3 to 5 most likely. The fact that no one on either side that I've asked over the last couple of months has wanted to come close to answering that question, tells me that I'm probably right. And here we are.

But it's not necessarily a bad decision. The core gripe of many Measure 37 proponents is that people who bought land and had it go farm- or forest-exclusive in the 70s, now have land they were going to give away to their children or sell off that they can't use. A lot of regular folks made retirement plans on that idea, and while I think they really had plenty of time to make alternate plans since 1973, I understand the idea that something of value was lost to them. I think if you honestly look at the grand scheme of land use planning and inject the right for family-owned housing into it, the grand scheme doesn't exactly shudder to a halt. I think it actually stabilizes rural areas in a manageable way that needn't tax resources or infrastructure.

The people who didn't show up to plead their woeful case in hearings were the developers and the people with major subdivisions (well, a couple subdivision people did, but they sure didn't sound as sympathetic as the doddering people with 80 acres of scrub "farmland.") It's those people who could wreck the system and forever alter the landscape, and it's those people who (I hope) are sacrificed in the agreement. You shouldn't get transferability for speculative use, and that will put the kaibosh on most major development waivers--no resale value. And really, the idea that you were ever guaranteed a return on your investment in land despite any rules laid down by the common on it--so 18th Century!

Our good friend Peter Bray at Land Use Watch is not amused at what's going down, and takes aim at Rep. Macpherson pretty hard (if I understand the usage of the word 'disaster'):
[Macpherson's] lack of spine in regards to things that truly impact Oregon for the long term, such as Measure 37 reform, has led to the crappy SB 505 proposal, which went nowhere, and then another crappy SB that gives M37 claimants even more rights. What’s scary is that he presents himself as a thought leader and counterpoint to M37 proponents. You get a sense of how idiotic it is to have Macpherson serve as a spokesman for M37 reform when you look at his actions (or lack thereof).
Harsh charges. It's quite possible that Bray hadn't seen the News-Register piece on the "Camp-David"-style effort Macpherson is apparently giving, but one doubts that would have made much difference in his evaluation. One of Mac's staffers responds in comments:
My name is John Atkins, and I’m Rep. Macpherson’s legislative assistant. I’m sorry you feel the way you do. I’m not sure you understand what is going on in this building, but I know better than to argue with somebody on their own website. Instead, I suggest that you call up our office–503-986-1438–and schedule a meeting with the Representative in the next week or so. If you can’t make it down to the capitol, I’m sure I could arrange for you to speak with him by phone. I really wish you had at least made an effort to make contact with us–to give us a chance to explain what you see as weak leadership–before you posted. Any real journalist would have done at least that much.

Oh, and Rep. Macpherson has no control over who sits on his committee. Senator George was assigned to the committee by the Senate President.
Boo-YAH! He gave him the ultra, hang on a mo, he didn't. Well, maybe the "real journalist" part, yeah. But still, minutes with the Representative is a fair offer that Bray does not respond to. (Hey John, can you give me time with him this Wednesday? Seriously.)

I definitely part company with Bray when it comes to Macpherson; while I may agree that a more combative and defensive attitude towards anything less than a repeal might have earned a repeal, that isn't necessarily the best way to go--and I certainly wouldn't impugn Macpherson's work on the committee so far, especially pending a substantive deal that fixes the law's major flaws but lets family-based rural home ownership continue. I think we should be able to live with that.