Oregonians in Action...Look at "Smart Growth" in Action

By Bill Moshofsky
for eco-logic


Oregon - As the state's economy continues to stagnate, and as state and local governments struggle with budget shortfalls, it's time to recognize that some of these woes have been self-inflicted.

We have continued to hobble our citizens with a land use regulatory system that outlaws or stifles economic activities in both rural and urban areas.

We have ignored the fact that land is a great economic resource.

Unfortunately, Oregon's much heralded "land use planning" system is mostly about restrictions, regulations, and preservation -- not planning.

The current system is driven by two primary objectives. One is preserving "open space" in rural Oregon, under the guise of preserving farm and forest land, and by outlawing almost all development.

The other is "urban containment," which forces existing cities to build up, not out -- and prohibits establishing new cities.

Amazingly, there has never been an economic study to determine the financial impact of land use regulations.

Like most government bureaucracies, once in place, no one questions the efficacy of their programs, or looks at the consequences.

Back when Measure 7 was being debated (a measure approved in 2000 -- but invalidated by the courts -- that would have required governments to pay property owners for loss of use and value caused by certain types of land use regulations), opponents claimed the cost to governments required to pay such claims would exceed $5 billion per year.

If that's true, it means that our current system of land use restrictions is destroying more than $5 billion in economic value per year -- a staggering sum!

When you add to this figure the economic value of potential job creation and other activity that new development would provide, the amount of economic loss to our state is almost incomprehensible.

Consider the impact of farm and forest "goals" adopted by the state Land Conservation & Development Commission (LCDC).

Most Oregonians don't realize that, under these goals, more than 97 percent of all private rural land has been zoned into highly restrictive "exclusive farm use" and forest zones, with no regard for the actual productivity of the land, economics or the rights of landowners.

All forms of residential, industrial or commercial uses are outlawed or strictly limited.

With more than 55 percent of Oregon's land base owned by the federal government and another 42 percent locked away in restrictive rural areas, this leaves only about 3 percent of the land to provide for virtually all residential, commercial and industrial development.

Under LCDC's urbanization "goal," all future growth must occur within rigid urban growth boundaries that encircle every city. This creates an artificial shortage of land needed for homes and businesses, which drives up the cost of available land -- making housing unaffordable, and driving away businesses that want to expand or locate here.

The urbanization goal mandates higher urban densities, which is creating traffic congestion and bottlenecks in many areas, further burdening the economy.

The idea behind the goal is to get people out of their cars -- to, instead, walk, ride bicycles or use mass transit.

It's unrealistic, and it doesn't work.

Today's complex and mobile society requires the use of automobiles.

Yet, hugely disproportionate amounts of money are used for mass transit, and fewer dollars are used for road maintenance and much-needed new roads.

It's high time to reform Oregon's land use regulations!

Oregonians In Action is launching an Economic Impact Survey (EIS), the first of its kind, to show the direct linkage between our land use regulatory system and the downturn in our economy.

It will reveal the dollar losses to the economy and the reductions in tax revenues caused by unfair and excessive land use restrictions.

OIA will be working with county governments to survey individual landowners to determine the increases in economic value that would result from land use reforms.

Survey results will be publicized and provided to elected officials as further proof that land use regulatory reforms are much needed.


Bill Moshofsky is vice president for government affairs of Oregonians In Action, P.O. Box 230637, Tigard, OR 97281, 503-620-0258.


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