The decision by the Oregon Supreme Court today to overturn a lower court ruling and uphold Measure 37 leaves a very poor law on the books. Leaving aside the now-settled question of whether it is legal, the emergent question is: what next?
Over the course of decades of discussion, Oregonians had come to an agreement about land-use planning in the state. The debates and discussions leading to land-use laws did well to take in minority views and balance the needs of urban and rural residents. In recent years, the laws proved inflexible, and needed fine tuning. What we got instead was statutory blackmail in the form of M37--taking a bazooka to rid ourselves of a mosquito.
Several questions emerge:
Are we content to give up the experiment of careful planning by different constituents of land use policy? Measure 37 isn't a corrective, but rather a bomb. It was a unilateral strike by one central group of interests: land developers. Even M37's proponents must admit that it's a return to the wild west--which means density advocates, farmers, environmentalists, city planners, and rural residents can all go lump it. Fine if that's what you want, but is it?
Do we have the political will to address real reform? Measure 37 didn't arise from a vacuum--there were fixes needed in the way we planned for using our land. Do we have politicians who are willing to go to the effort to craft a reasonable law that addresses the concerns of some landowners while continuing to protect Oregon's unique land use law? Can politicians put polemics and political maneuvering aside so that real coalitions between the constituents can emerge?
What kind of Oregon do we want? In the various posts BlueOregon has featured since M37s passage, proponents of the measure have argued that Oregon's land use laws are too restrictive and that no other state has followed suit. True enough. So the question is, do we want to follow the rest of the West into urban sprawl, or does Oregon see a future distinct from this model? One group has hijacked the debate (see gloater trolls in the previous thread, for example), but the discussion feels far from over.
The Supremes have spoken: M37 is settled law. Do we want it to remain settled?