Oregon's new billboards - just awful - can we do something?

Albert Kaufman

Billb
On July 4th I penned this rant about billboards and Portland. Then I noticed on July 16th an article on billboard blight in the Oregonian confirming my suspicions. Oregon has a billboard problem.

The 1965 federal act requires states to enforce limits on billboards along major highways in scenic and rural areas. For about 14 months, however, state officials in Oregon were powerless to stop an unsightly explosion of billboards in scenic areas all across the state, including the Crater Lake Highway.

The Oregon Supreme Court opened the floodgates to this blight in March 2006. Justices did it by overturning a key provision of the state's law requiring permits for billboards outside of commercial or industrial areas.
It was an enormous victory for the outdoor advertising industry. It views Oregon as a battleground because it has -- or had -- some of the toughest billboard regulations in the nation.

At least 200 new billboards and untold numbers of smaller outdoor signs sprouted all across the state before Gov. Ted Kulongoski put a stop to it a few weeks ago. He did so by signing House Bill 2273, aimed at fixing the flaw in the 1971 law that Oregon's high court said violated the state constitution's broad free-speech protections.

On a short ride along the Oregon coast today I saw a lot of new, and frankly ugly, development and tons of new billboards. They seem to be at the entrance of every town along highway 101 and along Route 18 between Lincoln City and Portland. So, I'm wondering, can anything be done to stop the further eroding of beauty in this State? This place was once beautiful. Must we give in to the paving over of every last inch of this planet? And, I wonder if during a shift to progressive politics, we can take charge of this issue, as well - not just improve the bottle bill - but do something about the commercialization and paving of everything. Do we really need another strip mall? Do we need another K-Mart and Wal-Mart and super duper plex?

Does every road from here to there need to be widened to make room for more hummers? I think that the legislative agenda in Salem should be setting the bar higher - let's move beyond the current status quo and really move forward in the next legislative session. Before it's too late. Before there's one more McDonald's placed in this state, let's remember what a beautiful place we have and can protect. I don't see individual landowners being willing to take the steps I'm talking about, so I'm hoping there's another way. Suggestions? Thanks for listening.

Comments

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    A lot of the new billboards are a result of Measure 37 claims... we can help stop them in the tracks by voting YES ON MEASURE 49 this Fall!

  • East Bank Thom (unverified)
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    Posted by: East Bank Thom | Jul 5, 2007 2:27:59 PM</p

    i have a solution that wouldn't eliminate all billboards, but would go a long way toward eliminating streetside billboard clutter. Instead of trying to regulate content (as Kari pointed out, a lost cause), regulate the structures. Any structure with x square feet of street facing facade could be required to be z feet deep. I honestly don't mind the 50 foot Hefeweizen muralized on a building. But the freestanding billboard is IMHO a visual blight.

  • PeteJacobsen (unverified)
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    You went way past billboards to bemoan widening roads "for hummers". Be aware that there is a very common beast that is even wider than a hummer - the ubiquitous RV. Now you're talking about tourist dollars.

    Most of the coastal towns depend on tourist dollars and have nearby campgrounds. The RVs will come, even if they don't really fit on the roads. I suspect the population of the towns would favor making the roads safe for (tourist) traffic.

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    Billboards are 'free speech'? How can it be 'speech' when no one is talking? 'speech' is definrd as 'talking' ... right? I guess the court was so bored with thier jobs that they had to invent a difinition to justify their position and fit their bored interpretation of the constitution. Could this be the 'activist judges' we have been hearing about?

    Sickening...

  • OregonRain (unverified)
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    Hey, if you like the billboards you see now wait until you see what Clearchannel, CBS and Lamar have in-store for us.

    That is right the "digital billboard." These are the "new improved model" that are large scale LED signs that can show those ads in full motion and in full color. Man and do those babies ever suck energy.

    These companies and others are amending their leases around the state with the property holders to allow them to put this in at no increased lease rates. There is the small issue of sign ordinance and the possibility that the first time someone is in a car wreck within FM radio range of one of these the billboard company is going to get sued.

    So..again...headup...

  • Becky from St. Johns (unverified)
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    Well, today's O coddles Portland planners and public officials with an editorial putting the happy face on another source of BIG signs. Cascade Station, BIG BOX central, planned to be a ped/bike/transit mini-city is now in a good "fall back plan B". The BIG IKEA sign and BIG parking lots make Cascade Station anything but what the editorial board twisted out. But for some reason, if our local politically correct officials do it, no matter the outcome or cost, all is fine? As soon as I read the title of this thread I knew it would immediately become a trash M37 thread. Even though M37 had nothing to do with the court decision which spawned more billboards in Oregon. As more rhetoric flies M37 will be blamed for every tarnish our planning system directs. Including more development along the coridoors to the beach as all small towns follow the growth and density mandates we've witnessed in our urban centers for decades. Never mind the vast amounts of open and available land of all types (for miles) between the coridoors we'll see the needless overbuilding of existing cities and routes just as "planned". All the while the "Planning good, M37 bad" chorus will be heard.

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    So by not 'regulating content' of the billboards, does that mean we will see ads and boards with questionalble and disgusting words and phrases on them? Will the F word be finally accepted into our culture as an acceptable means of 'free expression'?

    I call it Freedom Without Responsibility.

    Yep - thank the activist judges and petty lawyers who have nothing better to do than to make our lives even more miserable with ubiquitous bombardment of useless clutter and hopeless drek.

  • East Bank Thom (unverified)
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    Billboards are 'free speech'? How can it be 'speech'

    It's considered "speech" owing to the broad protections afforded us by the Oregon constitution. This is something we usually benefit from (eg. largest per capita concentrations of titty bars).

    That's why i say forget the content issue and focus on regulating the billboards on structural grounds.

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    Titty bars - Disgusting.

    Titty bars are not "expression" or "free speech", they are a result of extremely bored and mentally sick people who have too much time on thier hands. That includes the immoral pole dancers.

    But do not be surprised, Thom, if "content" gets broadly defined to include the structures by some very bored lawyer, just like what happened to the constitution definition.

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    Eric J is confused.

    Billboards are 'free speech'? How can it be 'speech' when no one is talking? 'speech' is definrd as 'talking' ... right?

    No, we have freedom of expression.

    So by not 'regulating content' of the billboards, does that mean we will see ads and boards with questionalble and disgusting words and phrases on them?

    Wrong again. The issue is that you have to regulate commercial and non-commercial speech in the same way, under Oregon's Constitution. In other words, any regulation of billboards also applies to art murals, etc.

    I'd suggest stepping back and learning a little bit before you shoot your mouth off.

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    I am glad you helped me understand what is there and clear up my confusion, Kari - but I was not 'shooting off my mouth' - I was just asking questions. I apologize if I offended you enough to have you respond to me in such a snippy mood. Did you scream and yell too while writing the reponse? It would have been more constructive and much nicer if you left out the 'shoot off your mouth' comment. How can one learn with out asking questions? No wonder some people get estranged from this blog site. I won't be, but I would like some more niceties.

    Jee whiz...

  • BlueBabe (unverified)
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    Free speech is the artwork at PDX

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Regarding Ikea's parking lot, from what I've been able to determine the number of spaces at the Cascade Station Ikea will be among the lowest per sq. ft. of any of their stores due to the nearby transit access. Ikea is also offering $10 off delivery fees for anyone arriving at the store via transit.

    Their sign, however, is quite huge -- I heard awhile back that Randy Leonard took issue with it and considered it a possible violation -- has anyone heard an update on that?

    • Bob R.
  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Kari, calm down...

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    Titty bars - Disgusting. Titty bars are not "expression" or "free speech", they are a result of extremely bored and mentally sick people who have too much time on thier hands. That includes the immoral pole dancers.

    Judge much? You don't get to decide what free expression is, sorry. That would make it un-free. Luckily, the courts have already done it for you on more than one occassion--and you're wrong. Hope that helps.

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    Albert, quick answer: no. The state is projected to grow by a million citizens in the Metro area alone over the next 25 years (someone can correct me on that number--it is probably low).

    Under our current land use laws, and with likely changes with Measure 49, we are far from paving over the state. I don't mean to minimize the problem, but do you think that development along a main tourist corridor is a good way to judge our development path?

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    TJ - Would that also include swsitkas on the shirts of Neo-Nazi Hate Groups, Gay hate phrases on placards of gay bashers, and gory photos of decapitation plastered on an outside wall of an apartment building? (there is one of those near where I live)

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    TJ - Would that also include swsitkas on the shirts of Neo-Nazi Hate Groups, Gay hate phrases on placards of gay bashers, and gory photos of decapitation plastered on an outside wall of an apartment building? (there is one of those near where I live)

    Yes, of course it would. Do you LIVE in this country? Ever heard of the Skokie march? The Westboro Baptist Church and their delightful "God Hates Fags" campaign?

    The apartment example would be subject to business codes or tenant covenants that are signed as a condition of occupancy, but given that there IS one where you live, clearly your question was rhetorical.

    Free expression protects expressions if they are an affront to the larger community. In fact, those expressions are what our laws were designed for; popular speech doesn't need defending.

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    I do live in this country, but I haven't heard of those items I guess because I personally am offended by these things and ignore them for the most part. But you have made it very clear to me on this and answered my question nicely. Thank you on that.

    But - could the 'regulated content' definition be expanded to include how high or low a structure, or even structures in general? Would or could that happen to East Bank Thom's proposal above?

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Eric, I agree with you... I was outraged when I learned that they were teaching the pornographic Catcher in the Rye in public schools. I also understand that they were teaching the pagan and obscene A Midsummer Night's Dream. We need to put a stop to these outrages!

  • j_luthergoober (unverified)
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    Titty bars are not "expression" or "free speech", they are a result of extremely bored and mentally sick people who have too much time on thier hands....

    Nobody ever got killed when contemplating a woman's breasts. Or did they? Lets hear it for all those normal gun nuts out there!

    http://www.abcgallery.com/D/delacroix/delacroix10.JPG

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    Thank you for the sarcasm, Peter. point well taken. Crow is better with tabasco sauce.

  • Dolly (unverified)
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    Bob R, You sure go out of your way to dream up defense of the indefensible. What does it matter that you've been able to "determine the number of spaces at the Cascade Station Ikea will be among the lowest per sq. ft. of any of their stores due to the nearby transit access"? Big deal. It's an auto-oriented BIG BOX furniture store with 1200 parking spaces. Exactly the opposite of what Cascade Station was designed and built for. There is little doubt IKEA also got a sweet deal for the 19 acres and may not be ever paying any property taxes. The whole thing was a huge waste of taxpayer money and land. Big boxes didn't need subsidizing.

    IKEA also made statements that they were "attracked to the site, in part, because of MAX. Yeah in part all right. The part that got them the site if they played political correctness. And "Ikea is also offering $10 off delivery fees for anyone arriving at the store via transit." Oh yeah that's great. So people will take MAX to shop there then pay $40 instead of $50 to have a coffee table delivered?

    This has been an enormous Transit Oriented Development failure. The outcome is not a "good plan B fall back plan" as the O editorial puked out today. It was a complete and total punting of the TOD plan in exchange for the very anti-plan BIG BOX environment the Station was designed to prohibit. Nothing about that failed plan included any consideration of BIG BOX traffic. Nothing in the plan addressed BIG BOX traffic or any traffic impact at all. Imagine if a private developer attempted to develop a site without any traffiic impact study, plan or fee. That's what the city, PDC, Metro,TriMet and the Port did at Cascade Station. And here we go with the very mess they say MUST be midigated every time a Walmart proposal surfaces. Apparently that type of midigation is elective when it comes to our planners and gov agencies soing the same.

    And here you are trying like the dickens to put a happy face on it for them.

  • Coyote (unverified)
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    My mother lived in Houston some years back. I visited her there once. She lived way out in the strip mall 'burbs, where single apartment complexes spanned multiple blocks. One of the first things I noticed, aside from the gawdawful apartment complexes, was the massive number of billboards. Everywhere, crowding the street. Blaringly obnoxious and ugly, ugly, ugly. But then again, those adjectives apply to that whole stinkin' burg.

    But to play devil's advocate, the Oregon courts have regularly erred on the side of individual liberty when it comes to free speech. Hence out plentiful bounty of strip joints, and the fact that lap dances = free speech here in Oregon. So are billboards simply the price we pay for our freedom? They are a visual blight, no doubt, but they pose little if any real threat to the environment.

    I'm just thinking out loud. My knee-jerk reaction is to say "Ban 'Em! They're ugly and I don't want Oregon to be Houstonized!" On the other hand, like the Oregon courts, I prefer to err on the side of liberty, especially when it comes to free speech. How can we avoid the ultracommercialization of everything while still maintaining our liberties?

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Dolly wrote: "You sure go out of your way to dream up defense of the indefensible."

    Nope, didn't need to go out of my way at all. Just stating the facts.

    "Nothing in the plan addressed BIG BOX traffic or any traffic impact at all."

    Actually, Dolly, when Cascade Station was first constructed, an overpass was built from Airport Way with it's own exit, signals, and even a traffic circle to separate it from airport and parking lot traffic. Not only is it accessible from a major freeway, but also a divided highway (82nd Ave.), two local access streets (Alderwood Dr. and 92nd Ave.), and of course the aforementioned MAX, with two stations within the development. Hardly a transportation "mess".

    By the way, according to OPB today, 80% of the development is already spoken for.

    Best wishes, Bob R.

  • ws (unverified)
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    "They are a visual blight, no doubt, but they pose little if any real threat to the environment." Coyote

    Actually, I'd say billboards are a potentially major threat to the environment, depending upon the definition of environment in mind. Perhaps not in the same sense that a surface coal mine is a threat to the environment, but a threat and a diminishing of the environment in their own unique way.

    My thought, (and I know this sounds totally flaky to all of you fastidiously rational minded people out there) is that billboards are a blatant exploitation of your consciousness. This exploitation is far worse than that in print or on television, both of which are mediums that can be easily ignored or turned off.

    Billboards aren't like that. As you're driving, biking, walking, that billboard is there until you pass it beyond your ability to view it consciously or coincidentally. When you're out driving on scenic, open roads concentrating on the scenery around the road ahead of you and a billboard pops up, it almost inevitably invades your consciousness. The billboard business knows this. It understands the unique corner it has on grasping your attention, but underplays it to escape regulation that would moderate it's effect.

    Freedom of speech is very important, but the way the billboard industry hides behind it to blatantly hawk hugely commercial goods borders on despicable.

    I agree with some of what others have said about billboards. In moderation, they can be fine; a mural here and there, even some commercial advertising is fine, but letting them breed like rabbits because of some defense of freedom of speech? Weak, very weak.

    Same as titty bars with nude dancing might be freedom of speech, but stretching that concept to the point where business argues that lap dances are an expression of freedom of speech, just so they can exploit a bunch of losers coming in to blow their wad in the joint, is pathetically lacking in any kind of dignity that ought to associated with the defense of freedom of speech.

    I hate the semantical and conceptual games that have to be played in order to protect freedom of speech while curbing actions of those that flagrantly abuse it.

  • Dolly (unverified)
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    Bob R., Yes Bob you go out of your way to defend the indefensible.

    Your deceitful attempt to con people into believing the Cascade Station Airport Way overpass, signals and traffic circle was in any way intended to accomodate the traffic from BIG BOXES it complete BS. As you well know, yet for some reason are misrepresenting, those relatively modest improvements were never intended to accomodate BIG BOX traffic. You know that it was simple vehicle access for the planned ped/bike/transit mini-city. When those improvements were built BIG BOXES were prohibited. Your deliberate distortions has you sorely lacking in ethics.

    In this case it is truly stunning to read people like you attempting to cast a failed plan as adequate for the exact opposite of the intended outcome. Never mind, it will work just fine for what all the planning was meant to avoid? What kind of planning is this? Multiple government agencies can spend any amount of money on any plan at all and whatever the eventual use it still works? Why have hundreds of planners planning anything if this is the standard? And this Cascade Station is not an exception. Other failures abound. Your callous lying about this particular leaves you and the planning bureaus without credibility. If you can tell this big of a whopper you are without limits.

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    What I can't get is why people think the idea of a big box on a large expanse of open industrial land is so horrifying. For pity's sake, isn't that where they SHOULD go, as opposed to MLK or 82nd Street or Sellwood?

    Put mega retail out where you can put it on mega land with mega parking and mega highways and public transit to feed it.

    If you're gonna have big boxes, why not put them out where there aren't any residents to bother? And if you're gonna have a big box, it doesn't get much better than IKEA.

  • Dolly (unverified)
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    Torrid, Do you get anything? Or are you purposefully trying to morph the discussion? This Cascade Station isn't just some mega land suitable for BIG BOXES. It's an area extensively planned, developed and built with millions of tax dollars to accomodate just the opposite and to avoid, through prohibition, BIG BOXES.

    I'm not saying, and I haven't seen anyone else say, that BIG BOXES should no go there. Quite the contrary. They should have gone there all along and without the huge public subsidy and WITH a plan for BIG BOXES and the expected traffic.

    If you are either incappable of grasping the critisism here or are simply jumping on Bob R's deceit wagon, you are lacking as well. With multiple BIG BOXES now being located in that area with only one primary way in and out, and designed and developed for the exact opposite of this outcome this is PLANNING AT IT'S WORSE. SPENDING LIKE CRAZY TO PLAN, DESIGN/DEVELOPE FOR ONE THING THEN ALLOW OPPOSITE TO BE SITED THERE.

    This was also never any traffic impact study completed to determine the impact of BIG BOXES. The reason is exceedingly obvoious. The setup out there, designed for the opposite, won't handle BIG BOX traffic and city officials and planners would look even more foolish. So they play make believe and you and Bob are helping them BS the public.
    Absent fom the new spin is all of the reason BIG BOXES were prohibted in the first place. Were city officials lying at the time and that location was actually a good place for BIG BOXES? According to then commissioner Charlie Hales and Mayor Vera Katz et al BIG BOXES were to be avoided at all costs. All costs indeed. All told some $200 million plus for Airport MAX and Cascade Station. Again, this is a lesson in planning at it's worse, followed by a campaign of deceit and official misrepresentation to cover it up. A campaign you and Bob proudly join.

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    "only one primary way in and out,"

    I count three primary high-volume access means at minimum, five all told. I "get" that; do you?

    Hey, if Charlie Hales and Vera Katz didn't want big boxes anywhere in the city, I happily disagree with that several-year-old opinion. I'm simply saying that I see no serious practical issues with what is there now, and even if the area had stayed a fallow field into perpetuity, the utility of the Red Line would still have been worth it. Maybe the City got lucky with how it turned out, but that doesn't change the fact that it's turning out well.

    80% in development or planning? Some boondoggle.

  • Dolly (unverified)
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    " but that doesn't change the fact that it's turning out well"

    What science did you use there? You obviously don't care about cost, the intended use or the traffic. It hasn't even opened and you declare it a success. No need for the land to remain fallow. The site could have been developed years ago in this form and without the huge public susbidy and with millions remaining in basic services general fund budgets. That would have been genuine success.

    All of the planning and other costs were a waste. Property taxes from the Airport Way Urban Renewal District will go towards retiring the TIF debt for decades.

    You also echoe the baseless declaration that the "utility of the Red Line would still have been worth it". Worth what? The cost and plan you ignore?

    The city isn't lucky with how "it" turned out. "It" isn't what the city paid for. The only way one declares it turning out well is by forgetting the city and region paid for something which is not even appearing. Making it an enormous boondoggle.

  • spicey (unverified)
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    ws - much thanks for your insiteful post.

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    "You obviously don't care about cost, the intended use or the traffic."

    Apparenly neither do you, since you badly missed in your estimation of the number of access routes. You also seem to misrepresent the position of the previous mayor, given that in November 2004 her Planning bureau developed the rezoning plan. And in that plan, there is the traffic analysis, in Appendix B. So much for "no planning."

    When you have your facts straight, come on back and we'll talk.

  • Dolly (unverified)
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    Torrid are you a comedy act.

    I didn't miss in the number of access routes. I was talking about major access not every little driveway/street. It is you who misrepresents the position of the previous mayor. She et al were opposed to BIG BOXES and the plan adopted by them prohibited BIG BOXES and the site was developed accordingly. Once they relaized their plan sucked and failed miserably, YES, they had to change the zoning that prohibited BIG BOXES or the land would have "remained fallow in perpetuity". And caused by the planners and city officials. Of course when in November 2004 her Planning bureau developed the rezoning plan the sitework was already completed for the ped/bike/transit mini-city. NOT for a BIG BOX cluster. So the city included a "traffic analysis, in Appendix B" after the plan and site work. Wow, that's some planning Torrid. It must of read well. Does it say traffic from a BIG BOX cluster is the same as transit/ped/bike oriented mini-city so all is well? That is REALLY GOOD "planning." Quite the stunning accoomplishment.

    But why do you think the original plan that was actually implemented and built prohibited BIG BOXES. City officials and planners disdained the idea of such development for many reasons which have now vanished. Yet will reappear next time they see a WalMart coming anywhere.

  • Rasputin (unverified)
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    A case made on aesthetics. I can accept that.

    Developments ARE less attractive than the unspoiled nature that preceded them.

    Where do you live? Do you live in a house, an apartment, a condo? I'm sure when that structure was first built, people who live in the area or traveled by considered it a loss to Oregon. Some of them anyway. How do you justify your home? As the population in Oregon grows, where do you suggest the new Oregonians live? Thank you.

  • Yam County (unverified)
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    Albert, Do you understand that in America we believe in capitalism, that means you can make a living here and that also means Oregon. Sure, this state could stop a lot of things like say, new construction, and then what? If you don’t like progress then you should move to another country, progress keeps this state employed, because coffee shops and restaurants will not. Your quote “This place was once beautiful” seems to say that this state is not beautiful anymore, hmmmm tell that to the thousands of people moving to this state each year. If people thought Oregon was ugly they wouldn’t be moving here in droves like they are, hmmm because people are moving here then progress will happen. So I guess for you, you need to some how keep people from moving here because that the only way you will stop new roads, billboards, shopping centers, strip malls and so on. “Does every road from here to there need to be widened to make room for more hummers” love this quote, and yes roads need to be widened because WE HAVE MORE PEOPLE LIVING HERE, can I yell that any louder for you? People like you crack me up, until you stop the population growth you can not stop capitalism. I take you did not take economics 101 in college, go figure!

  • Albert Kaufman (unverified)
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    To Yam County:

    in America we believe in Capitalism I thought in America we believe in freedom, liberty, community and the freedom to believe in whatever we want to believe in. I don't remember capitalism being part of the constitution...

    My comment about the state once being beautiful I guess lies on the premise that I prefer natural beauty over man-made beauty most of the time. ie, I like a waterfall over a billboard.

    There is so much in your post that feels strange to me that I'm going to ignore most of it. The main thought I had when reading it is that does progress have to equal crap? Ie, because we have business and growth, do we have to have billboards and superhighways? I lived in Europe for years where people are packed densely. Does that mean that they have an ugly countryside? No, not really. They plan, at least in Germany where I lived. We don't, really. And, Oregon is one place in the country that has, in the past, planned, and thus, we have a place that doesn't look like New Jersey where I grew up. So, I am finally old enough to speak up for preserving beauty and I do so.

    Finally, regarding your comment on population growth, if you've read any of my previous comments you'll note that that is the main issue I work on. If it were up to me, small families would be cherished and there'd be a planned parenthood in every town and city in the US. More on that at some point. For now, perhaps we can think a little of the State we want to see, instead of ending up with the mess that we're getting every time someone forgets to keep the leash on corporate America.

    Less billboards is a very good thing. Work for it with me, will ya?

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