Maletis mystery: what's up with this?

Carla Axtman

Chris and Tom Maletis own a bunch of prime farmland in Clackamas County south of the Willamette River. For a number of years, they've been trying to figure out how to get the land developed so that they could rake in a crap ton of money. They've met with some success, having built Langdon Farms Golf Course.

I can't imagine that when they made the purchase, they didn't know that the land they'd bought was zoned for Exclusive Farm Use, or EFU. My guess is, they thought they could buy their way into developing the rest of it. And by this I mean, hire enough lawyers and buy enough political favors to make it happen. So far, that's not the case.

Not that they haven't thrown good money after bad in the effort. For awhile, they tried a very controversial plan to sell out to the Klamath Tribe under the guise of allowing them to develop, which would have circumvented Oregon's land use laws.

Lately through their attorney, the Maletises have also consistently objected to the land being included in rural reserves. That designation means that it will remain rural for at least the next 50 years.

Since that didn't work, they seem to be taking a different tack, although I can't quite figure out where they're going with it. Once again through their attorney (do these guys have money to burn or what?), the Maletises submitted public records requests to at least 3 policymakers associated with these land use decisions. One of the requests is to Clackamas County Commissioner (and candidate for County Chair) Charlotte Lehan. Another is to Oregon Department of Agriculture Land Use and Water Planning Coordinator Jim Johnson. I've also confirmed that a request was sent to Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba.

The request to Lehan is fairly extensive, asking for quite a lot of correspondence between Lehan and land use policymakers around urban and rural reserves, feasibility of development of their land and around a 2007 report which essentially says what everybody already knows: the land is zoned exclusive farm use and any development in the area is already compatible with farming.

The request to Johnson centers around the 2007 report. I have not seen the report sent to Coba, but I presume it's similar to Johnson's.

Just to add to the mix, the Maletises are spreading political money around, too. Chris has given $2500 each to Clackamas County Chair candidates Dave Hunt and Paul Savas. None to Lehan, naturally. I spoke with Hunt about the donation and he told me that it didn't affect how he'd make decisions, noting that he gets campaign dollars from tobacco companies and he's one of the main forces in restricting tobacco use in Oregon. When I asked him why he thinks they give to him, he said he didn't know for sure.

I've been pondering for awhile what all this was about. At first I thought it might just be a way for Team Maletis to try and dig up dirt on Charlotte Lehan in order to undermine her bid for Clackamas County Chair. But that doesn't make sense, given that Johnson and Coba have requests too. Then I thought it might be part of the effort to get the urban and rural reserves thrown out--but that doesn't make sense either, because the Department of Land Conservation and Development hasn't put out their written decision (even though there's been an oral one delivered), so there's nothing to throw out yet.

I'm stumped and intrigued at this little mystery. Any smart politicos or wonks have some thoughts on where this might be headed?

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    We have a system of governance than allows business investment in the form of political contribution. As long as that persists, democracy is chimera.

    The Maletis boys may or may not get what they want, but generally, those with lots to invest get their way eventually - unless someone with more money opposes them. If that calculus leaves a bad taste in your mouth, work for change.

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    Saw today that 3 farm bureau people from Washington county lost their re-elections to the board because the supported rural reserves in Washington county. Apparently farmers are against farming now. I don't get it. I guess it's all about money.

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    Sorry to not be "true Blue" here, but we're talking about property wedged in, between, and around a golf course, tons of cell phone towers and freeways.

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      We're talking about a very large amount of property that pretty much everybody except developers who stand to make money on it say it should remain farmland.

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