The timing seemed too perfect: 1000 Friends of Oregon, the state's foremost land-use protection organization, planned to celebrate its 30th anniversary last Saturday, October 15 at the Convention Center. The event had been scheduled for months. It was suspected that keynote speakers there would talk about the impact of Measure 37, which passed last November and has since gutted conservation laws.
Under the new law, a property owner may file a complaint with the state or county if he believes that a land-use law has depreciated the value of his property—like if a wetland protection regulation prohibited him from building a sprawling mansion on his Gresham property. For the past two years, the bulk of 1000 Friends' time has been consumed in the struggle to save just such sinking state land use protections.
But then on Friday morning, just 36 hours before the gala, a Marion County judge released her ruling that Measure 37 was unconstitutional, unfair, and invalid. That announcement set the stage for a giddy Saturday evening. At one point, US Representative Earl Blumenauer stood in front of the audience and tapped a thick packet of paper. "I have here the ruling from Judge Mary James," he announced. Instantly, the crowd leapt to its feet.
Over the past year, Measure 37 claims have begun to alter the state's once pristine and protected lands. Under the new law, if confronted with a Measure 37 claim, the state or counties have the choice to either pay the landowner for his perceived loss in value, or to simply yield. Because most governmental entities are strapped for cash, they have simply allowed developments to go ahead.
Claiming that Measure 37 is not in the public's interest (and instead only benefits a few money grubbers), 1000 Friends filed the lawsuit against the state in order to undo Measure 37.
On Friday, in a surprise announcement, Judge James agreed. But that ruling is not a be-all end-all. Instead, the case will most likely be referred to the state Supreme Court. A decision could be announced within eight months.