With local governments scrambling to make sense of Measure 37, the state legislature last week formed a special joint committee to pick apart the law and the effect it's already had on the statewide landscape.
In 2004, Oregon voters passed M37, which allows landowners to file claims for compensation or a waiver of land use restrictions if their property value has diminished due to land-use laws. Critics of the law, though, feel that it's confusing at best, and arbitrary at worst. In response, the state legislature is using the joint committee to clear up that confusion.
However, competing interests will hope to influence the committee, seeking specific changes—or lack of changes—to the law, including a suspension of M37 claims until the legislature's work is done.
"We are really pleased that the legislature is giving this swift attention," says City of Portland M37 Manager Chris Dearth. "We're supportive of a suspension, so that we can look at what voters really intended. Did voters really intend to allow large developments on environmentally sensitive lands on steep slopes?"
"At the very least," Dearth added, "give us some clarity, direction, and time to do this right."
Land-use advocates 1,000 Friends of Oregon want the committee to amend M37, so that it's more in line with the way it was sold to voters—giving individual landowners reasonable exemptions from regulations, and keeping large developers from turning the state into a sea of tract homes or harming the environment.
"We're looking for a fix that makes a distinction between 'mom and pop' claims and claims for gravel pits, pumice mines, etc.," says 1,000 Friends' Eric Stachon.
Oregonians in Action's David Hunnicutt, who backed M37 in 2004, hopes the committee will consider "not just Measure 37, but the underlying issues that led to it passing in the first place."
"We've had [strict land-use] laws in place for more than 30 years," Hunnicutt said. "It's time to step back and see what works and what doesn't. Better late than never."
Last Friday, January 19, Governor Ted Kulongoski urged lawmakers to create legislation to fast track claims by small, individual property owners, arguing that the vast majority of claims so far are by large developers that voters didn't intend to help.
That sentiment was too cynical for Hunnicutt, though. "The governor's proposal has the same rhetoric and name-calling that's characterized this debate for years," he said. "In this area, more than any other, this type of bullshit hasn't worked."