In an era when government is often grid locked and acrimony is intense, it is reassuring to see an example of our checks and balances system here in Oregon actually work on an issue that is highly divisive, land use planning.
I've watched the Oregon legislature in action since 1975 as a political scientist and pundit. Since 1991 I've also seen it from the view of a "citizen" advocate. Until this past week, I've never seen the evolution and resolution of a high profile issue like this. Extraordinary!
Here are some examples of acrimony in the Puzzle Palace as things wind down. Fortunately, there was a more "can do" spirit in play on HB 4078.
My take away is that the legacy of Tom McCall is alive and well. McCall governed with bi-partisan support while ushering in some of the most long lasting reforms in Oregon history from the Bottle Bill to Senate Bill 100. Despite public and media cynicism, the spirit of comity is not totally extinct in the Puzzle Palace.
When the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned Metro’s 50-year growth plan accusing Washington County of using "pseudo factors" in duplicitous (my word not the courts) back room dealing to determine urban/rural reserves, the stage was set for a train wreck that could have taken years to unravel.
In the US local governments are the creatures of legislatures. The powers the legislature delegates to local government can be taken away. The Gerry rigging of urban/rural reserve boundaries in Washington County forced the hands of the Appeals Court and ultimately the legislature.
The primary culprit was the board of commissioners in Washington County currently headed by Andy Duyck. But the pro-developer mobilization of bias began with former Chair Tom Brian who got Metro to cave in to a slice and dice land swap process circumventing citizen input.
In an act of unbridled hubris the Washington County Board of Commissioners included the Helvetia area within the urban reserves. This ignited a legal battle lead by Save Helvetia and 1000 Friends of Oregon who appealed to LCDC, LUBA and ultimately the courts to challenge back room deal-making.
What angered the opponents was not just the decision itself to include a piece of prime farm land north of the Sunset highway in the UGB but the violation of Goal I of the originating act of Oregon’s land use system, Senate Bill 100, Goal I – citizen participation.
Will Chair Duyck pay the price for his back room dealing in the May election against Allen Amabisca? Stay tuned!
The Legislature created the urban and rural reserves designation in 2007. The Oregon Appeals court threw out the specific designations of rural and urban reserves in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties and chastised state land use regulators for approving the plan.
The court remanded the issue back to LCDC, Metro and the three metro area counties. The court’s action created a potential paralysis of land use planning in the metro area years in the making. This could easily have taken 4-6 years to redraw the UGB map.
Housing and industrial development in the metro area would have stopped throwing people out of work and derailing a recovering economy in the metro area.
Into this breach stepped the Oregon legislature under the leadership of Representative Brian Clem (D, Salem) chair of the House Rural Communities committee, which was working on HB 4078 as the court case was being decided. The initial draft, an expedited land use bill, met stiff opposition from many groups – Metro to 1000 Friends.
Chair Clem then stepped in working with Representative John Davis (R, Wilsonville) and Ben Unger (D, Hillsboro) vetting a modified reserve plan to avoid another messy debate in the metro area. To buy time to draft a consensus bill, they shipped HB 4078 to the House Rules Committee.
The modified HB 4078 bill removed some prime farmland in the Helvetia area of Washington County from the urban reserves while opening up around 2,000 acres in South Cooper Mountain and South Hillsboro for future development. These were the keys to unlocking the gridlock.
The timing of a new map for urban/rural reserves was the key coming days after the Appeals Court ruling. The legislature’s intervention preempted the legal wrangling that has bogged down this process since metro area governments approved the original plan in 2010.
In meetings in Salem and Hillsboro with key stakeholders from all sides Chair Clem got consensus on the “grand bargain.” But would it hold firm over several days of behind the scenes negotiating and 19 drafts of the bill.
The process of bringing divergent groups together outside the formal hearings process to craft a bill is a classic strategy in the Puzzle Palace. When it works it assures buy in by all involved and likely passage. But at times it doesn’t work leaving all parties frustrated and looking for non-legislative options.
That consensus held firm in the House Rules committee chaired by Representative Val Hoyle (D, Eugene) who like Clem did a masterful job of moving HB 4078.
I can’t say enough about the skills of Chairs Clem and Hoyle. Without their determination to get to “yes” HB 4078 would have been left on the proverbial cutting room floor. Neither of them represents a district in the Metro area, so they had no dog in this fight. Instead they were acting in the best tradition of the Puzzle Palace by doing the people’s business.
As a witness to this process it was inspiring to see the Oregon legislature work on a bi-partisan basis to bring stakeholders together, who have a history of animosity and mistrust.
Chairs Clem and Holvey deserve credit for sticking to their game plan but also for leading a fair and open process. The proof of their good work was the passage of HB 4078 on a 59-0 vote in the House.
Update: HB 4078 passed the Senate this morning unanimously, 30-0. On its way to the Guv.
The system worked despite teetering on a legal and political precipice.
I understand why many of my friends in Save Helvetia and WC CAN have a hard time trusting government at any level. This past 4 years they’ve been put through the ringer by Tom Brian and Andy Duyck. But at the end of this marathon, they won and the “Troika” lost. Your voices were heard loud and clear in Salem. Just check the record of who testified on HB 4078.
The McCall spirit and legacy is secure thanks to fearless citizens who refused to be bullied by powerful interests in Washington County, by an Appeals Court stepping up and by legislators who found a path to a "win/win" end game!
PS: As citizen advocate in the Puzzle Palace I watched the evolution of HB 4078 and reported my "take" to fellow WC CAN members. I testified against the original version of HB 4078. But as things changed, I moved from a "no" to a strong "yes" keeping in close touch with my own legislator Ben Unger.