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Land Use

Land Use

History of Land Use Planning

Oregon was changing rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s. Conflicts were heating up over zoning, subdivision controls, public works, and other public activities relating to land use. Rapid western migration spilled over the California border into Oregon's interior valleys. Economic transformation reduced the demand for farm and forest workers and increased the demand for skilled professionals. Rising incomes and falling transportation costs enabled urban workers to commute from mini-farms and ranchettes to jobs in large cities. Combined, these trends made farm land in the Willamette Valley more valuable to urban commuters than to farmers, forests more valuable for recreation than timber, and urban residents more interested in urban growth management than in urban growth.

Mt Hood

Jonsrud Viewpoint (Miles Hemstrom)

The 1960s brought land use planning issues in Oregon to a head. For example, citizen worries about losing access to the Pacific coast led to the 1967 Beach Bill which decreed that all land within sixteen vertical feet of the average low tide mark belongs to the people of Oregon and guarantees the public free and uninterrupted use of Oregon's 363 miles of coastal beaches. Only one other state, Hawaii, guarantees public access from the surf line to the vegetation line.

Oregonians were calling for a new land ethic to redefine the balance between private property and the needs of the statewide community, both then and in the future.

Passed in 1969, Senate Bill 10 established a basic program for statewide planning. Senate Bill 10 required local governments to draw up comprehensive plans and established ten goals to guide cities and counties in their planning. The bills basic concern was, "To conserve prime farm lands for the production of crops and provide for an orderly and efficient transition from rural to urban land use."

Senate Bill 10 created controversy based on objections relative to property rights and local control. In 1970 Ballot Measure 11 sought to repeal Senate Bill 10 and was defeated by a vote of 56 percent to 44 percent. However, Senate Bill 10 accomplished little because no money was allocated for the implementation process, nor was any agency established to implement the goals on a statewide level.

Popular support for statewide reform was sharply divided between the Willamette Valley and other regions of the state. The Willamette Valley was starting to look more and more like Southern California a resemblance many Oregonians sought to avoid. Urban development in the Valley seemed beyond the capabilities, or interests, of local governments to control. Land use reform also promised environmental protection and resource conservation. For those whose livelihoods were dependent on resource extraction and development, statewide reform threatened jobs.

In 1971, Hector Macpherson, a Republican, was elected to the Oregon Senate. In a single term, he forged a bi-partisan coalition with urban Democrats to bring growth management and farm preservation to the forefront of the 1973 legislature.

Hector initiated and helped lead the public discussion on the need for comprehensive planning to protect Oregon's valuable farm and forest resource lands," said Bruce Andrews, former director of the State of Oregon Department of Agriculture. "He helped people realize that farmland was not undeveloped open space available for future development, but rather a limited, nonrenewable resource." Largely as a result of his efforts, said Andrews, Oregon's "farmland base has been spared the careless sprawl so prevalent in other parts of the country."

Governor Tom McCalls opening address to the 1973 Legislative Assembly castigated "sagebrush subdivisions, coastal condomania, and the ravenous rampages of suburbia." He requested legislation establishing a statewide program for land-use planning. McCall campaigned across the state, gaining public and media support to counter the opposition.

Senate Bill 10 evolved into Senate Bill 100 which regulated land use far more extensively. Senate Bill 100 created the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) and directed it to establish new statewide planning goals and guidelines. The bill required that every Oregon city and county prepare a comprehensive plan in accordance with these new state goals. Oregon's land use program does not necessarily offer solutions to land use conflicts but, instead, a political process through which land use conflicts can be resolved.

The 1973 legislature also passed Senate Bill 101, a property tax relief bill that awarded tax reductions to owners of farm and forest lands. The legislature required county assessors to levy taxes on lower special valuations instead of real market valuations. This, in effect, indirectly compensated farmers and owners of timber lands for land use restrictions and lowered their annual fixed operating costs. From 1974 to 2004, farmers received a total of over $3.8 billion in tax relief. From 1976 until 2004, owners of tax-deferred timber land received about $1.1 billion in tax relief.

One of the key steps in the passage of Senate Bill 100 was adoption of a statement of legislative intent that state goals and guidelines were to be written by the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) only after wide public input. The new Commission devoted most of 1974 to following that directive. Informational mailers with questionnaires went out to 100,000 voters. Commissioners and staff met with chambers of commerce, elected officials, League of Women Voters chapters, and business clubs. They held nearly one hundred workshops around the state. Ten thousand people participated directly in the drafting process. The statewide goals have not been seriously challenged, in part, because the workshop process built a wide constituency of voters with a personal stake in the success of the program.

One of the most basic, and most visible, aspects of Senate Bill 100 was the creation of Urban Growth Boundaries (UGBs) which place which place limits on urban development. The intent of UGBs is not to limit growth but to manage its location. By restricting urban development to a well-defined, contiguous area, it is believed that growth can be accommodated without urban sprawl.

Oregon's rate of farmland loss has declined considerably since the planning program went into effect. According to the U.S. Census of Agriculture, between 1959 and 1974 our state lost almost 3 million acres of farmland. Between 1974 and 1992, we lost 632,000 acres. This success is highlighted when compared to neighboring states. Between 1978 and 1992, California lost 11.5% of its farm acreage; Idaho lost 8.4%; Washington, 6%; and Oregon, 2.5%.

Oregon's land use program has been challenged by initiatives many times since 1973. It won voter approval by a margin of 57% to 43% in 1976 and 61% to 39% in 1978.

Then, during the depression of 1981-82, LCDC became the target of complaints that planning requirements inhibited economic development. Ballot Measure 6 called for the abolition of LCDC, return of all land use planning authority to localities, and retention of state goals purely as guidelines. Newspaper editorial discussions flared, although most papers agreed with the Eugene Register-Guard (October 10, 1982) which said, those sincerely concerned with promoting economic development in Oregon should cheer this program rather than fight it. A task force, headed by Umatilla County farmer Stafford Hansell, heard testimony from more than 400 Oregonians and reported essentially the same conclusions. Ballot Measure 6 failed 45% - 55%.

In 2000, Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 7 with 53% of the vote. Ballot Measure 7 created a constitutional amendment that required the state to compensate landowners when state regulations reduced the value of their property. In 2002, the Oregon Supreme Court declared that Ballot Measure 7 unconstitutional. In light of Ballot Measure 7, the state legislature considered compensation programs in 2001 and 2003. Ultimately, however, the body could not reach agreement on how to fund such a proposal and enacted nothing.

Ballot Measure 7 was a key victory for property rights advocates, who saw its passage as proof that thousands of Oregonians were frustrated and burdened by overly restrictive land use regulations that essentially designated winners and losers through exclusionary zoning.

A successful challenge came in 2004 when Ballot Measure 37 passed with 61% of the vote. The measure created a new statute requiring state and local governments to either waive land use regulations or compensate landowners when a regulation reduces a propertys fair market value. Proponents of Ballot Measure 37, led by the property rights group Oregonians in Action, argued that voters should pass it to protect private property rights from overly restrictive and intrusive government regulations.

Opponents of Ballot Measure 37, led by 1000 Friends of Oregon, argued that the measure would create a complex and bureaucratic land use system, threaten the protection of farmland, and limit the ability of communities to plan for the future.

They also said Ballot Measure 37 would roll back a land use planning system that has been very successful at protecting farm and forest land, containing urban sprawl, protecting natural resources, and has broad public support.

As of December 4, 2006, over 6,500 claims had been received under Ballot Measure 37 requesting more than $10 billion in total compensation.

The Oregon legislature responded to Ballot Measure 37, in part, by creating the Oregon Task Force on Land Use Planning, whose mission is to chart the future of the states 30-year-old land use planning system. Commonly referred to as the Big Look, the task force is the result of Senate Bill 82, in which the Legislature and the Governor called for a broad review of the state land use planning program and recommendations for any needed changes to land-use policy.

Ballot Measure 37 is considered one of the top issues the 2007 Oregon Legislature needs to address.

Citizen involvement in land use planning peaked in the 1970s. For many Oregonians today, planning is part of a bureaucratic routine rather than an active contributor to livability. There is a need to reinvigorate public interest and involvement as new planning issues emerge.

If you are interested in becoming more involved in land use planning issues, The Land Use Explorer portal contains many features, besides this story, aimed at making information about Oregon's land use program more available to Oregonians. The site provides content commissioned by the Oregon Community Foundation land use cluster, including all commissioned land use documents and the Portland State University Measure 37 claims database. It also includes spatial/map data, relevant contemporary and historical documents, news articles, maps, and photos.

The Oregon land use planning program is widely recognized for its pioneering efforts to preserve the principle of local responsibility for land use decisions while simultaneously defining a broader public interest at the state level. The program has matured as populations and economies have changed. The future will bring even more change. Models predict that by 2040, the states population will grow by 46 percent to 5.2 million, mostly in the Willamette Valley.

But one value is unlikely to change: Oregonians recognize that they have a unique and outstanding quality of life which is directly tied to the land. If this notion can been collectively articulated through the land use planning program, the quality of life in Oregon may endure to the benefit of future generations.

Compiled by John Ame, Science Writer (2008)


Abbott, Carl, Deborah Howe, and Sy Adler. Planning the Oregon Way: A twenty year evaluation. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press. 1994.

Gray, John D., and Katie Shriver. Land Use Planning Information for the Citizens of Oregon. Portland, OR: Oregon Community Foundation. 2006.

Martin, Sheila A., Katie Shriver, and Portland State Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies. Documenting the Impact of Measure 37: Selected Case Studies. Portland, OR: Portland State University. 2006.

Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. Introductory Guide to Land Use Planning for Small Cities and Counties in Oregon. Salem, OR: Department of Land Conservation and Development. 2007.

Oregonians in Action [Accessed April 15, 2007]

1000 Friends of Oregon [Accessed April 15, 2007]