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Private Lands

Land Use and Measure 37

Who owns the land? Who controls it? These two questions frame the Measure 37 issue. On one hand, property rights is a cornerstone of our freedoms, and on the other hand, government regulations on land use promote the health and well-being of communities.

Farmland Picture

Image provided courtesy of Oregon Department of Agriculture

Measure 37, passed in 2004 by 61 percent of the vote, requires state and local governments to either waive land use regulations or compensate landowners when a regulation reduces a propertys fair market value. Local governments are usually not in a position to pay off Measure 37 claims. Consequently, long-term property owners are essentially exempt from many rules against developing their property. Since its passage, state and local governments have had difficulty interpreting and implementing the law.

Although Oregon has enacted progressive land use laws since the states beginnings, the current controversy has its foundation in Senate Bill 100, passed in 1973. This bill created the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) and directed it to establish new statewide planning goals and guidelines which every Oregon city and county must abide by. Since 1973, these regulations have resulted in protecting farm and forest land, containing urban sprawl, and protecting natural resources. They have also generated a lot of frustration from land owners who feel the government is being unfairly restrictive.

Oregon's land use program has been challenged by initiatives many times since 1973. However, it won voter approval by a margin of 57% to 43% in 1976, 61% to 39% in 1978, and 55% to 45% in 1982. 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 on the basis of inherent technicalities. 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.

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.

Measure 49, passed with 62% of the statewide vote in November 2007, is the latest adjustment to Oregon's land use laws and specifically amends Measure 37. Learn more about Measure 49.


Other Resources


The Willamette River Basin Planning Atlas:

The Willamette Basin Explorer: /places/basins/willamette

Oregonians in Action

1000 Friends of Oregon

Compiled by John Ame, Science Writer (2008)


Shriver, Katie. Understanding the Impacts of Ballot Measure 37: Selected Case Studies," Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies, Portland State University, January 2006.

Abbot, Carl, et al. Planning the Oregon Way; Oregon State University Press. 1994.

Oregon Task Force on Land Use Planning. Mission and Work Program. Accessed 4/25/07

Oregon State University: News and Communication Services;