Vanishing Automobile update #6

Metro Director Wants Constitutional Right to Regulate Land Use

The Oregon constitution should be amended to give land-use planners the right to regulate all land use without fear that those who are regulated can demand compensation, says Mike Burton, the director of Metro, Portland's regional planning agency.

"We need a constitutional amendment to establish the floor below which we will not tolerate any further degradation of the beauty of this state," said Burton in a speech to the Portland City Club on Friday, February 16.

Burton was responding to measure 7, which would require compensation for land-use regulations that reduce people's property values. The ballot measure was strongly supported by voters in last November's ballot, but is currently being tested in court.

Burton says that measure 7 is flawed because "it blackmails local governments and the state into allowing development in those places where it ought be tightly regulated."

Metro's executive does believe that compensation is fair in some cases. Anyone who purchased urban land prior to 1973, when Oregon's current land-use laws were passed, should be compensated if current rules prevent them from developing it -- IF they had purchased the land with the intention of developing it in their retirement.

Apparently, Burton believes that everyone who bought land after 1973 should have been fully aware that state or local rules could significantly alter landowner rights to use that land at any time and so deserve no compensation for rules passed since they bought the land.

Planning should be a constitutional right, says Burton, because "uncoordinated land use threatens orderly development, the environment and the welfare of the people."

The constitutional amendment proposed by Burton would specifically list urban-growth boundaries as something needed for "orderly development." However, it is not likely that Burton has any exact language in mind for such an amendment.

Burton's comments reveal much about how planning advocates view the world. Planners have an omniscient ability to know how all land should be used, while "uncoordinated land use" responds only to petty things like what people want and are willing to pay for.

Planners know, for example, the Portland has too much single-family housing and not enough multi-family housing, so they see nothing wrong with mandatory minimum-density zoning. The fact that Portland has one of the nation's least affordable markets for single-family housing while apartment vacancies are at near-record levels only shows that people haven't yet learned how wonderful the city will be when planners are through imposing their rules.

Unfortunately, measure 7 may be rejected by the courts on technical grounds. Oregon's constitution requires that bills and ballot measures deal with only one subject. The Oregon judge now considering measure 7 strongly supports land-use planning, and he may reject measure 7 on the grounds that it covers more than one subject. That won't change the fact that Oregon voters are getting fed up with land-use planners telling them what to do.

On a slightly different subject, Burton also suggested that all residents and businesses in the Portland area should be required to pay a "transportation utility fee." Such a fee, Burton says, "recognizes that transportation is truly a public utility like water, sewer, telephone and electricity." The difference, of course, is that people pay for the water, sewer, telephone, and electricity they actually use, while Burton wants the transportation fees for light-rail lines that few use and that have been repeatedly rejected by voters.

Information on Burton's speech came from an article in the Oregonian. You can listen to a Real Audio version of Burton's speech posted by the Portland City Club.

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