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Chapter 3.12


Is it Time to Reinvent Statewide Land Use Planning?
(Oregon Planners' Journal, February 1997)

By Richard Carson

A few years back, when I was Planning Director for Metro, we held a public hearing on the Regional Urban Growth Goals and Objectives (RUGGOs) which are the foundation for Metro's Region 2040 functional plan. I was surprised when Bill Moshosky, the major domo for Oregonians In Action (OIA), walked in and picked up a testimony card. Now I have known Bill for several years. I actually like him, even though I don't agree with him on land use issues. However, I didn't see him much because OIA spends most of their time fighting land use battles in rural resource areas. So I went over and asked him why he had decided to grace the halls of Metro. His answer shocked me. He said he had come to testify in support of the Regional Urban Growth Goals and Objectives. I wasn't sure how to react. My first thought was that if Oregonians In Action supported Metro's proposal, then 1000 Friends of Oregon and other progressive groups might rethink their support. My second thought was that I was totally confused and I told Bill so.

He responded by saying that Oregonians In Action supported the decentralization of statewide land use planning because local solutions were better than ones mandated by LCDC [state Land Conservation and Development Commission]. He said it was not a matter of whether or not he agreed with Metro's proposal (and I doubt he did), it was simply that we had made the decision closer to the situation and with better reasoning than the state could. Well, that got me thinking.

Performance Standards

After sometime I had an idea. What if the state's job was only to establish performance standards and it was a regional governing body's job to figure out how this would be accomplished. That would mean the solutions would fit the specific situation that existed in a specific area. The fact is, we have a great diversity of economic, environmental, cultural and political factors that characterize the various regions of our state. The Portland metro area, Central Oregon, the Columbia River or coastal areas, northeast and southeast Oregon all have a unique set of geological, climatological and cultural differences.

If the state wants compact urban growth in our cities, then they can set a minimum standard using an average density  and let the cities figure out how to do it.

Keep it objective stupid

You cannot regulate development into existence. Statewide Planning Goal 9  Economic Development  is just pure garbage. I know because I tried to rewrite it during Governor Atiyeh's administration and worked on it again during Neil Goldschrnidt's. Put simply, the "development" in Land Conservation and Development is a joke. Goal 9 has not done a single thing for any jurisdiction in this state. In part this is because no one cares, and also because it's economically impossible.
All planning is either "restrictive or proscriptive." The former tells you what you are absolutely forbidden from doing. The latter encourages you to do something  with the hope things will become better. The best a planner can do is to help create a vision that may be powerful enough to become self-fulfilling. However, it's a joke to believe state planners are qualified to start telling cities how to improve their economic futures.

The bottom line requirement of having the state set performance standards is that they must be "clear and objective." If you cannot come up with an easily defined performance standard, then it's probably not one worth establishing.

Regional Governance

Can the state be divided up into logical regions? Actually this has already been done  twice. In the 1960s and 1970s the entire state was cut up and defined by Administrative Districts for federal funding purposes. Most of these districts were represented by Council of Governments (COGs) and a few still are. For example, the Columbia Region Association of Governments became Metro. There are some COGS, like the Lane Council of Governments and the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Government, that are still operating. In more recent history, the state recognized several self-designated areas through the Regional Strategies program. This was a program of Governor Neil Goldschmidt that was established to primarily funnel lottery dollars to multi-county areas.

Obstacles and Opportunities

There are a few minor obstacles to the decentralization of statewide land use policy. First and foremost is the paranoia that will set in on both sides. To many folks in the rural areas the idea of "Regionalism" is almost as popular as LCDC. On the other hand the pro-land use factions want a more centralized system for a very simple reason  it is easier to manage. If you regionalize the land use planning system, then you need 5-7 times as many lawyers to keep track of what is happening.

There is an opportunity to reinvent land use planning in Oregon into a much more rational and sensible system. A system that encourages local solutions that meet state requirements, and that pro-vide for a flexible response. Scary words  rational, sensible, flexible. Everyone reads all kinds of ominous (and ridiculous) threats into them.

It has been almost 24 years since Governor Torn McCall signed Senate Bill 100 into law. I believe it is time for a major reassessment of statewide land use planning.

Richard H. Carson is Director of Oregon City's Community Development Department.


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Common Sense
by Richard H. Carson