Chapter 5.1

No-Growthers are Out of Touch with the Real World
(The Business Journal, July 6, 1998, reprinted
in the Oregon Planners' Journal, July 1998)

By Richard Carson

Governor John Kitzhaber's Task Force on Growth held its second meeting in Salem recently. The purpose of the meeting was for the task force to receive testimony. But it looked more like the Mad Hatter's tea party for the no-growth movement.

In a column in The Business Journal in April ("They may have 1000 Friends, but none are builders"), I complained that the task force being chaired by the head of the board for 1000 Friends of Oregon demonstrated an anti-growth bias. Well, the first speaker invited to address the task force was none other than Andy Kerr--formerly the head of the environmentally litigious Oregon Natural Resources Council.

Kerr is now the point person for the no-growth movement. Mr. Kerr's request was that the task force tell Governor Kitzhaber to "advocate for an end to growth." Of course, some 30 percent of all growth in Oregon is caused by Oregonians having children. I assume Mr. Kerr would solve this problem through the forced sterilization of Oregonians. We can just add the procedure to the Oregon Health Plan and give the recipients a transistor radio like they do in the Peoples' Republic of China.

Andy Kerr was followed by the executive director of 1000 Friends of Oregon, Robert Liberty, who agreed with Kerr in calling for the use of "development impact statements" for all new construction. He also said that the state should not promote growth in areas with a strong economy, and conversely should only promote growth in areas with weak economies. In other words, he actually believed that the state can direct economic growth either to or away from specific areas.

Both Andy Kerr's and Robert Liberty's remarks clearly demonstrate how little the no-growth folks truly understand about economics or human reproduction. To Mr. Liberty's credit, he did say that anyone who believed that citizens would accept higher density through good design was naive.

Also testifying was Metro Council candidate and no growth proponent Bill Atherton from Lake Oswego. At a conference held late last year, Mr. Atherton stated that the solution to affordable housing was to give low-income people vouchers to buy housing. This is analogous to having your son or daughter claim they can't be out of money because they still have checks left. Atherton called for a statewide vote to stop promoting growth. Another person testified that all housing was affordable if you had enough money.

I was struck by who was "missing-in-action." Testimony did not come from the farm bureau, special districts association, state realtors or even Oregonians In Action. The association and government lobbyists were all there, but they sat on the sidelines watching and listening. I asked one lobbyist about this and I was told that the development interests in Oregon know they can't improve the planning system through this process, so they are going to let the task force play out this farce. Instead, they will be waiting in Salem, they hope with a Republican legislature, come January 1999.

The property development interests have more problems than just writing off the task force's ability to reach a fair and unbiased conclusion on growth. They also realize it would be a mistake to publicly engage the citizen-activists of the no-growth movement in a serious discussion. The problem is that the people who are "anti-government" are also "anti-developer." The politically conservative landlords and developers who profited from measures 5, 47 and 50 would have to debate the very people they once cheered on. It is more expedient to blunt this activism in the halls of the Oregon legislature than to try and point out the fallacy of the no-growth argument in a public hearing for all the media to report.

There is one message the task force should deliver to the governor. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the creation of statewide land use planning, we should give Goal 1 (Citizen Involvement) a greater role in fostering a wider discussion about growth. People are beginning to realize that, 25 years later, few voters remember how statewide land use planning or local comprehensive plans came into being. It is time we take a serious and very public look at how we can improve the system. The problem of growth is our problem.

Richard Carson is an urban planner, editor and free-lance writer in Oregon City.

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Common Sense
by Richard H. Carson