The Oregon Legislature is the states school board. That happened because Measure 5 shifted the financing of our public schools, from local districts to Salem.
Now some legislators want the Legislature to become the states planning commission as well as its judiciary. That very bad idea is embodied in Senate Bill 845, introduced by Sen. Bruce Starr.
Sen. Starrs legislation is prompted by two things a case that is in the Oregon Court of Appeals, and a large corporations sniffing at a land parcel in Washington County.
The judicial appeal involves the urban reserve created by the regional government called Metro and the state Land Conservation and Development Commission. The urban reserve boundaries are being challenged in court by a wide variety of appellants that includes the land use advocacy group 1000 Friends of Oregon, Washington County farmers, other local governments and private commercial interests.
What is it about Metros urban reserve boundaries that drew such widespread legal scorn form such a wide coalition? Mary Kyle McCurdy, staff attorney at 1000 Friends of Oregon, says that the reserves outline fails to follow natural boundaries such as creeks, rivers and streams. Instead, its lines cross farmland, a practice not favored in planning guidelines.
There are overriding legal issues that we all raised, says McCurdy.
Sen. Starrs legislation would empower the governor to override the courts decision in case it would not allow Washington County to site a large chips manufacturing plant that hypothetically would employ 500.
Part of whats wrong here is what McCurdy calls decision-making by anonymity and anecdote, not planning. In this case, the prospective chips plant is known by a code name of Azalea.
State Sen. Betsy Johnson says: I think there is a proclivity to have public officials sign nondisclosures. Thats kind of weird. Nondisclosure agreements are commonly done between businesses or parties to a land deal during the period of confidentiality.
The other flaw in Sen. Starrs proposal, notes McCurdy, is: That particular piece of land could have been designated as urban reserve, but for the overreacting of Washington County and Metro.
Sen. Johnson observes the propensity of the Legislature to overreach. Sen. Starrs bill is exactly that. It would authorize the governor to enter into an agreement protecting from land use appeal any development by a traded sector company willing to purchase large-lot industrial land and create at least 500 jobs.
For the integrity of Oregons planning process, it is best to let this case play itself out in court.