Oregonians Reclaim Property Rights from
Government Land-Use Grab

by Carla Howell


UPDATE! The Anti- Kelo Case
Oregon offers the nation a model for reform.


$5.4 billion* - every year! That's how much the Oregon state government will be forced to give back to property owners - as restitution, as fair compensation for takings.

Measure 37, an Oregon statewide ballot initiative that won on November 2nd, 2004, struck a blow against some of the worst government regulations against land use in the United States.

It won 60.5% of the statewide vote, despite the fact that opposition groups outspent the measure's sponsor, Oregonians in Action (OIA), by four to one.

Measure 37 ended a 32-year prohibition of building homes and businesses on the rural, privately held land in Oregon.

In 1973, the state legislature passed a state law establishing arbitrary rings around urban centers in Oregon, outside of which it banned almost all construction. A landowner could build but a single home - only if the land was farmed or forested and if it produced a minimum of $80,000 in income for two consecutive years.

This imposed a de facto building moratorium in two-thirds of the state. East of the Cascade Mountains, land is too arid for either farming or forestry. Even in the fertile western side of the state, regulations allowed only sparse development outside of the urban zones.

Measure 37 put an end to this "confiscation without compensation" when it went into effect on December 2nd. Property owners can now demand the state either compensate them fully for the loss of their property's value - or lift the regulations.

David Hunnicutt, Executive Director of OIA said, "We expect the state will opt to lift regulations. It has no money to compensate landowners. They can't raise taxes because voters soundly defeated two statewide tax increase initiatives in the last two years."

In 2000 OIA won a similar initiative, Measure 7, which was a constitutional amendment. However it was ruled invalid by the Oregon Supreme Court in October of 2002.

OIA planned Measure 37 carefully. Anticipating resistance from the Secretary of State, who is notorious for inventing ways to invalidate petitions, OIA submitted more than 145,000 signatures - nearly double the 76,000 required by law. They crafted Measure 37 to prohibit local governments from interfering with property owners' claims. They also included a provision to force the state to pay property owners' legal fees if it challenges their demands and loses.

Hunnicutt reports the group is receiving inquiries from people all over the country interested in removing their state's land regulations. "We fully intend to see similar initiatives spreading to as many parts of the country as possible."

Hats off to Oregonians in Action for a rare initiative that actually shrinks Big Government. It didn't just stop a new Big Government proposal; it ended a huge program already in place. Because of its sweeping effect, it offered voters huge, immediate, and direct benefits - and a strong incentive to go to the polls and vote Yes.

We need more bold initiatives like Measure 37. Not just for land use but for every area of government that we can possibly eliminate or shrink to its appropriate small size.

* The $5.4 billion price tag was put forward by opponents of Ballot Measure 37.

Oregonians in Action