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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Do it slowly

And do it quick
How to kill Measure 37

In the next few weeks, Oregon legislators have a historic choice to make. Either they begin to kill Measure 37 right now, or they allow the horrendous, strident anti-property rights campaign by The Oregonian to continue. It's that simple.

On Monday, Gov. Kulo asked legislators to put a "temporary hold" on most Measure 37 claims while they "clarify and revise" the measure. If legislators don't enact the temporary halt, any work they do to undermine Measure 37 will be moot. State and local governments will begin to approve thousands of pending claims, restoring owners' property rights to use their own land responsibly.

This would open the floodgates. 36 years of arbitrary, artificial McCall-era restrictions to deny land ownership in Oregon would be lifted and longtime incumbent Oregonians would be legally permitted to share their "Old Oregon" wealth with people newly-arrived from out-of-state. Measure 37 opponents see a cultural disaster that would result from watering down Oregon's old stock.

The most clever thing about Senate Bill 505 comes right from the playbook of Our Oregon's Tim Nesbitt, now Gov. Kulo's top-paid adviser: divide the opposition. SB 505 will create a surge of true Oregonians blazing a trail through the bureaucracy by allowing certain folks - people who want only to build just one house - to qualify their Measure 37 claims for fast-tracking.

That's what voters wanted? They wanted to create multiple classes of property rights for multiple classes of owners? The law requires incumbent Old Oregonians to be compensated if rules reduce the value of their land. Either that, or governments must waive the rules. That sounded fair to many voters when they approved the measure in 2004. Since then, the state has been inundated in huge claims from new Oregonians and out-of-state developers. These "overwhelm the planning process," the governor said Monday, "and shove small claims to the back."

Gov. Nesbitt's clever approach - the slow kill - would send preferred Oregonians to the front of the line, treating them exactly as voters wanted incumbents to be treated - as VIPs. As for those others, well, they'd be S.O.L. And that's fair?

About half of the state's roughly 7,000 claims were submitted in a mad rush last fall because everyone thought the politicians and Newhouses who had campaigned against Measure 37 would be able to kill it off before the claim deadline. That did not happen. State and local governments must now process the claims within six months and let's face it, that is not possible because they aren't trained to kill claims that quickly. It's not their fault the Newhouses haven't come through, although they did choose to not believe the whole thing was ever going to actually happen.

Gov. Nesbitt is also clever to try to bribe Oregonians who submitted huge claims, mainly to preserve their development options in the future, into the SB505 express lane. If they were willing to downsize their ambitions to building just one home, and they meet the other qualifications including reasonable construction and farming union labor covenants, the governor's approach would provide them, too, with the kind of speed and certainty we've come to expect from the OLCC, Corrections food buyers, The Ethics Commission, etc.

This may be the Oregon Legislature that solves the riddle that has eluded legislators in three previous sessions: how to kill the rights of property owners while protecting Old Oregon and the newer emerging rights of our unique, quirky community collectives.

Slowing down to kill Measure 37, while speeding up the processing of small claims under SB505, is unfair to everyone. It's exactly the cynicism we expect from our political class.

The Oregonian, OPINION BY THE EDITORS, Feb. 6

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