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Monday, February 26, 2007

Newhouse: No new houses

Anti-Measure 37 campaign's intended consequences

It has become clear that The Oregonian will judge the 2007 session by how well legislators inflict property rights destruction on Oregon residents. While stridently opposing the natural resources industries at every turn, Si Newhouse's mouthpiece is now cynically blaming Measure 37 - the twice-approved property-rights restoration measure - for jeopardizing the future of the state's agricultural industry. Newhouse is the reclusive out-of-state New York City billionaire media mogul whose family has owned Oregon's only statewide daily newspaper for 57 years.

The newspaper has clearly gone over the line from "urging", as they say, into express advocacy. Their modus operandi, according to publisher Fred A. Stickel, is to "trick voters into accepting an adroit compromise" that would simply cancel the property rights ballot measure that was approved by statewide voters two times. Newhouse is devoting huge sums to bully legislators in print, to act quickly to postpone the schedule Measure 37 laid out for action on claims.

Should legislators suspend Measure 37? If lawmakers don't, then property rights will move forward as voters directed. That, in turn, will increase the value of housing stock and increase local property taxes that have been sucked up by PERS and seized by the federal government in the timber tax-for-property swap fiasco. But Si Newhouse - driven by his insatiable desire to create an Oregon in New York's image - already has his, and he doesn't want anyone else to get theirs.

Measure 37 claims have the potential to increase the value of at least 132,346 acres of the Willamette Valley's most livable land. If all these developments move forward as planned, land-use specialist Jim Johnson points out, Oregon stands to gain an astonishing amount of taxable real estate suitable for residences that has been locked down and depressed for 37 years. Measure 37 begins the process of reclaiming vast property values the state has essentially lost since 1970's enactment of draconian land use regulation.

"The Willamette Valley is Oregon's best place to live," Johnson said in a news release last week that criticized The Oregonian's misguided campaign. "In terms of value, (the Willamette Valley) is where the vast majority of our population resides. We're talking great views, we're talking great cycling roads and trails, we're talking land that's been well-maintained, we're talking high-value real estate and plenty of local tax base growth."

We're not trying to minimize the difficulties of untying the knots created by The Oregonian's campaign to cancel Measure 37 - and to cancel the initiative process itself, for that matter - another pet project of Newhouse and Stickel, who was brought to Oregon from out-of-state New Jersey to run the paper in 1950. Legislators have struggled with these same knots for many years and, by fits and starts, have found that the politically sensible solution is to do nothing that violates the will of the people as reflected in approved ballot measures.

One difference this time around, though, is that the legislators are no longer as intimidated by The Oregonian. With circulation in steep decline, so goes its influence, albeit more slowly than it ought to. Legislators have a much more precise grasp of the impropriety of dancing to Si Newhouse's tune, not only about Measure 37, but also about other issues.

In years to come, The Oregonian will be held to account: Did they, or did they not, interrupt the restoration of property rights and the kick-start to Oregon's local tax base that are so desperately needed for a prosperous future? Property owners will vote with their daily newspaper subscription cancellations.

Legislators should simply disregard The Oregonian on Measure 37. Showing they know how to act wisely in this session demands that they first demonstrate respect for their constituents' property rights.

Maps of how some counties will benefit under Measure 37 are viewable: here.

The Oregonian, OPINION By THE EDITORS, Feb. 26

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