Friday, February 24, 2006

The Oregonian's Crocodile Tears on Measure 37

The Oregonian doesn't get it. Though reading the Oregon Supreme Court's decision well enough to understand that it struck down Judge Mary James' ruling, Oregonian editors couldn't understand the court's clear reasoning. Wednesday's editorial whines:

The court utterly demolished the reasoning of the lower-court judge who threw out Measure 37 last fall. Apparently, neither its nonchalant treatment of neighbors nor its undermining of governmental authority invalidates it from a constitutional standpoint.

First, there are the crocodile tears over the "nonchalant treatment of neighbors". Apparently to the Oregonian nonchalant treatment of some neighbors is okay. The Oregonian does not wring its hands over the losses never compensated for landowners who had the value of their property and their property rights diminished by land use policies adopted after they bought their land--sometimes decades after they bought it.

But neighbors, who might suffer a loss if authorities decide to waive land use rules rather than compensate pre-land-use-rule owners, get sympathy and regret. Give me a break. Fortunately, neither the public (who passed the measure by a 60% majority) nor the Oregon Supreme Court follow that lopsided view of just treatment.

Second, the Oregonian editorial bemoans "undermining of governmental authority". The editors obviously didn't understand the part of the Oregon Supreme Court's opinion pointing out that the people "share" legislative authority via initiative petition (like Measure 37) and referendum with the state legislature.

Actually, as I pointed out in my Tuesday post under Article I, Section 1 of the Oregon constitution, the people are the supreme authority, and government gets its power only from the people. So, saying that the people have co-equal legislative authority is a major understatement. In Oregon, the people are the source of all governmental authority. How 60% of the people speaking on a legislative matter (Measure 37) can "undermine" governmental authority is a Twister mind game beyond me.

Third, the Oregonian editors are saddened that the hard work of groups of citizen planners might be erased:

Measure 37, enacted in 2004, entitles property owners to receive payment if regulations reduce the value of their land. "In fact, not a single claim has been paid," Portland State University's Sheila A. Martin and Katie Shriver concluded last month in their study of Measure 37. As predicted, there is no money to pay claims.

Instead, it's become a giant eraser, forcing cities and counties to rub out regulations and circumvent plans that, in some cases, groups of citizens spent years developing.

One might ask the simple question of why, if their work was so good, those groups of citizens didn't plan for reasonable compensation. They had years to think about it and didn't come up with a single plan or even take baby steps towards one.

That's why Measure 37 got a 60% affirmative vote. The public saw it as a matter of basic justice and fair play. No one's property should be taken or its value diminished by state/public action without just compensation. If we want to live by certain standards, we should be willing to pay reasonable compensation for those standards.

Saying we want to have land use rules and then making a small group pay for them is like saying we want to have a first-rate public educational system and then expecting teachers and administrators to take major pay cuts because we don't have the funds to pay them. Making one class of people pay for what is instituted to benefit all is unjust and wrong. Measure 37 got that issue right. And the Oregon Supreme Court got it right in recognizing that the people of the Oregon have a right to set public policy.

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