Thursday, May 17, 2007

Spanking the Oregonian

In her full page ad published in Sunday’s Oregonian, Dorothy English soundly spanked its editors for their “disdain” for small property owners who have had the value of their land gutted by public policy.

First a bit from the Oregonian’s May 8th editorial:

Property-rights Measure 37, which voters approved in 2004, said state and local governments must pay property owners if regulations reduce the value of their land. This is a terrible idea, essentially saying one group of people, who have owned their land a longer time, must be paid to obey laws everyone else must obey.

Since 2004, roughly 7,500 claims have been filed, seeking at least $15 billion worth of compensation or the right to ignore other laws in order to develop, mostly on farmland and forestland. The destructive effects of this law are now self-evident. But since Measure 37 was itself a repeat of a measure passed in 2000, then thrown out by the courts, it doesn't make much sense to repeat the question a third time.

Significantly, House Bill 3540, a rewrite of Measure 37 approved by the Oregon House last week, would pose a different question to voters. It would ask voters whether they want to make Measure 37 work. We're guessing voters will want to, because this fix, while far from perfect, would make a bad law better. It would make it:
. . .
Fairer for claimants. Again, although we disagree with the idea some property owners should be able to blackmail their fellow taxpayers, Oregon voters thought otherwise. HB3540 would put small claims at the front of the line and create a land-use ombudsman. It would also make development rights transferable, a key financing issue in many cases.

Some backers of Measure 37 are characterizing this proposed referral as a virtual repeal of Measure 37. That's not true or fair, and it's also hard to understand.

Part of Dorothy English’s response:

I’m not sure what offends me most about this newspaper’s April 28 editorial on Measure 37--the inference that I am just a “poster girl” in the fight for land use reform or that the legislature’s gutting of Measure 37 is somehow “fair” to little people.

Since no one from the Oregonian editorial board has ever bothered to ask me a single question, I will assume that it is just their arrogance and not the fact that I am a woman, or that I am elderly, or that I am not rich that causes them to dismiss me and my nearly 40-year struggle to use my land for the purposes for which my deceased husband and I purchased it. I can’t think of any other reason why this newspaper would display such disdain for people like me and others in my shoes, who have watched as our property has been taken in a completely arbitrary fashion.
. . .
I know this paper doesn’t like Measure 37, and no doubt never will. And I know that it doesn’t give a hoot that my life’s savings was stolen or that there are many others just like me. But when it claims that people like me are just pawns in some grand conspiracy by “big greedy corporations” it insults me and everyone who knows me. For the last time, knock it off.

It is too bad I had to use an ad to get the truth out.

Almost 40 years working to get a little fairness! That only happens to “little” people. When is the last time any Oregonian editor waited that long for action?

I’m not a property owner in the claimant class. But, along with the other 61% of Oregon voters who approved Measure 37, I feel it's only right to compensate those who have their property taken or property value diminished. It's wrong to force one group of people to carry the burden for the rest of us.

The Oregonian’s argues that it is terrible to say that “one group of people, who have owned their land a longer time, must be paid to obey laws everyone else must obey.”

I guess the editorial board has forgotten that public policy often makes a time distinction in applying laws and rules. How about for starters:

- The “grandfather” clause in land use recognizes that new rules can be unfair to previous land owners.

- DEQ rules exempt older vehicles from its rules--older than 1975 (Portland area) or more than 20 years old (Medford area). Not to mention that only Portland and Medford area vehicles have to obey these rules and Medford residents get a big time break over Portland area residents.

- Tier 1 and tier 2 employees in the PERS system are treated differently--based entirely on date of hire. State and local government employees hired under one set of rules are immune to the rules imposed on employees hired later.

- Older buildings don’t have to meet standards for new buildings. (I bet the Oregonian’s building doesn’t meet code requirements for new building construction in Portland.)

The Oregonian knows all this. It just chooses to use the “everyone else must obey” argument on its pet issues. Good for Dorothy English for giving its editors a much needed spanking.

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