Sprawl Control vs. Property Rights
Sprawl control, or smart growth, is the concept of allowing population growth within the city limits while maintaining an open space buffer between cities. This has been the most effective way to accommodate population growth while still protecting forests, farmland and the quality of life in small towns. This approach has been derailed in Oregon by a voter initiative passed last year; and developers nationwide are drooling with anticipation.
Measure 37 requires the government to pay compensation to property owners when land-use restrictions reduce the value of their property. If the government can't pay, the landowners can develop their land as they see fit. Cool!!! Hey, I want to cut down all the trees in our yard and build a 14-story apartment complex on the property. What, I’m not allowed to? Show me the money!
The passage of Measure 37 shows the importance of the Almighty Spin. Countless radio commercials featured the frail voice of an elderly woman saying she was unable to divide up her 40 acres for her children. “I’m 91 years old, my husband is dead and I don’t know how much longer I can fight.” She might as well have thrown in “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
Looking beyond the spin, however, the reality is that small family farmers had virtually no connection to the Family Farm Preservation political action committee that bankrolled Measure 37. Timber companies and real estate interests were the biggest contributors.
This trend is spreading across the country. A struggling small property owner is turned into a poster child for a “fairness” campaign that’s financed by developers, timber and mining interests.
A similar initiative is now being considered in Washington, and the same principles of spin and perception are clearly demonstrated. When a poll asks whether a property owner should be allowed to fulfill his retirement dream by subdividing some of his land, respondents take the side of the property owner. When asked if they want their rural community overrun with condos and strip malls, most respondents say no.
Let’s hope the voters in Washington can learn from the mistakes of their neighbor to the south.