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January 27, 2006

Re: 10 will ask Oregon: What do you want? [Oregonian]

[Submitted to The Oregonian 1/27/2006 Re: 10 will ask Oregon: What do you want?]

Surveys show that by two-thirds majorities, Oregonians want both strong land use and respect for property rights.  The “Big Look” forward at Oregon’s land-use policies for the next few decades must recognize people want both and not a false choice between them.

When Senate Bill 100 was implemented, it came with assumptions that remained true over much of the last 30 years.  For example, that if we preserved farmland, and gave farms a very low tax rate, that farming would continue to be an economically positive activity.

But the forces of globalization, vast distribution efficiencies and innovative economies of scale have produced pressures on small- to mid-sized farms.  Just look at the vast reduction in Oregon strawberries -- easily the best looking and tastiest, but crowded out even in our local markets by alternatives shipped from over a 1000 miles away.  The consequence, at least here in Yamhill County, is that many small farms are not economically viable -- often people continue some limited farming but have their livelihoods in town.

We should look at the broader view of our public investments and land-use.  For example, when land is brought into Urban Growth Boundaries, we invest millions in infrastructure to enhance its planned-for new uses, but make almost no investment to sustain the existing planned-for use of rural areas to ensure their continued viability.  As just two little examples, many farmers still don’t have access to broadband internet, making it hard for them to participate in markets; and, as less land is farmed, it cuts the market size for suppliers of materials and equipment to farms.

Oregon needs to look not only at the preservation of productive farm and forestland, but also at what sustains the economics of those lands -- saving farmland without viable farming businesses will ensure continued friction.  The Big Look should include how Oregon’s land-use fits in this broader Oregon economic vista.

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