OREGON: Where Property Rights Are Gone
By Jeff Rowes
Oregonians, like Americans everywhere, take it for granted that their government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Imagine their shock then when a successful ballot measure reforming property rights was struck down on the outrageous ground that it’s unconstitutional for Oregonians to limit their government’s authority to regulate.
The story begins in 1971 when Oregonians passed the most restrictive land-use law in the nation. Basically, they froze the zoning map, decreeing that the two percent of Oregon then zoned for residential, commercial and industrial development could never be expanded. Predictably, the price of land within this two percent exploded while rural property owners saw the value of their land plummet. No other state has been foolish enough to do what Oregon did.
After years of trying unsuccessfully to reform the law through conventional means, fed-up Oregonians turned to the ballot initiative and in 2000 passed Measure 7.
Measure 7 required “just compensation” whenever regulation diminished the value of land, unless the regulation was directly related to public health and safety.
This victory for property owners was short-lived, however. Measure 7 was opposed by influential suburbanites who preferred undeveloped rural land and resented having to compensate rural property owners for the true costs of regulation. Measure 7 was promptly challenged by a coalition of these citizens and struck down on a dubious constitutional technicality. Undaunted, Oregonians put the issue on the ballot again in 2004 as Measure 37. Despite being outspent four-to-one and facing opposition from the state’s major newspapers, Measure 37’s supporters were vindicated when it passed by the widest margin of any initiative in Oregon history.
Great news, right?
Not so fast. Measure 37 was also promptly struck down by a state court judge who held, unbelievably, that the people aren’t allowed to tell their government to respect property rights and regulate more fairly. So much for government by the people! When the case went up to the Oregon Supreme Court, IJ submitted an amicus brief explaining the nature and history of property rights.
Measure 37 is vital not only to Oregonians, but to all of us because it is at the forefront of a nationwide grassroots movement to restore traditional notions of property ownership. IJ is committed to helping win this important fight and reminding the courts that the source of all governmental authority comes from the people.
Jeff Rowes is an IJ staff attorney.