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Endangered Species: Oregon's lower middle class

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  • David Terry
    ... http://www.nwmeridian.com/content/060504_02_p1.php Endangered Species: Oregon s lower middle class Planning zealots imperil habitat of state s growing
    Message 1 of 1 , May 7, 2006
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      From the May 7th edition.   Northwest Meridian
      Endangered Species: Oregon's lower middle class
      Planning zealots imperil habitat of state's growing human population
      by Dave Terry
      Contributing Writer.


      When Robert Hemstreet filed his Measure 37 claim in February to allow development of 850 home sites on his farm near Sheridan, a flock of Chicken Littles began publicly squawking that the sky was about to come raining down. Merilyn Reeves, spokesperson for Friends of Yamhill County, an affiliate of 1000 Friends of Oregon, remarked to a reporter: “Is this what the voters of Yamhill County wanted when they passed Measure 37? Did they want 850 acres of forest land rezoned for 850 homes?”

      For starters, the “forest land” to which Reeves’ comment referred isn’t Old Growth. The fact is, these trees are all second growth - a commercially planted tree farm - designed, like every other crop, for ultimate harvesting. But beyond that, what did Reeves and the others think we were voting for? Contrary to the presumption that the average voter is ignorant, the 61 percent of Oregon voters who passed Measure 37 knew exactly what they were doing.

      They understand that Oregon is their state. They understand if they own land it is their land. These were the biggest reasons Measure 37 passed by such a big margin. Those elected officials who believe the state’s vision for a citizen’s land is superior to the citizen’s own vision should either wake up or find a new line of work.

      Subsequent to Hemstreet’s Measure 37 claim, he announced that his true intentions are to develop 140 “deluxe rural residential ranch estates” on lots ranging in size from five to ten acres. This may have eased the minds of the pastoral elitists fearing an invasion of uncouth hordes into their exclusive little rural Shangri-Las, but it does nothing to address the more serious problem facing Yamhill County and Oregon. How many working-class families will be able to afford Hemstreet’s “estates”?

      Oregon’s urban-growth boundary system – its so-called “Smart Growth” policies and onerous planning processes which can take years to navigate – have driven prices of even modest homes beyond the reach of most Oregon families.

      The simple truth is that even had Hemstreet developed 850 or more home sites on his property, it would still be too little, too late. The county needs an additional 1,000 buildable lots today to prevent continued hyperinflation in housing prices.

      According to the Regional Multiple Listing Service, the median price of homes in the Portland Metro Area has escalated 17.5 percent since last year. A median-priced home that sold for a not-so-modest $223,000 in March 2005 now costs $262,000.

      As recently pointed out in these pages by Randal O’Toole, the same 2,200- square-foot home that can be bought for $152,000 in Houston costs $300,000 in the Portland Metro Area. These price differences are directly attributable to the degree of restrictive land-use laws effective in these areas. This repressive and divisive situation cannot continue unchecked.

      Is land rationing next?

      Nobel laureate economist Friedrich Hayek once observed that only the rich can afford socialism. Nowhere is this dictum truer than here in Oregon, as we consider the consequences of the draconian land-use laws that working-class citizens, businesses and landowners have been forced to contend with for more than 30 years. Nothing, short of a total revision of Oregon’s misanthropic land-use laws, will stave off an artificially-created clash of classes.

      If the people of Oregon are of the mind that housing and land policy is off-limits to the free-market – if we are to maintain that land is a Public Resource, a commons wherein “rural livability” trumps individual property rights, and “sustainability” requires that more and more Oregonians be packed into smaller and denser living spaces – then we’re inviting even greater social problems and conflicts down the road. We’re marginalizing our own children and grandchildren.

      At some point those who purport to speak for the less-advantaged will be compelled to act. If building spaces are now considered “social goods,” it will become incumbent on the government to intercede in order to assure that a minimum percentage of these spaces are reserved for the construction of “affordable housing.”

      It’s ironic and sad that those who call themselves “progressives” have contributed considerably to this problem by their overwhelming support of Oregon’s land-use laws, even when those laws have produced such obviously regressive results. Oregon’s land-use regulations quite simply constitute a burdensome tax on first-time home buyers, a tax working-class and low-income families have the most difficult time bearing.

      Field of Dream Homes

      It is not an issue of “build and they will come".  “They” are coming, regardless. The question is, will we be prepared to offer a decent housing market and reasonably affordable homes, or will “they” be packed into the bee-hive crates that our Smart Growth central planners already have planned for them.

      Between 2005 and 2030, just 24 years from now, the population of Oregon is expected to increase from 3.596 million to 4.834 million. That’s more than 34 percent. This translates into a minimum increase of 30,000 residents for Yamhill County. In other words, Yamhill County is going to become the “new” Hillsboro.

      Spread the wealth - free-market style
      Sprawl is the pejorative term that central planners and their allies use to describe economic development that takes place in an area or form they can’t control. Essentially, sprawl is new houses, new stores, new offices, new schools and the fulfillment of lifelong dreams. It is another word for “economic freedom.”

      As the issue is presently defined, when current residents complain about sprawl, what they mean is, they want to preserve the sprawl that they created. They just don’t want newcomers to horn in on their great deal.

      The quality of life for those additional million and a quarter new citizens of this state will be much better if the quixotic utopian aristocrats who make up the ranks of 1000 Friends of 19th Century Oregon are no longer given free political reign to foist their elitist conceptions of “livability” on the rest of us.

      David T. Terry is a libertarian activist living in McMinnville.

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