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Taking a ‘Look’ at livability

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

June 28, 2006

Jefferson Smith of the Bus Project encouraged Hood River County citizens at last week’s Envision Oregon forum to “reclaim a people-based democracy.”

Smith, executive director of the Portland-based nonprofit group that mobilizes volunteers and activists, believes that cause is winnable. He told an 80-member audience on June 22 that victory hinged on engaging disenfranchised and young voters in the political process.

“We need a rebirth of civil involvement to reboot democracy. Get active, go door-to-door to influence elections,” he said.

The special program held at the Hood River Hotel was sponsored by 1000 Friends of Oregon, SOLV, Oregon Business Association, League of Women Voters of Oregon and Coalition for a Livable Future.

Participants were encouraged to analyze the top three values they wanted reflected in government policy to shape the future.

“In terms of geography and in terms of population, Oregon is not so big. But Oregon is significant in progressive thinking,” said Smith.

He said the quality of life in the state would be challenged within the next few years by two million more residents. Smith said it was imperative the needs of present-day Oregonians be factored into decisions made to accommodate that growth.

“At some point it won’t be merely history asking us a question, someday it will be our own grandchildren. And they will say, ‘When the country was at a turning point of history and we were deciding what kind of place we wanted to be like and how we were going to get there, where were you?’” Smith said.

He said if enough Oregonians became politically active, they could be proud of the answer to that question. They would be able to tell their grandchildren that they had revolutionized energy, health care, education and land-use programs.

“I’m asking that we fundamentally redesign the system we live in. I’m asking that we change the world,” said Smith.

The primary concern expressed by the crowd last Thursday centered on the potential changes to Oregon’s landscape brought by Measure 37. Citizens worried that zoning-protected agricultural lands would be replaced by sprawling subdivisions.

“Will a family farm exist beyond our nostalgia?” asked Smith.

Ranking highest on the priority list was continued protection of natural resources and scenic vistas. In addition, participants wanted more public involvement on social and environmental issues that would affect their lifestyle.

The individual and collective comments from the June 22 forum are being forwarded by 1000 Friends to the Big Look Task Force. That 10-member group set up by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Sen. President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Karen Minnis is just starting a three-year review of the state land-use rules. The appointed body will bring recommendations for change to the 2009 legislative session.

The task force was formed by state leaders after legal controversy arose following passage of Measure 37 in 2004. Although 1000 Friends filed a lawsuit against the new law — approved by 64 percent of voters statewide — the statute authored by Oregonians in Action, a property rights advocacy group, was upheld by the state Supreme Court earlier this year.

Measure 37 requires government agencies to compensate a landowner when a regulation devalues property by taking away the use he/she had at the time of acquisition. In lieu of payment, the agency can choose to lift or modify the restriction.

“I think it’s very important that we find out what we can do to make Oregon’s land-use system work. It’s been a long time since we’ve done a comprehensive review of where we are and where we’re going,” said Ken Bailey, a Big Look member from The Dalles who attended the Hood River forum.

“We’re there to evaluate what comes in, what’s there and see if we can do something that benefits everybody,” he said.

Bob Stacey, executive director of 1000 Friends, said it was vital for Bailey and other task force members to hear from citizens. He said the Big Look work plan called for major issues to be identified by the end of July. And then the group’s focus would be on possible tradeoffs in areas of longstanding conflict.

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