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Is land use broken?

A spin campaign is aiming to counter comments made in the closing hours of the 2014 legislature reacting to the so-called grand bargain. As reported in the Oregonian, key legislators said that the land use system was broken. Is it?

The rebuttal so far consists of deconstructing the Court of Appeals ruling on the Metro reserve decision and the last minute legislation that was passed in response to the court’s remand.

The land use deniers (let’s call them luddites for fun) say that the court decision is proof the system works as intended, and that the legislation was a one time event born in haste inspired by rapidly approaching legislative deadlines. No story here – move along.

The land use system is broken but not for reasons particular to the Metro reserve remand or the ensuing legislation. The pertinent part of that mini-drama was the accumulated frustration that legislators and Metro stakeholders expressed – intemperately in the view of the luddites. The emperor wears no clothes! Oh my! The new news value in the story comes from adding new voices to the chorus of non-Metro and rural local governments who have been suffering for years.

The danger now facing the luddites is that local governments will be unwilling to invest time and resources into an unreliable planning process and will instead seek a legislative fiat as the more cost effective path.

We should take the luddites at their word and say that the system works as intended – land use decisions can be delayed, hijacked and effectively vetoed by anyone with grudge and a stamp. Organized opposition groups have a land use system which is an opponent’s dream – a naively conceived, poorly written, arbitrarily applied legal swamp that generates easy-to-overturn local decisions.

Is it broken? It depends on what you want.