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March 14, 2005

Heads Up - The Proposed "Takings" Initiative

This state’s environmental train is in danger of being derailed.  We in this state are seeing some long overdue environmental bills moving through the legislature since we were smart enough to go all blue last fall.  However, there is a proposed initiative, 906, that has been submitted to the Office of the Secretary of State that will take all our thinking and effort to fight off.  It is what is known as a “takings” initiative. 

Oregon passed such a measure by means of the initiative process last November and it is already wrecking havoc with their leading-edge land use laws.  The Oregon Law, passed as Measure 37, had a Ballot Title that said, “Governments much pay owners, or forgo enforcement, when certain land use restrictions reduce property value.”  The title portrays the bill as just and fair, a way of compensating put-upon landowners for losses of economically viable usage of their land.

Here’s the way that three leading environmentalists in Oregon describe what it actually means:

Governments must pay the difference in value between what a property is worth with land use restrictions and what it is worth without them – or waive the rules.  The measure provided no source for compensation, and there is no conceivable way for the state or local governments to pay the billions of dollars’ worth of claims they expect.  If they cannot pay the difference, communities must waive the rules.

They put the initiative in context:

The environmental impacts of takings policies are far-reaching.  Because land use is a leverage issue that drives so many of our biggest environmental and social problems, takings policies imperil the entire environmental movement.  They are giant steps backwards for efforts to reduce air and water pollution, protect biodiversity, defend farm and forestlands, reduce auto-dependency, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and improve public health.

The “takings” initiatives have the additional effect of scaring lawmakers, local zoning commissioners and government officials into inaction.  Why pass an ordinance establishing parklands or developing health codes that prevent landfills in certain areas if doing so will entail paying out compensation to landowners or fighting lawsuits?

Like many other right-wing efforts, the “takings” initiatives only look like they are meant to primarily compensate the unjustly targeted small landowner.  Andrew Savagian, writing in the January issue of Conscious Choice, clarifies:

These landowners not only get backing from groups like the PLF (Pacific Legal Foundation, a California-based organization that is a major opponent of environmental and civil rights legislation), they serve as fronts for several big money interests.  The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative think tank with funding from Phillip Morris, Coors, Texaco, and other corporations, is a major backer of many property rights and takings organizations.  Under the guise of takings, corporations and businesses are using victimized landowners to get all they can out of local communities and their tax coffers.

This is a huge issue, pitting the ideas of common good and a right to a clean environment and a healthy place to live against the right to pollute and develop without regulations.  Stay tuned as we focus on the progress of this proposed initiative and think together about how to defeat it in Washington State.

Posted by Lynn Allen on March 14, 2005 at 10:13 AM in Ballot Initiatives | Permalink


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I-906 is not the takings initiative. It looks almost exactly like it, but that initiative will be filed likely later this year by a coalition of property rights groups and the Farm Bureau.

They already have a website set up:

Seattle PI also has the latest news:

I don't know what I-906 is, from what the balanced rights initiative folks emailed me, they think its a trojan horse to draw attention away from their initiative. If that's true, assume the Katherine S. Jackson that filed I-609 is Kate Jackson from Futurewise:

All that said, stopping Oregon's measure 37 from coming north will probably be the most important political campaign this year.

Posted by: Emmett O'Connell | Mar 15, 2005 3:09:18 PM


Thanks for the clarification. I appreciate the forward-thinking that brought about a preemptive initiative. And, as you said, we still have to be prepared for this initiative when it comes.

Posted by: Lynn Allen | Mar 16, 2005 9:00:17 AM

Oregon's Measure 37 holds real-world lessons for Washington


by Todd Myers
July 27, 2005

Last November, Oregon voters overwhelmingly passed Measure 37, a law requiring the state and counties either to pay landowners for lost property value when new zoning restrictions are imposed, or allow owners to operate under the rules in place when they bought the property. Supporters and opponents said Measure 37 would radically change the landscape of Oregon. The reality, however, is turning out to be less revolutionary than either side expected.

Opponents said passage of Measure 37 would result in "anarchy," "chaos" and a "nightmare" as rural Oregon was rapidly paved over with new development. They said the new law would bankrupt the state and counties by requiring them to pay out millions in lost-value claims. It is true that on paper the size of claims made so far seems enormous. Through June 30, Measure 37 claims against the state amount to nearly $1.3 billion, far more than the state can pay.

In practice though, Measure 37 has not cost Oregon a dime. Rather than pay compensation, the state and counties have simply waived any land-use restrictions imposed since the owner purchased the property. Most claims have been filed by holders of small, family-owned plots, and most have not owned the land long enough claim significant changes in land use rules. As a result, the actual number of acres affected by Measure 37 is fairly small. Many claims involve less than 100 acres, and some are only five to ten acres. Even when recently-imposed land-use regulations are waived, public safety and construction restrictions remain in place, resulting in little change in the character of rural areas.

Measure 37 opponents predicted environmental regulations would be weakened, communities threatened and public safety ignored. A University of Washington professor warned darkly that "farmlands would have greater market value as subdivisions…flood plains are attractive locations for car dealerships and truck stops."

Our research shows, however, that these foretellers of doom are being contradicted by actual practice. The state says, "The measure does not apply to commonly and historically recognized public nuisances, public health and safety regulations, regulations required to comply with federal law" and other commonsense zoning restrictions.

Here are a few real-world examples of how Measure 37 is playing out. In Hood River County a landowner filed a claim for more than $11 million. This sounds like the costly “nightmare” scenario envisioned by Measure 37 opponents. Yet, rather than pay the claim, the state simply waived newer zoning restrictions and re-instated the rules that applied when the current owner bought the land in 1977. The 1977 rules allow building single-family homes on quarter-acre lots, but only as long as they "are appropriate for the continuation of the existing commercial agricultural enterprise in the area." For this reason it is unlikely the owner would receive building permits for a subdivision-size development.

In Linn County a landowner sought a waiver of farmland zoning rules so Habitat for Humanity could build low income housing on his land. Under Measure 37 the zoning waiver was approved, but building permits were denied for public safety reasons. The land is on a flood plain.

A Columbia County landowner has filed a seemingly massive compensation claim of $87 million against the state. Rather than negotiate over what is probably an inflated appraisal, Oregon waived the land-use restrictions imposed since the owner brought the property. Even so, the owner will still have to comply with pre-existing laws requiring him to "conserve forestlands for forest uses" and strictly limit any construction to what is "necessary and accessory" for forest use.

What will happen when governments look to change zoning laws in the future? Oregon, like Washington, has a solid foundation of zoning already, making it unlikely that there will be major changes in the future. Some changes will occur, however, and it is unclear how Measure 37 will affect those changes.

While not sparking the kind of radical land-use changes supporters had hoped for, neither is Measure 37 turning out to be the "nightmare" opponents had predicted. The news from Oregon is of more than passing interest to Washington residents. There is already an effort afoot to pass a land-compensation initiative here, and voters may see a homegrown version of Measure 37 on the ballot as early as next year.

Posted by: John Barnes | Aug 5, 2005 2:20:16 PM

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» Heads Up - The Proposed "Takings" Initiative from Earth Share of Washington News
This state’s environmental train is in danger of being derailed.  We in this state are seeing some long overdue environmental bills moving through the legislature since we were smart enough to go all blue last fall.  However, there is a... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 14, 2005 12:54:33 PM

» Heads Up - The Proposed "Takings" Initiative from Earth Share of Washington News
This state’s environmental train is in danger of being derailed.  We in this state are seeing some long overdue environmental bills moving through the legislature since we were smart enough to go all blue last fall.  However, there is a... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 15, 2005 8:51:33 AM

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