If it seems like we’re yelling at you with this issue’s big cover headline, well, we are. If you read only one thing this summer, make it Ray Ring’s cover story, "Taking Liberties," which starts on page 8. Then pass it on to a friend, and tell her to do the same.
gets under the surface of a Westwide campaign that has received
scant attention from the regional press, considering that it could
literally lay waste to state and local land-use planning. Sure,
there have been scattered stories about one or another of the
ballot initiatives in this campaign, but no one has traced the
campaign to its libertarian funders in Chicago, New York City and
Washington, D.C. No one has documented how this money pays
out-of-state signature gatherers to put the initiatives on the
ballot. And few have seen through the sales pitch — which
often says that a vote for these initiatives is a vote to rein in
the government’s power to take people’s land —
and found that the real agenda is much, much bigger.
There’s no denying that it’s a brilliant strategy.
Libertarians have tried for years to push "takings" legislation
through state legislatures, and they’ve discovered that
it’s all but impossible; look closely at "takings," and you
realize that the real goal is unraveling government. So
they’ve found a way to take the issue directly to the voters,
who often don’t have the time to consider the details. With a
campaign driven by TV sound bites, they know they can win. Just
look at Oregon, where voters blithely approved the mother of all
takings initiatives in 2004: Measure 37.
In the aftermath
of Measure 37, Defenders of Wildlife commissioned a study to find
out why planning advocates lost. The study found that the
measure’s backers cast the story as a "David vs. Goliath"
tale, in which the big bad government was stomping on the little
landowners. The report suggested that opponents should have turned
the tables with tales of land-use regs saving ordinary people from
developers who want to build Wal-Marts, cookie-cutter subdivisions
or gravel mines next door.
Telling good stories is key in
this fight — and if supporters of land-use planning want to
have a chance in November, they’d better start telling those
stories now. But Measure 37 carried another lesson: The problem in
Oregon wasn’t just the sometimes overbearing regulations; the
problem was that planners had stopped listening to the people.
A study penned by a team of academics in the wake of
Oregon planners’ first big defeat at the ballot box —
Measure 7, which passed in 2000, but was later thrown out by the
state Supreme Court — found that the measure passed because
of misunderstandings, misinformation and frustration with the
planning bureaucracy. It recommended that the state expand
education programs, streamline the planning process and address the
ubiquitous concern that the planning system wasn’t benefiting
all Oregonians equally.
That never happened. Four years
later, Measure 37 passed by an even larger margin than Measure 7
— and this time, Oregon’s Supreme Court stood behind
it. Now, some of the most visionary land-use regulations in the
country have been rendered powerless.
If we want to have
any hope of creating progressive land-use planning systems, our
first task is to knock back the initiatives on state ballots this
year. And over the long term, we need to recognize that the key to
land-use planning is listening, listening some more, and then
creating and re-creating land-use systems that really work for
people. Good planning is the messy stuff of democracy — and
without it, stealth, sound-bite campaigns can turn things