I recently moved to Portland from New York to work at Crag for the summer and I have noticed that Oregon is a very special state. People here have a strong connection with the environment and live and work with the land instead of bulldozing it to make room for an endless sea of shopping malls like we have in New York. This interdependence is clear when after driving about ten minutes from the city center you are in rural farmland and dense forest. Oregonians protected the important resource they had in undeveloped land when they passed a statewide zoning regime in 1973. This system created an urban growth boundary that prevents urban sprawl into areas designated as farmland, wilderness, and forest. The land use regulation maintains Oregon’s rich agricultural economy, promotes outdoor recreation, and keeps the rivers and air clean for all living things.

Photo courtesy of Lifecycle Adventures

In 2004, the group Oregonians in Action challenged this law, arguing that it had unfairly lowered the property values of certain landowners. Voters bought into the simple messages and passed Measure 37, which exempted some landowners from the system in response to claims those landowners made for compensation. The result of Measure 37 was a free for all of claims to construct housing developments, gravel pits, strip malls on the state’s high value farm and forestland. As the claims poured in, Oregonians who had voted for Measure 37 were horrified at what was happening and they rallied to pass Measure 49 three years later.

While Measure 49 limited the damage, in a modern day land grab, some people rushed to finish their proposed subdivisions before Measure 37 was repealed. Measure 49 did allow for completion of a project that was substantially constructed before Measure 37 passed, and so many developers have tried to game the system to get vested rights – either by ignoring the fact that Measure 37 had passed, by racing to spend money in the final hours of Measure 37 or by making up figures for their projects to make their insubstantial expenditures look substantial. Crag is now working to prevent construction from continuing and to preserve the forests and streams from unsustainable development.

Crag continues to represent clients in Yamhill, Benton, Clatsop and other counties mount court challenges to the ghosts of Measure 37 and stop any further destruction to the natural beauty of Oregon. Crag is trying to keep Oregon special.  As far as I see it, Oregon is one of the few places that truly values the environment, and that creates value for everyone including property owners.

Originally from Garden City, NY, Alexandria Zafonte is a student at Vermont Law School.  She is currently working as a summer associate at Crag Law Center.  She is interested in preserving natural areas and ecosystems from unsustainable development. She hopes to become an attorney to advocate on behalf of he environment.

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