Measure 37 To The Rescue

By Peyton Knight (January 2005)

Victims of Oregon’s tyrannical web of land use restrictions, ordinances, and regulatory takings can finally seek justice.

Measure 37 passed on November 2 and it allows Oregon property owners who have been wronged by any myriad of radical land use restrictions imposed by the state and local governments to seek just compensation for their monetary losses.

And if the governmental body responsible for the offending regulation can’t pony up the dough, the Measure calls for the property owner to be immune from the regulation. Measure 37 is right. It is fair. It is brilliant in its simplicity.

Measure 37 is the brainchild of Oregonians in Action, which describes itself as a “non-profit organization devoted solely to fighting for property rights and against excessive land use regulations.” The radicals at the Sierra Club have gleefully counted Oregon as second only to California in terms of suffocating land use restrictions. They, along with many other environmental extremists including Defenders of Wildlife, the League of Conservation Voters, The Nature Conservancy, and the Audubon Society, vehemently opposed Measure 37.

According to Oregonians in Action Vice President for Government Affairs Bill Moshofsky, his group was outspent 3-1 by its green adversaries and nearly every newspaper editorialized against them. Mr. Moshofsky has worked as a full-time volunteer at the organization since 1989. Yet despite seemingly overwhelming odds, David beat Goliath. Measure 37 passed 61% to 39%. It received more “yes” votes than any initiative in Oregon’s history.

Make no mistake. This is a monumental victory not only for victims of property rights abuses in Oregon, but around the country. Measure 37 is a model for every state. It is a long overdue justice whose time has come.

If the city-dwelling, environmental elitists weren’t so stunned, they’d be furious right now. But their fury will come later. Right now, they’re just trying to fathom 37’s overwhelming popularity—especially in light of the massive scare campaign they waged against it. Their death-grip on other people’s property is about to be loosened.

According to the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, 57% of land in Oregon is federally owned. Three percent is owned by state or local governments and 38% is locked up as “protected” farm and forest land. The remaining 2% is city land. And you can bet that it’s the people occupying that paltry 2% of Oregon’s landmass that make life miserable for folks dwelling in the other 98%.

“What’s going on across the nation is that representatives of urban citizens are telling ranchers and farmers that they can never build anything on their land because people living in the city want to drive out to the country in their SUVs and see open space and feel warm and fuzzy about it,” Pacific Legal Foundation attorney David Breemer told the Los Angeles Times. Urbanites pay little mind to how socialist planning schemes destroy the lives of others.

Dorothy English is a widow who has fought for decades to make productive use of her 40 hill-top acres just outside Portland. “I’m 91 years old, my husband is dead, and I don’t know how much longer I can fight,” says English. She and her husband purchased the land back in 1953, intending to divide a portion of the parcel for retirement income, and also to give some land to her children. But in 1973, Oregon instituted a statewide planning law that put an abrupt end to Dorothy’s dreams. “It ruined our lives,” English told the Times, “I worked until I was 80.”

Gene Prete and his wife live in Bend. The Prete’s have wanted to build a retirement home on their 20 acres of land—a plot where they farm hay and own horses. Yet Oregon’s statewide planning law quashed their dream as well. Now they and Mrs. English may finally have their rights restored.

Of course, local authorities have already begun conspiring to crush the will of the Oregon people and the spirit of Measure 37. Some counties are charging exorbitant “filing fees” that exceed thousands of dollars, all in an effort to dissuade regulatory victims from coming forward. As a result, lawsuits and court battles are sure to follow.

Eco-extremists such as 1,000 Friends of Oregon, a group whose sole mission is to convince government to steal the rights of others, are shaking in their Birkenstocks. According to the Associated Press, they’re concerned that “Measure 37 could wreck the policies that have succeeded in preserving Oregon’s rural charms.” Only a Green would consider stealing someone else’s property “charming.”

With the passage of Measure 37, Oregonians in Action have shown Oregon and the nation that no odds are insurmountable when you have common sense and morality on your side.

Peyton Knight is executive director of the American Policy Center. The Center maintains an Internet site at

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.