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County actions in the ’70s had long-lasting effects

On June 28 Doug Dusenberry had a letter to the editor that began: “Forty-six years ago, back when I was young and foolish, I voted for a Democrat seeking county office. That was the first and last Democrat for whom I have ever voted.” That was me. In 1972 I was elected to the Board of Commissioners as the youngest commissioner in history (I was 32) and it was the first time in history that there were two Democrats on the board. It was quite a shock to both the community and me. It was a time of change.

Doug goes on to say: “I am not a socialist, so I could never be a Democrat. The Democrats’ embrace of the collective suffocates the individual.”

I have a lot of respect for Doug. Over the years he has described well the current feeling of the individual being oppressed by a controlling government. “You don’t see us anymore, you don’t hear us and you don’t seem to care. What part of leave us alone don’t you understand?”

The letter has given me lots to think about. I, like most of us, have been following this serious division in our country with concern, fear, anger and growing despair with where this is going, always, of course, through my rather liberal point of view. Now Doug points out that I am part of the cause.

What a burden! Right here in Jackson County there is a microcosm of what I have been closely observing on the national level and I was a part of it. What did I do back then that embraced the collective and suffocated the individual? Doug could, no doubt, question several of my actions, but I am going to take a serious look at just three: Septic tanks, air quality and land-use planning. All three were big issues of the day.

Septic tanks: In the early ’70s there was rapid population growth and little control of septic tanks. Serious problems were developing, especially in large areas of poor soil. The county developed rules that required testing of soil and hired soil specialists who could turn down applications. The days of just putting in a system were over. Some of these soil specialists were greeted by gun-carrying land owners.

Air quality: The Rogue Valley is rated as one of the worst in the country for potential air quality problems. Population growth and old practices were making the air unhealthy. Committees were formed, contentious hearings were held and we imposed strong controls. Wigwam burners were banned. Orchard heaters were controlled. New wood stoves had to be certified and their use severely limited. Cars had to pass inspection.

Land-use planning: In the late ’70s, the population growth and the rate of development in Oregon had accelerated to the point that the legislature passed Senate Bill 100, requiring counties to develop comprehensive land-use plans. Many counties resisted this effort. Jackson County accepted it. After seemingly endless contentious hearings, we passed a plan that radically changed the way people could use their land. Minimum lot sizes were increased on all resource land (such as farm and forest), residential uses were limited and cities were required to grow in limited concentric boundaries.

All three of these issues were done with the belief that they supported the “collective good.” All three limited individual rights. All three created lasting resentment against county government, land-use planning being the most severe. The farm outside the city could not be turned into a subdivision. Land that used to be zoned 5 acres was now 40 acres and second houses were not allowed. Retirement plans were ruined, resentment was extreme, a county commissioner was recalled.

I have to agree with Doug: As a Democrat I took many actions that limited individual rights and added to the resentment of government. As a partial defense, let’s look at those three issues again through time.

Up until the late ’60s these things didn’t matter much. The difference was rapid population growth. What would our county look like now without those controls? Our population has doubled. There is no doubt that the air and health conditions would be unlivable. Arguments can still be made against land-use planning, but there is no doubt that things would be different.

I don’t have space to argue all my views but would attribute the success of the wine industry to the fact that farm land wasn’t overly divided. There are many others.

Jon Deason of Medford was a Jackson County commissioner from 1973 through 1976 and 1979 through 1982.

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