Much ado about the Big Look

A state task force has recommended changes in the way Oregon manages its land-use issues and — surprise! — the entrenched forces on both ends of the debate don't like it.

It will be up to the Oregon Legislature to fend off those special interest groups, to show some backbone and to pass legislation that unclutters the system without walking away from necessary protections.

Standing in its way will be groups such as Oregonians in Action, which would like to see most land-use laws abolished, and 1,000 Friends of Oregon, which thinks the current system isn't stringent enough. If the Legislature lets groups like that choose the battlefield, the effort is doomed before it starts.

The Legislature may be tempted to avoid the heavy lifting that will come with this effort. After all, a financial crisis looms and there will be no lack of excuses for leaving this hornets' nest alone. But that kind of denial will lead only to bigger problems down the road — see Ballot Measure 37, Ballot Measure 49 and related lawsuits, if you doubt that.

The 10-member Big Look Task Force was created in 2005 and charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the statewide land-use planning program.

And it needs a comprehensive review. Oregon's land-use system was a model for the nation when it was created by Senate Bill 100 in 1973. The system overseen by the Land Conservation and Development Commission was intended to protect farms, forests, open spaces and the state's livability while creating a roadmap for future development.

In many ways, the system worked well and Oregon is the better for it. By no means was it perfect — too much valuable farm and forest land has given way to development — but if its controls were not in place, the damage to the state and its future generations would be incalculable.

However — and this is a big however — the system has turned into a monster. The average person has about as much chance of understanding it as taking a quick weekend trip to the moon. Land-use "experts" openly acknowledge that they can't possibly understand all the twists and turns that have accumulated in the 35 years of the system's existence. It has become a lucrative playground for lawyers and consultants, who are now necessary players in all but the most basic land-use applications.

The Big Look Task Force is made up of a diverse group that includes a farmer, rancher, city official, lawyer, timber executive, school board member and much more. It was asked to develop a system that would "... ensure that the state's land use system does its part in protecting our environment and our natural beauty, while also building an economy that is prosperous for citizens and communities."

Its recommendations for doing that have been released, and promptly attacked by the special interests. The Legislature needs to look past the potshots, consider the recommendations carefully and take concrete steps to implement changes in a land-use system that is worth saving.

For more on the Big Look Task Force and its recommendations, see

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