Measure 37 suits head to court

Now, almost four months after its passage, Measure 37 lawsuits are barreling into Oregon’s courts. To date, approximately 220 requests have been filed statewide, including nine in Multnomah County.

On Nov. 2, 2004, Oregonians passed Measure 37, requiring the state to compensate land owners for property value lost as a result of zoning or environmental restrictions.

Although the final cost of the measure cannot be determined, the Oregon Attorney General’s office projects at least $344 million in court costs and administration, with settlement payouts to be added to that total. In Multnomah County alone, individual settlement requests vary from $55,000 to $1 million.

As to where the money will come from, no one seems to know.

"With no provision to fund the outcomes of this measure, other government programs are sure to suffer," a Portland City Hall employee said, speaking on terms of anonymity.

Opponents worry that since state and local budgets don’t have the funds to pay off the landowners in accordance with the measure, the state will simply drop or ignore the relevant land use restrictions.

"We’ve been advised by our Attorney General that we can explain what Measure 37 says and interpret its language, but we can’t give our personal opinions on its impact," said Meg Fernekees, Portland field representative for the Department of Land Conservation Development, when asked about the potential impact of the measure.

Proponents see Measure 37 as a means to fairly compensate landowners for financial loss resulting from state-imposed regulations.

"Make no mistake. This is a monumental victory not only for victims of property rights abuses in Oregon, but around the country," said Peyton Knight, executive director for the American Policy Center, a think tank headquartered in Warrenton, Va. "Measure 37 is a model for every state. It is a long overdue justice whose time has come."

Opponents believe that the measure is a thinly veiled way to undercut state land use planning laws and circumvent decades of growth boundaries and environmental regulations. Those who stand to benefit most from the measure’s passage include timber and land developers, who could sidestep all environmental regulation on land bought decades ago.

A land use watchdog group, 1000 Friends of Oregon, calls Measure 37 an outrageous assault on communities, farms and forests, and an unfounded mandate with a single goal: to roll back decades of land use protections.

1000 Friends has filed a constitutional challenge to Measure 37, arguing that it violates the Oregon Constitution by treating landowners differently under the same laws.

"Eco-extremists such as 1000 Friends of Oregon, a group whose sole mission is to convince the government to steal the rights of others, are shaking in their Birkenstocks," Peyton said.

In pre-Measure 37 days, Oregon was a national leader in slowing urban sprawl and protecting natural lands and farmlands, setting limits on how land was purchased and developed.

In 1969, during the governorship of Tom McCall, Oregon Senate Bill 100 created the Land Conservation and Development Commission. Guided by a board of citizen volunteers, the commission has since developed comprehensive long-range land use plans that have preserved forests, farmlands and other natural resources, while protecting Oregon’s coastline and helping cities maintain sustainable growth.

Measure 37 opponents predict that post-37 Oregon will become a quagmire of land-use regulation, with even adjacent pieces of land treated inconsistently.

Some fear that the measure might be stretched to apply to in-city zoning regulations, creating dangerous instability in local real estate markets, where the worth of property is based on projected future value.

Property owners seeking compensation under Measure 37 have two years to file with the appropriate city, county, state or district office.

For valid claims, the filed-on agency has 180 days to take one of two actions: either pay the property owner an amount equal to the lost value, or modify or eliminate the regulation of the property.

Individual governments are allowed to set their own procedures for evaluating compensation requests, as long as the 180-day guideline is met. The City of Portland’s web page,, allows the public to track the outcomes of Measure 37 filings in Multnomah County.