Oregon’s Land Use Bills at 50

2023 marks the 50th anniversary of Oregon’s Land Use Bills—Senate Bill 100 and 101— landmark laws that transformed the state’s landscape and protected its treasured farmland and natural spaces. This milestone offers us an opportunity to reflect on the environmental stewardship that has shaped the state’s identity. This anniversary also serves as a call to action for the shared responsibility of safeguarding Oregon’s environment for future generations.

Building the Environmental Movement: A Labor of Love

The journey from a grassroots coalition to steadfast entities like Oregon Environmental Council and 1000 Friends of Oregon highlights the ongoing commitment to preserving Oregon’s cherished quality of life. We had the opportunity to sit down with Maggie Collins, who worked as a lobbyist for OEC during these pivotal years. Maggie’s work was instrumental in successfully advocating for SB 100, as she calls it, “a labor of love.”

Maggie Collins“The early 1970s were ripe for action on so many fronts, but there was no cohesive environmental movement in the state,” Maggie shares. Rather, there were several individual groups focused on specific issues. OEC’s tireless work to pass this piece of legislation played a crucial role in structuring and unifying these disparate efforts into a powerful and dynamic statewide voice. “It was clear that it was going to take all of us working together to address the looming threats of urban sprawl, deforestation, and environmental degradation.”

Observing the loss of farmland and greenspaces, as well as poorly planned development in other states, Oregonians saw that they could no longer take for granted the state’s cherished natural beauty. As threats of sprawl and environmental degradation began to surface, it prompted a cooperative response from legislators and activists alike. Maggie recalls the extensive town hall meetings held across the state to gather input and emphasize the importance of agricultural land preservation and livable communities, critical aspects in garnering support for the bill.

She also noted that the environmental movement in the ’70s was primarily led by a white, educated, emerging middle class. While this group was successful in achieving many of its goals, like protecting our natural and working lands, bringing life into our cities’ centers and corridors, and creating award-winning main streets, the movement did not prioritize addressing discrimination – the Oregon Land Donation Act, redlining, racial covenants, and racial steering – other racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Today, with a larger state population and far greater income disparity, the focus on justice and inclusivity is critical in addressing environmental challenges.

A Lasting Impact on Oregon’s Land

The “what-if” scenario: We asked Maggie to imagine Oregon without SB 100. She mused that the picturesque stretch of Interstate 5 between Portland and Salem that now is home to Oregon’s famed wine country might have been replaced by endless subdivisions and shopping malls, erasing the rolling hills of Oregon’s farms. The absence of land use regulations would have resulted in a landscape marred by unchecked urbanization/suburbanization, further threatening water resources, ecosystem health, and air and water quality, and exacerbating economic and social divides.

SB 100’s establishment of urban growth boundaries has been crucial in shaping Oregon’s development and preserving its natural beauty. Reflecting on the 50th anniversary celebration, Maggie expressed a warm feeling of accomplishment, “So few things last 50 years. This was an extraordinary community activity that created lasting benefits to the state.”

Oregon’s Land Champions

Recognizing the need for a dedicated champion and watchdog for the new legislation, 1000 Friends of Oregon was founded in 1974 by Henry Richmond and Governor Tom McCall. For nearly 50 years 1000 Friends has worked with a mission to maintain Oregon’s unique and beautiful balance of working lands, wonderful communities, and wild places.

“Oregonians showed the entire nation in the 1970s that we do not wait for other people to solve our problems. We refuse to believe the trope that we must give away clean air, water, and irreplaceable natural working lands for economic growth. That kind of leadership and foresight has given my generation and the next a headstart in solving some of our biggest challenges. We must continue to find ways to build on this movement to continue to protect every person and our planet in every land use decision across the state.” – Sam Diaz, Executive Director, 1000 Friends of Oregon

A Call for the Future of our Movement: Remain Steadfast

Passing SB 100 required cooperation and resilience in the face of opposition. We asked Maggie what lessons and advice could be shared about the process of passing SB 100. She shared, “Meaningful change often involves a step-by-step approach, so it’s important to accept incremental progress. Approach challenges with flexibility, open-mindedness, and the ability to show up for one another and listen without bias. Above all else, remain steadfast.”

Today’s land use conversations are more important than ever. They are dynamic and multifaceted and address pressing issueslike zoning reform to create more housing options that increase choice and affordability, eradicating the racist legacy of redlining, reducing climate pollution with the creation of complete communities and supporting transit-oriented housing, and supporting public and economic health.

We thank Maggie for sharing her experiences and extend our gratitude to all who were instrumental in passing these pivotal laws as well as all who maintain efforts to support a healthy and livable Oregon.

OEC’s work to advance meaningful, lasting environmental progress is made possible by people across the state who care about safeguarding Oregon’s future. Make a difference. Become a member of OEC today

 

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