Property rights fight hits TV


The competing camps have launched TV ad campaigns to win over Oregon voters who will decide Nov. 6 whether to scale back a property compensation law they passed three years ago.

On the one side are backers of the rewrite, who are airing commercials featuring several farmers warning that the 2004 law opens large swaths of rural Oregon to unbridled development.

"It means thousands of houses right next to farms. It's a real mess," farmer Kathy Freeborn says in one of the TV spots.

Property rights activists have countered with an ad that portrays the rewrite as part of an effort by the Democratic-controlled Legislature to thwart the will of voters by canceling property rights that people gained under the 2004 law.

In the ad, the announcer criticizes the Legislature for "refusing to have public hearings" on the rewrite that will "allow the government to steal 95 percent of your property value without paying you a dime."

The 2004 law, known as Measure 37, requires governments to let people use their land however they could have when they bought it or pay for lost value.

But critics say the 2004 law has opened the door to large-scale housing developments on farm and forest land.

Those concerns prompted the 2007 Legislature to draw up Measure 49, the proposed rewrite that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot. It would allow some property owners to build up to three homes but curb larger subdivisions and industrial development allowed under the 2004 law.

Oregonians in Action, the group that sponsored the 2004 law and is running the ads against Measure 49, contends that the way it's written would wipe out current claims by landowners for compensation or a waiver of land-use regulations, make claimants start over and result in few being approved.

Dave Hunnicutt, the group's executive director, said lawmakers failed to hold adequate hearings on the proposal and wrote a deceptive ballot title that soft-pedals Measure 49's new restrictions on development.

"We want voters to understand that this measure is the result of a partisan, political process," Hunnicutt said in an interview Thursday.

But Liz Kaufman of the Yes on Measure 49 committee said Hunnicutt and other opponents are raising bogus arguments in their TV ad.

The proposed rewrite is clearer than Measure 37, she said, and gives landowners who qualify a guarantee of being able to build several houses and sell them.

Kaufman also rejected as "utterly absurd" the group's assertions about a lack of public input into the measure. The Legislature's land use committee conducted nine public hearings at which more than 350 Oregonians testified on the issue, she said.

"They can cry all they want about the process, but this is really about limiting the large developments allowed under Measure 37," Kaufman said. "Our ads raise a simple question for voters: Do you still want to protect farmland or not?"

Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts said he thinks both ad campaigns will have a certain amount of appeal to Oregonians. Many people want to preserve Oregon's open spaces, he said, but many also feel that landowners should be compensated when regulations reduce property value.

"Both messages resonate with voters," Hibbitts said. "I think it's going to come down to which side spends the most money to run the most ads. In any advertising campaign, repetition is the key."

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