Tuesday, October 2, 2007
The wake of Oregon’s Measure 37 in 2004, which enabled many property owners to challenge the state’s famously restrictive land use laws, was bound to include calls to stop new suburban sprawl in certain areas. Interestingly, the group that is leading a push for an amendment this year is winegrowers. Here’s an official state document concerning proposed Measure 49. Among other things in the long and complicated ballot measure is a restriction that subdivisions would not be permitted on “high-value farmland” (which has its own long and complicated definition). Regardless of whether one supported or opposed Measure 37, the proposed new law would, in my view, impose an unwelcome favoritism for one certain type of land use –- wine-growing –- over others.
The Oregonian newspaper opined this week in favor of the proposed restriction to help vineyards. Without more controls, it argued, development would “jeopardize thousands of acres of potential vineyard land [that wine growers] need for expansion.” Understand this: Law would be imposing restrictions on land use because of an expectation that one kind of business –- wine-growing –- might want to buy the land in the future. Is this the proper rule of government?
A prominent argument in favor of the measure is that the wine business is of growing economic importance to Oregon. But do we trust government, as opposed to the forces of the free market, to make decisions as what kinds of land use are the most economically valuable? Some growers argue that wine tourism will suffer if developments simply are allowed nearby. Is this what government is for –- to foster wine tourism (which tends to be engaged in by wealthier people, of course) over factories and stores that give jobs to lower-income people? Why wine-growers and not turnip farmers? Which group is more likely to be able to run a well-funded ballot campaign?