Fingerprints on the Landscape
The Law that Enabled the Print Makers
A remarkable thing happened in Oregon in 1973. At the urging of then-Governor Tom McCall and state Senator Hector Macpherson, both Republicans, the Oregon Legislature enacted the bi-partisan Senate Bill 100, establishing the nation’s first statewide land use planning program (1973). Governments and professional planning organizations were wonder-struck. No state had undertaken such a task. A few have tried in the fifty years since Senate Bill 100. None has so profoundly changed development patterns in their states as Oregon has done.
The timing was exquisite. It could not have happened earlier: before that date cities and counties across the nation were responsible for planning and zoning. It was unthinkable that state government would require local governments to adopt new plans that would have to comply with substantive and procedural state standards. It could not have happened afterwards: soon after the state began to implement the new program, bi-partisan support dissolved. The program became partisan and remains in peril.
Soon after the wrenching shift of the balance of land use planning power between state and local government, academics were at work trying to determine how it could happen. Many factors were cited: Oregon was a small state without powerful development interests. Homebuilders, influential in most other states, were not organized in Oregon. (The typical Oregon builder built only five homes a year.) That changed over time in interesting ways discussed below. Nearly every study, however, attributed a large share of credit for the success of the land use program to a small nonprofit organization named 1000 Friends of Oregon.
Three men were responsible for 1000 Friends’s early successes in shaping Oregon’s land use program. Two of them – Henry Richmond and Bob Stacey – passed away in 2022. I was the third. I can attest to their magnificent contributions to the legacy of the Oregon way of growth.
Henry Richmond knew Oregon well. His father Russ Richmond had been a senior employee at the Bonneville Power Administration at the peak of its power in the Northwest. The senior Richmond rubbed shoulders with Senators Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson of Washington and Mark Hatfield of Oregon, among the most senior and influential members of the U.S. Senate. The younger Richmond sat at the knees of these leaders.
Inspired by rabble-rouser Ralph Nader, Richmond co-founded the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) with friends fresh out of law school. He became one of its staff attorneys. Eager beaver OSPIRG soon trained its spotlight and its volunteer law students on state agencies thought to be underperforming. University of Oregon students Bob Stacey and Dick Benner were enlisted. Under Richmond’s tutelage, Stacey took on the then Division of State Lands. Benner investigated the new Oregon Coastal Conservation and Development Commission for conformance to its statutory charge. Following summer internships with OSPIRG, they published reports finding misfeasance and weak performance. The reports resulted in significant agency improvements.
The passage of Senate Bill 100, in which Richmond played an unheralded role, led directly to the founding of 1000 Friends in 1974. Using his connections, he enlisted the support of term-limited Governor Tom McCall to persuade prominent and powerful Oregonians, such as Glenn Jackson of Pacific Power & Light and developer John Gray (Salishan Lodge and Skamania Lodge), to Friends’ Advisory Board. Instantly, 1000 Friends became a player and a darling of state media. Because national attention was focused on Oregon’s new law, media across the country reported on events in far-away Oregon.
Richmond opened an office in a rented house on Southeast Belmont Street in Portland, with two phones and a part-time secretary. He went to court almost immediately, contending that county commissions were authorizing development on farmland in violation of the new land use laws. He courted Stacey and Benner to serve as staff attorneys, forming the lawslinging Three Amigos, wet-behind-the-ears lawyers but brimming with enthusiasm. It was 1975 and the new Land Conservation & Development Commission had just adopted the statewide goals, the measuring sticks for new city and county comprehensive plans.
Benner met Stacey in law school in Eugene in 1972. Benner was fresh out of the Navy, an east coast transplant. Stacey was a Portland native and recent Reed College grad ready to change the world. Benner had seen a bit more of the world than Stacey, but he found Stacey’s purposeful determination contagious. They took some law courses together and became friends.
Stacey and Benner used their new tools in their first term of law school. Lane County was considering a regional shopping mall across the river from downtown Eugene. Bob understood instinctively the mall’s threat to Eugene’s center: chain stores at the mall, with unlimited parking, would bleed sales from the locally owned shops. Benner had to think it through. He should have grasped what Stacey understood; he’d spent the summer of 1966 in Paris, which had no malls and no suburbs.
The county rejected their appeal. Almost immediately, Valley River Center, as anticipated, began to drain customers from downtown to the mall. Fifty years later Eugene has not recovered; the mall and its spinoffs shifted development momentum across the river.
The Valley River Center loss left the two lawslingers restless, with two years of law school still ahead. Independently, they learned about OSPIRG and made inquiries. The organization sent Staff Attorney Henry Richmond to interview them and tantalize them with challenging projects. They found the projects more interesting than trusts and estates. They didn’t know it at the time, but a die had been cast.
Stacey and Benner shared more than a sense of purpose. They also shared a love of the Oregon country and, separately but simultaneously, turned their skills toward protecting Oregon from the sprawling development infecting other states. Benner had lived in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia and Florida, and was familiar with the post-WW II sprawl phenomenon.
Richmond’s work ethic became a 1000 Friends trademark. It was an adaptation of Sierra Club’s Brock Evans’ modus operandi: endless pressure applied endlessly. Richmond’s corollary was a Malcolm Gladwell prescription, in Tipping Point: since one cannot always determine which action wins the game, try everything. He was, at times, a street fighter, a land use revolutionary in tweed and a repp necktie. Other times he served as conciliator among interest groups. He was always a visionary, the most perceptive participant during the formative years of the land use program.
Stacey and Benner adopted Richmond’s approach to work. All three played full-court press, all game, every game. No doubt they jeopardized their marriages on their tear through the halls of government.
The first challenge was consideration by the Land Conservation & Development Commission (LCDC) of proposed goals for the Oregon coast. The coast had been Benner’s beat from the beginning (Fall, 1975). Richmond made the assignment, based largely on Benner’s obsessive citations to him from a book he’d read: Life and Death of a Salt Marsh by John and Mildred Teal. A person so devoted to salt marshes seemed a perfect fit for the task. Benner traveled every month from Eugene or Portland to Florence to attend meetings of the Oregon Coastal Conservation & Development Commission (OCCDC). He monitored and, ultimately influenced the commission’s coastal plan. But he found it still weak, hobbled by a too prominent role for ports and local governments in policy-making.
As required by law, OCCDC sent its goals for the coast to the LCDC – established by Senate Bill 100 – at the end of 1975. New legislation terminated the OCCDC; one land use commission was enough. LCDC held hearings around the state on the coastal goals. 1000 Friends attended and testified at every hearing, arguing for firmer and more specific language. Recommendations advocated by Stacey and Benner were received favorably by LCDC, especially their admonitions about estuaries and coastal shorelines.
The next item on Richmond’s agenda was one of genius. Two of the statewide planning goals were intended to protect agricultural land. Goal 3 explicitly requires counties to protect their farmland. Goal 14 implicitly requires cities and counties to protect farmland by establishing “urban growth boundaries” (UGBs) around Oregon cities. 1000 Friends understood establishment and expansion of UGBs to accommodate a growing population could be reduced if more housing units could be accommodated on a given amount of land.
The brainstorm Richmond had was to highlight a statewide goal that lay dormant: Goal 10, Housing. Raising the profile of affordable housing and Goal 10 not only pressed local governments to revise their zoning to allow more than detached single-family dwellings. Homebuilders and the state homebuilders association – perennial opponents of the statewide planning program – discovered they had a very significant stake in the land use program. 1000 Friends of Oregon and the Homebuilders became allies.
To cement the emerging alliance, Richmond persuaded the Homebuilders to undertake an analysis of the consequences of “up-zoning” for the number, types and cost of housing units. He hired Mark Greenfield as third staff attorney to lead the effort. Greenfield quickly became the expert on housing in Oregon and landed on the speakers’ circuit around the country. The jointly published housing study had a profound effect on the housing market and efficient use of land inside UGBs. Other states quickly emulated it.
From the beginning, Stacey – a very urban and urbane man – led 1000 Friends’ campaign to contain sprawl within UGBs. He plunged into the state’s most controversial UGB fight: that being considered by the spanking new Metropolitan Service District (MSD) for the Portland urbanized area. Land use planning was MSD’s principal responsibility under the voter-approved charter. From Gresham on the east to Hillsboro on the west, from Portland on the north to Wilsonville on the south, every city in the region wanted MSD to maximize its share of the forecasted 20 years’s growth, and lots of land to accommodate it. When MSD released its first draft UGB and sent it to LCDC, it was gigantic. The draft included many acres of excellent farmland.
Stacey had a two-pronged strategy to shrink MSD’s proposal. He highlighted the farmland that would be lost, enlisting farmers in Washington and Clackamas Counties and environmental organizations for support. And he presented studies that made the case that up-zoning, infill and redevelopment would reduce housing costs, make urban infrastructure, such as transportation, more efficient and cheaper, and re-shape cities to be more livable.
MSD’s politics (it was partly funded by local governments) did not incline it to pay much attention to the upstart nonprofit 1000 Friends and its bearded, long-haired staff attorney. MSD adopted the bloated UGB.
The state land use agency (Department of Land Conservation & Development) shied away, facing a regional government more powerful than it. 1000 Friends filed a lawsuit on state court. A couple of years later, the court concluded the UGB violated LCDC’s Goal 14 (Urbanization). MSD, now known as Metro, was back in the soup. Stacey won the battle and saved some farmland in the ultimate compromise.
Years later irony raised it hoary head. Stacey was elected to serve as a Metro Councillor in 2012, sharing responsibility for Metro’s UGB and development patterns within it. He was a leading member and later ran for the office of president of the council. By the narrowest of margins, he lost the race to Hillsboro Mayor Tom Hughes.
After his time at 1000 Friends, Stacey did a stint with his friend Earl Blumenauer, a Portland city commissioner. He appointed him Portland’s planning director. Five years later he followed Blumenauer, serving as Congressman for Oregon’s 3rd District, to Washington D.C.
Stacey longed to return to his city of choice. After a few years at prosperous Portland law firm Ball Janik, to earn a salary that would put his girls through their educations, he again felt the tug of public service. He was elected and re-elected to the Metro Council, where he served with distinction.
In his second term he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and began therapy. Sadly, the tumor outlasted the treatment. When his exceptional capabilities diminished, he felt he could no longer contribute, and he resigned. For the first time in his long run of public service, he was forced to give priority to his own needs.
Richmond remained 1000 Friends’ director for 19 years. During those years 1000 Friends persuaded the Oregon legislature and LCDC to make countless amendments to the land use statutes, state goals and state rules. The organization was in the trenches every day appealing, if not persuading, cities and counties to follow the law.
It seemed, for a while, that the land use program was part of the fiber of Oregon’s environmental culture, not to be disturbed. Not for long; vulnerability loomed, especially at the statewide ballot box.
Opponents of the land use program – knowing they had no chance to convince the Legislature to repeal SB 100 – latched onto the “initiative” process in the Oregon Constitution. Gather the requisite number of voter signatures and you could put a measure you yourself composed on the May or November ballot for a statewide vote. 1000 Friends recognized the peril of this unpredictable weapon.
The first effort, in 1976, was soundly trumped, 57 percent against repeal. Repealers tried again in 1978 and 1982, failing both times. Then opponents tacked: instead of trying to repeal the program, they aimed to require financial compensation if regulations reduced the value of land. Such a measure passed in 2000, beginning a series of statewide votes that settled on limited rights to build homes where allowed before regulations were imposed. Richmond played a leading role on each of these measures, fighting to defeat them or passing a less harmful substitute.
Richmond departed 1000 Friends in 1994 and established the American Land Institute. He relied upon his many contacts at foundations around the country to underwrite particular projects. A noteworthy project was to examine the effects of the special taxation in the Oregon tax code of land in farm use. He defended its use and made recommendations to improve it. The reforms that followed were essential in sustaining favorable treatment of agricultural lands.
Richmond retired to his family’s hazelnuts farms in Yamhill and Polk Counties. In fact, he was only semi-retired. He could not give up his activism, albeit practiced from the sidelines. Only his death quieted his voice.
Has the effort made a difference on the landscape?
“Things Look Different Here.” So declared the slogan of the Oregon Tourism office (now Travel Oregon) broadcast across the country in newspapers and glossy travel magazines in the late 1980s. It appeared in the New Yorker and media across the country. In fact, Oregon was beginning to look different from other states. Travel other states and you can’t miss the Oregon difference: the invisible urban growth boundary: farms on one side, compact cities on the other. Imagine what the incomparable Hood River Valley would look like today had it had the misfortune of being located in California! Instead of debasing to hobby farms and exurban sprawl, the county retains about the same number of acres in fruit trees as it had in 1975.
One Era Ends, Another Takes its Place
The passing of Stacey and Richmond suggest the end of an era. A new generation of torch-bearers has emerged. And new challenges have taken the place of those that faced Stacey and Richmond. They worked to stem the loss of farmland and to stop sprawl inside urban growth boundaries. The new era faces the program with an existential challenge: a changing climate.
Fortunately, the very policies and measures embedded in the land use program decades ago to protect farmland and promote urban containment are the same that would be promoted by experts to combat climate change.
The “2040 Growth Concept” implemented for the 24 cities and urban portions of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas Counties is the best exemplar of these policies and measures. The Growth Concept calls for concentration of development in the central city of Portland and the centers of the other cities in the region.
The Concept then does something fundamental and essential to reduce emissions. It makes the “land use/transportation connection.” According to the Oregon Department of Energy’s 2020 Biennial Energy Report, transportation is the largest contributor to global warming in Oregon, comprising about some 40% of Oregon’s climate emissions. The Concept promotes high density development along transit corridors – particularly the fixed transit stations of the light rail system. Building more dwelling units near transit fills the fare box and makes transit more efficient, persuading more people to leave their cars at home. The Growth Concept also devotes significant energy and investments to non-transit alternatives to auto travel: walking, biking and other emission-free modes.
More can be done. Perhaps the first thing to do is education. The cause and effect link between development patterns and emissions – and air quality – is poorly understood or appreciated. There are compelling national studies that connect Metro-style development patterns with significantly cleaner air. That translates readily into lower emissions. Cleaner air is closer to people’s daily lives than climate change. Education efforts should lead with air quality and append a climate change tagline.
The policy arena has not been fully tapped. State and local building codes can be the vectors of important measures. For example, codes could require every apartment or condo over a certain minimum size to install solar panels and charging stations for electric vehicles. The state could subsidize residential development that adopts “passive house” construction techniques, which are proven to reduce heating and cooling costs by 90 percent. Governments at every level could supercharge the actualization of the land use/transportation connection.
Were Stacey and Richmond still with us, they would be in the vanguard.
Richard Benner served in the Office of Metro Attorney 2001-12 advising Metro on growth management. From 1991 to 2001 he was Director of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, managing the statewide land use planning program. He was Executive Director of the Columbia River Gorge Commission during the time it developed a management plan for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. He spent 12 years as staff attorney with 1000 Friends of Oregon. His recently published book, Into the Wind: Tales and Poetry of the Memaloose Hills, is available in Oregon at Klindt’s Booksellers & Stationers in The Dalles, Waucoma Bookstore in Hood River (re-opening February 3, 2023), Brenna’s Mosier Market in Mosier, and at Broadway Books and the Audubon Nature Store in Portland.
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