After two years of Measure 37, survey data and case studies reveal that many Oregonians oppose the measure. Sightline’s new, expanded report tells the stories of seven communities affected by Measure 37.
Here is one of the stories…
Gorham Blaine is not your typical fourth-generation Oregon pear farmer. As a young man he left the Hood River Valley for an education in Europe and on the East Coast, and for a career as a New York City banker. But he was lured back by the prospects of farming.
Blaine, who farms 220 acres of pears, is constantly considering the big picture about farming—a picture that, at least in this Oregon valley, could change dramatically because of Measure 37.
“I have the problem of looking at my valley and the entire industry and wondering where it’s heading,” Blaine says. “With Measure 37 claims spreading everywhere, I can see quite possibly the entire valley changing out of agriculture and into housing.”
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Housing developments are an attractive option for rural landowners near Hood River. With wide-open views of the north face of Mount Hood, quick access to skiing and world-class windsurfi ng, plus the hip microbreweries and shops of Hood River, the housing market is hot. And it doesn’t hurt that the valley is less than two hours by interstate from Portland.
In fact, three Measure 37 claims, totaling 260 acres, surround Blaine’s orchards in rural Pine Grove and Parkdale. All three claimants propose chopping up the valley’s sweeping farmland with big housing developments, some with lots as small as one acre.
“I’m not angry with what they’re doing, but it is sad because it is prime farmland,” he says.
Pine Grove, where Blaine farms 140 acres, has the highest concentration of Measure 37 claims in the Hood River Valley. He suspects that the Measure 37 claimants are looking for short-term money rather than at a long-term plan for the economic future of the area. Orchards, he says, are by nature long-term investments.
If the fruit-growing industry is erased, other related jobs will go too, like storage and packing facilities.
Oregon’s long-term vision to maintain agriculture and open space was the point of the land use laws in the first place, Blaine says. He believes in that vision.
“It is essential that we keep this kind of land for the future, because it is a resource for us,” he explains.
But his farmland is a resource that needs constant tending. Pear orchards generate noise during the growing and harvest seasons. From the giant helicopterlike fans that power on at 3 A.M. to protect the fruit from frost, to spraying, to the 100 or so farm workers that show up during the day to pick fruit, the pear orchard business is not likely to be compatible with a residential neighborhood. Blaine owns more than 100 acres that are adjacent to housing, and he already fields phone calls about the loud fans.
So the prospect of dealing with complaints that could be generated by hundreds of new houses does not make Blaine eager to reinvest in his farm.
He says that he does want to stay in the pear business. He wants to make his farm efficient and profitable. The Hood River Valley, which Blaine describes as having “fantastic volcanic soils” that drain well, is one of the premier pear-growing areas in the world. He hopes that Oregonians will see it as one of the state’s rich natural assets to preserve for future generations.
Blaine wants property owners to be treated fairly and he understands the need for landowners to have some flexibility on properties that are zoned for farm use.
“We should go back and figure out solutions that do make sense for people who owned their land prior to land use laws, to provide incentive to keep it in farming,” he said.
He says that in certain cases, the law should allow zoning changes for farmers, but only on a small portion of their properties. Still, Blaine believes that Oregon voters grossly misunderstood Measure 37 two years ago. And he thinks that if the law were up for a vote today, it would fail.
Restoring sensible land use laws would limit dramatic change in the traditional way of life in the Hood River Valley, Blaine thinks. And that would be a good thing for a place so full of long-term assets.
Read Sightline’s full report: Two Years of Measure 37: Oregon’s Property Wrongs
Watch the companion video produced by 1,000 Friends of Oregon:And Fairness For None