UPDATE: This post was originally titled “Measure 21,” but  I was incorrectly referring to the petition number. The actual ballot initiative is Measure 63.

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Surprise! Oregon has a new property rights ballot measure!

bill murrayNo, it’s not Groundhog Day. It’s just politics-as-usual in one of my favorite states. This year, it’ll be Measure 21.

It’s a bad idea, but it’s fairly small potatoes compared to the big “pay-or-waive” initiatives that toured the West recently—and which mostly went down in flames. Basically, Measure 21would make building permits unnecessary, as long as the value of the improvement is less than $35,000 (with that figure adjusted for inflation in the future).

On my reading, the measure doesn’t appear to invalidate building codes or zoning regulations. It does, however, raise an interesting procedural question. Because building permits are often the primary enforcement mechanism for maintaining standards, making permits unnecessary seems like a sneak attack on the law. In fact, Measure 21 appears to be another instance of a bad neighbor law: one that puts communities on the defensive against individuals who might like to elide the rules.

  • And as you might suspect, there are a few loopholes within the even larger loophole that is Measure 21. Here are two. 1) For non-habitation farm buildings, the language specifies that the “cost” (not the “value”) must be below $35,000. That leaves open making much more valuable improvements without permits, just so long as direct expenditures are modest. 2) Because the $35k figure is for each calendar year, you could do work in back-to-back years and make a $70,000 improvement without permits, even on a residential property. There’s other stuff to nitpick too, but I’ll spare you fo rnow.

    But it’s hard to say exactly what might happen. There’s not much meat on the bones in the ballot measure. (Read the full thing here.) So I’m tempted not to pay too much attention to Measure 21. The language is sloppy, the intent seems whacky, and the consequences potentially preverse. (Sounds familiar, right?)

    But then again, Oregon’s the bellwether for this sort of thing. And I have a hunch that if Measure 21 passes in Oregon, you’ll see a copycat version in your neighborhood soon.