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Voters in western states considering “property rights” initiatives on November 7 should learn from Oregon, say farmers, foresters, and other Oregonians whose livelihoods and communities are being threatened by irresponsible development made possible by Measure 37.

Scott Lay is the son of an elderly farming couple who have been trying to sell their 100-acre farm in Clackamas County, only to see the offer withdrawn when the buyer found out about a Measure 37 claim to build a gravel mine next to their property.

“I did vote for Measure 37,” said Lay. “But like a lot of people, I was not voting for what it has seemed to become.”

Jim and Sandy LeTourneux, a fourth-generation logging family in Oregon’s Coast Range, are concerned that a $53 million Measure 37 claim to build up to 848 homes on forestland will put their livelihood and assets at risk, especially because of the increased risk of fire.

“I’ve put a lifetime of work into putting in a timber resource,” said Jim. “Sandy and I could lose everything.”

Lay and the LeTourneuxs are among the Oregonians featured in “Property Wrongs,” a report released today by Seattle-based Sightline Institute that documents a growing backlash against Measure 37. It chronicles six stories of Oregon communities deeply affected by Measure 37-ranging from a suburban community in Marion County outside Salem to owners of a small resort at Newberry Crater National Volcanic Monument.

The report also examines the implications for Washington and other states considering similar initiatives this fall. Washington’s I-933, Idaho’s Proposition 2, Montana’s I-154, Arizona’s Proposition 207, and California’s Proposition 90 are all modeled after Measure 37’s “pay-or-waive” scheme. Like Measure 37, the 2006 initiatives require taxpayers to pay landowners when a community decides to restrict a certain type of land use, such as a mine or a subdivision on land zoned for farms. If taxpayers can’t afford to pay, the project is allowed to proceed, regardless of the wishes of neighbors or community members.

In Oregon, cash-strapped communities don’t have the resources to contest or pay Measure 37 claims, which numbered more than 2,200 as of August 2006, totaling well in excess of $5 billion. So communities are waiving the laws.

“Oregon residents are finding that Measure 37 is undermining the very rights that it claimed to protect, and neighbors are paying the price,” said Eric de Place, senior research associate at Sightline Institute. “And some of the initiatives may have worse consequences than Measure 37.”

“Property Wrongs” also includes a state-by-state comparison of the 2006 ballot measures; and a discussion of the coordinated national “Trojan Horse” strategy that initiative backers are using to confuse voters.

Sightline Institute is an independent, Seattle-based nonprofit research and communication center that tracks trends critical to the Pacific Northwest’s future.

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October 12, 2006