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Friday, April 29, 2005

Property rights, farm preservation top concerns

By MARK ENGLER Freelance Writer

Pollster takes statewide pulse

A statewide survey shows that among the “fundamental values” Oregonians hold dear, the most universally agreed upon sentiment is that government should respect private property rights.

The study, conducted to flesh out opinions held by Oregonians, also shows “protecting farmland for farming” is a close second – in fact, in a statistical dead-heat with property rights. They are followed closely by protecting the environment and preserving wildlife habitat.

The March telephone poll revealed that 67 percent of the respondents “firmly believe protecting the rights of the property owner is very important,” according to the study commissioned by the Oregon Business Association and the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies at Portland State University.

“This belief extends to a clear preference for protecting individual rights (60 percent) over a responsibility to the community (37 percent) and an affirmation that private rights (56 percent) are more valued than the public good (38 percent),” states the report, written by Tom Eiland of Conkling Fiskum & McCormick, a Portland-based communications and research firm.

Protecting farmland is declared “very important” by 64 percent of those polled, with 61 percent adding environmental protection to the list as well.

The study is available on the Internet at www.oba-online.org.

The polling data was made up of random interviews conducted with 500 adult Oregon residents. Sixty-four percent of those polled reported that they have lived in Oregon more than 20 years.

Lynn Lundquist, president of the Oregon Business Association, past president of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and former speaker of the state House of Representatives, said the poll shows in objective terms that Oregonians continue to support the basic thrust of Measure 37, which was approved during the November election by 61 percent of the votes cast.

Contrary to the claims of some activists who suggest otherwise, “people knew what they were voting on,” said Lundquist, whose organization was among those that advocated voting “no” on Measure 37 prior to the election.

“(Voters) may not have known the outcome, but they have real feelings. And when you ask some of these questions head-on, property rights win out,” said Lundquist, a farmer who has filed a Measure 37 claim to build homes on property he owns in Crook County. For more on this story, see www.capitalpress.com.

A government decision on his claim is still pending, he said.

During the interviews, participants in the study were “read the ballot title used for Measure 37 but not told the issue was considered in the November 2004 general election,” according to the report. Measure 37’s ballot title stated, “Governments must pay owners, or forgo enforcement, when certain land use restrictions reduce property value.”

The responses tabulated by Eiland showed 54 percent of those polled still agree with the ballot title, with 39 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided.

“Support for the measure is strongest among Deschutes County residents (71 percent), Republicans (66 percent), residents in areas transitioning from rural to suburban (65 percent), Independents (63 percent), residents in the East (62 percent) and Southwest (61 percent) counties. The only groups to oppose the measure are Democrats (51 percent) and residents in urban areas (50 percent),” according to the study report.

“These results are similar to those found in surveys conducted during the 2004 campaign and – when undecideds are added to supporters – almost identical to the actual election results,” the report notes.

The report suggests that although typically “undecided voters take the least risky path and vote to maintain the status quo by voting no,” Measure 37’s ballot title was worded in such a way that it did not “appear to advocate change but suggests the action will maintain the rights of landowners, a fundamental value among Oregonians.

“It appears that those undecided about the measure ended up voting ‘yes’ at the election,” according to the report.

The poll had a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

Some ambiguities also appeared in the poll.

For example, Oregonians were evenly divided when asked whether land-use laws are “too strict” or “about right.” Significantly fewer said laws are “not strict enough.” Twenty-nine percent said they believe landowners are “treated fairly” by local governments, and 35 percent said they are not.

On the issue of “livability,” 37 percent said their communities have improved, 29 percent said “stayed the same,” and 30 percent said “gotten worse.”

The study found that, on the whole, while “Oregonians value property and individual rights,” they do not dislike land-use planning, and would not instead prefer allowing development to occur in the absence of government controls.

“By an overwhelming margin of 69 percent to 25 percent, Oregonians believe growth management has made the state a more desirable place to live,” the report states.

Also: “By nearly a three-to-one margin, Oregonians value protecting land for future needs (70 percent) over using land now as needed for homes and business (25 percent).”

The study also suggests tension exists over whether state and local governments should compensate property owners when rights are taken away, or instead grant regulatory waivers. Altering land-use policies and “updating Oregon’s land-use system to accommodate population growth and changing economic conditions” was supported by 79 percent of the respondents.

Tweaking regulations “to allow property owners to build residential dwellings on farmland for personal or family use” was considered “appropriate” by 73 percent of those polled. Yet 55 percent agreed that compensating landowners for reduced property was more desirable than waiving regulations.

Finally, the report shows that, overall, state residents “are in a pessimistic mood,” with 47 percent indicating they believe “the state is on the wrong track” and 38 percent that it “is headed in the right direction.”

“Almost all demographic groups are pessimistic, except those who have lived in Oregon 15 years or less (50 percent right direction) and residents of urban areas (47 percent),” the report states.





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