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Since 1973, when the Oregon Legislature passed a historic land-use planning law, this state has been heralded for its innovative efforts to preserve forest and farmland and its requirement that every city and county decide where its future dwellings and businesses should go.


Earlier this month, the 2016 Legislature took an important — and somewhat controversial — step to ensure that the process set up more than four decades ago is not undermined by voters in individual cities.

Senate Bill 1573 was part of a package of housing measures. We applaud Gov. Kate Brown for signing that bill.

The bill, one of the few in the recent legislative session to draw bipartisan support — and opposition — would prevent residents of urban and suburban communities from blocking annexation with a popular vote. It can be used only if several conditions are met: Agreement by 100 percent of the landowners involved; at least one lot must abut current city limits or a right of way; and the annexation must comply with the city comprehensive land-use plan and other ordinances.

The democratic process should never be thwarted without good reason. Because of that principle, both the League of Oregon Cities and the League of Women Voters of Oregon opposed the bill.

We agree that voters should be able to have a say in what happens in their cities, but giving them veto power over annexation plans throws the whole state land-use system into jeopardy.

That’s because a key provision of the state law is that metropolitan areas must establish urban growth boundaries to accommodate 20 years of growth.

That contentious process, which includes local elected officials, generally leaves everyone a bit unhappy with the resulting urban growth boundary. Some communities that would like to expand onto farm or forest land are told they can’t. And some areas, which may not want to grow, are earmarked for growth anyway, because of their proximity to jobs, transit or other urban services.

Residents in several cities where growth is controversial, including Sherwood and Oregon City, require a public vote on all annexations. In practice, such votes almost always nix annexations.

The result is an urban growth boundary that looks great on a map, but doesn’t work in practice.

Sherwood recently offered a case in point and, in fact, the impetus for the bill.

The Washington County suburb has undeveloped land just outside the city limits that has been designated as appropriate for housing. A developer has asked the city to annex 102 acres south of the city. But three times, most recently late last year, residents have rejected the annexation.

We suspect that Sherwood residents aren’t that different from other Oregonians who, in a 2013 survey, showed overwhelming support for the land-use laws that focused development within existing cities and towns.

But they would like some other cities and towns to accommodate that growth.

While that sentiment is understandable, it undermines what Oregon has been doing since 1973.

If the state is going to base regional land-use decisions on the inventory of available land, then it’s unacceptable to allow communities, through annexation votes, to decide that the suitable land is off-limits to development.

Even with approval of Senate Bill 1573, local residents will have a strong voice in planning their communities. They can help fashion the regular updates of their cities’ comprehensive plans, and they can vote for the city leaders and Metro councilors — who set the urban growth boundary for the Portland area — who most accurately reflect their views.

However, Oregon’s land-use planning system is designed to absorb a growing population — and hundreds of thousands of new residents are expected in the next 20 years. Gov. Brown did the right thing to sign Senate Bill 1573 into law and keep Oregon’s 43-year-old land-use planning system intact.

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