Measure 49 has been billed as a cure for the excesses of Measure 37, but opponents fear it will be a plague for property rights advocates.

Measure 49 has been billed as a cure for the excesses of Measure 37, but opponents fear it will be a plague for property rights advocates.

"It's a scare tactic — that's what it is," said Bill Meeker.

The 81-year-old Central Point resident said he's had an uphill battle over legal challenges to his Measure 37 claim on a five-acre property he's owned for 50 years, and he believes Measure 49 will only worsen his plight.

Meeker's is one of almost 600 Measure 37 claims — representing about 60,000 acres — that have been filed in Jackson County.

Supporters say Measure 49 just modifies Measure 37, clarifying language and making the claims process clearer. It also answers the thorny legal question of whether a claim can be transferred from one property owner to the next.

Meeker doubts all claims about Measure 49, which goes before voters in the Nov. 6 election. Ballots went out Friday.

While detractors call Measure 49 a "wolf in sheep's clothing," supporters say the real culprit is Measure 37 itself.

"Measure 37 is the one that I would call a wolf in sheep's clothing," said Ellen Levine, who owns 25 acres in the Applegate.

As both sides exchange jibes, one of the architects of Measure 37 fears confusion over the ballot language could lead to the passage of Measure 49.

"The yes side is banking on people not believing either one of them," said Dave Hunnicutt, president of the property rights group Oregonians in Action.

He said voters may just review the ballot title and ignore the overwhelmingly technical language in the text of the measure.

Hunnicutt, like other detractors, claimed the ballot title was crafted by a legislative committee to mislead voters.

"It's the best ballot title that money can buy," he said.

The ballot title states the measure clarifies landowners' rights to build homes, extends rights to surviving spouses, limits large developments and protects farmlands, forestlands and groundwater supplies.

Levine said she doesn't think the legislative committee attempted to mislead anyone.

She said she watched the committee's proceedings and went to meetings to discuss Measure 49 and understands the compromises that went into the proposed legislation.

"I don't think it was hidden," she said. "I think it was pretty straightforward."

Levine said the language in the measure is complicated, but she said just about any piece of legislation including Measure 37 is more complicated than the average citizen can understand.

Levine said Measure 49 provides more clarity for the small landowner who wants limited development, and it also preserves the land-use laws that have set Oregon apart from other states.

She said it is also less confusing and less damaging than Measure 37.

"Measure 37 has destroyed what (former governor) Tom McCall has given this state," she said.

Meeker said he finds the language in Measure 49 more complicated and more open to interpretation than Measure 37.

"It's gobbledegook," he said.

He said the courts and the government have attempted to undermine Measure 37, and he suspects that Measure 49 will only make matters worse for property owners.

Meeker, 81, got approval for a Measure 37 claim to divide his five-acre parcel into three lots but is prevented from transferring his lots to a potential new owner, thanks to a court decision.

Now his property taxes have more than doubled, he said.

"We're worse off than we were before," said Meeker, who lives on the property with his 76-year-old wife, JoAnne, who is confined to a wheelchair.

Hunnicutt said Meeker's situation wouldn't improve under Measure 49.

"No, it raised the bar," he said. "It made it even more difficult for people who have filed claims."

Hunnicutt predicted Measure 49, if passed, would spawn similar property rights measures like 37 and will trigger lawsuits because of the way it was written.

"It'll have a lot of unintended consequences," he said. "It will be litigated immediately."

Property owners who file claims in a rural area will be allowed to go through an express approval process, but not those within an urban growth boundary, he said. "It's 'tough break, buddy,'" said Hunnicutt.

Shelly Strom, spokeswoman for Yes on 49, said the measure is designed specifically to help people like the Meekers.

The measure would allow the Meekers to sell off parcels without developing them first, which was a sticking point in the language of Measure 37, she said.

"Opponents are saying that under Measure 49 people would lose their property rights," she said. "That's not true."

Strom refuted Hunnicutt's claim that the ballot title is misleading. The ballot title survived a legal challenge in U.S. District Court on Sept. 9.

Some of the complexity of the text of Measure 49 is a result of problems in Measure 37 that had to be clarified, said Strom.

"It was written to address real problems, and so that's what it takes to make 37 work," she said.

Measure 49 also considers the impacts a Measure 37 claim has on surrounding property owners.

"Measure 37 happened in a way that ignores the rights of neighboring property owners," Strom said. "Measure 49 restores those balances and recognizes that neighbors have property rights as well."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.