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Cities know best how to tackle climate issues

Oregon’s venerable statewide land-use planning system has long been admired for preserving farmland, protecting forest lands and other natural resources, and preventing sprawl by creating urban growth boundaries to limit the expansion of cities. But it also has been criticized, especially in Southern Oregon, for a one-size-fits-all approach to defining farmable land, among other things.

Now, in an attempt to address climate change through city planning rules, the state agency responsible for overseeing the system has overstepped its authority, imposing hundreds of pages of detailed rules cities are required to implement, regardless of differences in city circumstances. Not surprisingly, 13 cities, including Medford, along with Marion County have sued the state, asking that the rules be put on hold while cities work with the Department of Land Conservation and Development to revise the rules so they actually accomplish their stated goals.

When the Oregon Legislature failed to pass climate change legislation in 2020, Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order directing DLCD and other state agencies to draft administrative rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by creating “climate-friendly communities.”

The cities involved in the lawsuit say they support the concept, and are already taking steps in that direction, but the rules as drafted would actually have the opposite effect.

For instance, the rules would require cities to concentrate development in central cities, creating walkable neighborhoods and encouraging residents to use public transportation rather than driving cars. While that might work in large cities such as Portland, with extensive mass transit systems, it wouldn’t make sense in smaller cities such as Medford.

Medford officials argue that rules limiting parking would prompt developers to build new housing in smaller, outlying towns not subject to the new rules, meaning people living there but working in Medford would have to drive more, not less.

As another example of rules that don’t take local circumstances into effect, the city of Cornelius would be prohibited from requiring parking for any development within half a mile of a bus line. The entire city is within half a mile of a single bus line, so it could not require parking for any development anywhere in the city.

These are just a couple of examples of the danger of imposing rules from above affecting multiple cities without taking local concerns into account.

At a minimum, DLCD should go back to the drawing board and revise the rules, incorporating the cities’ input in the process. We all want climate-friendly neighborhoods, more housing opportunities and well-planned growth. Local governments know best how to accomplish those goals in their own communities.