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It's time for the governor to lead

Oregon Editors Say

Kulongoski should name a task force to find a property-rights compromise

The Oregonian

Here's what Gov. Ted Kulongoski should do in the wake of the landmark ruling invalidating property-rights Measure 37: He should decide, once and for all, that he's going to be the governor who resolves the property-rights conundrum for our state.

Reaching beyond the usual suspects, who've tried and failed in the past four years to make headway on property rights, Kulongoski should appoint a task force to draft a narrow compromise on Measure 37. He should give the group no more than three months to come up with a fairness safety valve for Oregon's land-use system and design an appeals process that's unbureaucratic, flexible and responsive, to tweak rules or compensate property owners who have a legitimate grievance or can prove they've been harmed by Oregon's land-use system.

Members of the task force can take testimony from all the usual players ' from Oregonians in Action to 1000 Friends of Oregon ' but, ideally, this task force would be composed of fresh faces. It needs to have both credibility and some independence. The compromise it reaches then can become the focus of a special legislative session in the spring of 2006.

It's true that, in the wake of the two successful property-rights initiatives, Measure 7 and Measure 37, state legislators tried to reach a compromise on property rights. Those bipartisan efforts ultimately bogged down or failed, after draining many hours of legislative time. Still, it was disappointing that legislative leaders' first reaction to the Measure 37 ruling was to shrink from their responsibility to deal with it. In effect, they said there's no point trying again.

To the contrary, this is the perfect moment to try again. Never have both sides stood to gain more from compromise than they do right now. Voters have twice demanded fairness in the land-use system. Whether this court ruling stands or falls, a battle of property-rights initiatives looms again in 2006, unless Kulongoski and the Oregon Legislature can come up with their own solution to the fairness quandary.

— Marion County Circuit Judge Mary James narrowed the terms of the debate when she found Measure 37 unconstitutional because it erodes government's legitimacy and it's unfair.

A government that pays people to obey governmental regulations is, in effect, constantly self-canceling. And there's no such thing as abstract fairness in a vacuum. Addressing the grievances of one set of Oregon property owners is fair only if you find a way to be fair to their neighbors, too. They're also property owners.

The ruling gives both legislators and the governor a legacy-making opportunity. By creating a fairness safety valve for Oregon's land-use system, they can safeguard the system, respond to voters and make a difference in Oregon history.