RPS is a threat to open government
Exactly what local problem does the much-ballyhooed Bear Creek Valley Regional Problem Solving process supposedly solve? And how does it do it?
Well, the so-called problem is one of land use.
That is a hot topic in Oregon, of course, by reason of our strict statewide rules governing the subdivision and development of land. The hallmark of these rules is the concept of an Urban Growth Boundary, which is something rarely used in the rest of these United States. But in Oregon, sprawl has been kept largely at bay, thanks to our UGB laws, and Oregon's best farmlands are still growing crops instead of lawns and asphalt.
The Bear Creek Valley Regional Problem Solving process, or RPS, is simply a way to circumvent some of these strict land-use laws by allowing cities and counties in the same region to transfer between them rights to expand their UGBs such that a no-growth city can transfer growth rights to other cities that are not no-growth. Sort of a variation on a "cap and trade" scheme.
Of course, in this valley, such an arrangement, as a practical matter, is mainly a means by which no-growth Ashland can give away its otherwise legal right to grow and to expand its UGB to the cities of Central Point, Medford and Phoenix. That means a greater likelihood for subdivision and development of farmland and forest reserves in those areas now restricted from development of those land resources.
That is not necessarily a bad thing or a good thing. What is important is that we recognize this process for what it truly is.
So, the local RPS process is actually a simple transfer of land development rights out of Ashland to other parts of our valley. And let's be clear about the effects of such a transfer: Ashland will not, for many years, even with a change there in city politics or of city government, legally be allowed to create in the future additional urban reserves, because it will have transferred under the pending RPS proposal its right to do so. The other effect is to allow farmland to be developed in Central Point and Phoenix.
But the currently proposed RPS agreement that has been strongly touted by the Rogue Valley Council of Governments does more than just transfer development rights out of Ashland to allow for the development of farmland. It binds every city and the county to the deal as soon as they sign on, without first fully vetting the agreement by public hearings. The RPS proposal also restricts post-signing amendments as a practical matter, by preventing any amendments to the proposal without unanimous agreement by all seven cities in the region and the county. This is hardly a collaborative approach to government; it is a my-way-or-the-highway approach to government.
Indeed, this sort of take-it-or-leave-it approach to an RPS proposal for the entire region, before the county and any city has held public hearings on this far-ranging and long-term impact proposal, is an affront to democracy and certainly ignores the commandment set forth as Goal One in our statewide land-use law: That Public Participation in Land Use Decisions Shall Be Paramount and Unfettered.
By railroading through every city council in the region an agreement that says every city is formally bound to the deal at the very time they sign up and that no amendments are possible without unanimity, the RPS policy committee has effectively cut the public out of the process. Those who have criticized the city of Jacksonville for not being a team player by its refusal to agree to this deal before the public input can be taken and considered are actually criticizing Jacksonville's insistence that the public be listened to.
One of President Obama's first acts once assuming power was to issue an executive order making the Freedom of Information Act more effective for journalists and citizens to force the light of day on the processes of government.
In this new era, perhaps locally we can also begin to open up our governmental processes, by demanding that RVCOG and its RPS planners first take public input and allow for a vetting of their region-wide, literally landscape-changing proposal, before forcing Rogue Valley cities to become bound prior to citizen input and before public hearings are conducted in each city and by the county on this far-reaching proposal.
Democracy and open government demand nothing less.
Condé Cox of Jacksonville is a retired attorney who has been active in clean air issues. He also writes columns about wine for several publications in the Northwest. His progressive commentary appears in the Mail Tribune on the first Sunday of the month.