Guest Columnists 

Growth and the legacy of Tom McCall


Last updated 4/19/2022 at Noon

The impacts of population growth on our economic and social fabric have been at the heart of the Oregon story for well over two centuries. Residents of Sisters Country can help influence the next 20 years of that story by participating in the May 12, Citizens 4 Community public forum about growth in our community.

Few communities have been as profoundly affected by population growth and change as the tribal nations. White intruders disrupted traditional tribal cultures, economies, and governments and, with some exceptions, appropriated most of the land for the use of farmers, ranchers, and later, city dwellers, following patterns of occupancy known today.

The impacts of growth have dominated the region ever since. From statehood forward, many Oregonians have been frequent cheerleaders for uncontrolled growth. However, beginning in 1899, when the Legislature first asserted state control over the use of Oregon’s beaches, residents have used law to regulate the use of land and to guide growth and development in our state.

Oregon’s modern framework for regulating growth was launched by Governor Tom McCall in 1973. McCall declared then his determination to “keep Oregon lovable and to make it even more livable.” Oregonians, he asserted, needed a system to protect state lands and waters from “sagebrush subdivisions, coastal condominia, and the ravenous rampages of suburbia.” The Legislature agreed with his assessment, adopting his vision into law as “SB 100.” Next year Oregonians will mark 50 years of McCall’s statewide land use planning scheme for Oregon.

Land use regulation had existed at the local level in Oregon since the 1920s and nationwide since the early 1900s. SB 100’s landmark change was to begin measuring local zoning and planning decisions against statewide criteria — dubbed “land use goals” in the new law. Today, 19 goals from “Citizen Involvement” to “Ocean Resources” define the State’s expectations of local land use plans. The State Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) administers the state planning process.

“Urban Growth Boundaries” (UGBs) have become an important element in the statewide growth planning process. Each city draws a line on a map to represent the footprint of anticipated future development. Land within the line is eligible for annexation into the city. Between 2016 and 2021, DLCD evaluated 37 UGB expansions proposed by cities — approving 35 of them.

McCall’s vision requires cities and counties to publicly weigh the benefits and costs of growth, and then to publish detailed plans about the choices they make.

Important, far-ranging questions must be asked when cities and counties plan for future growth: What’s the plan for providing fire protection, water, electrical, and sewer services to a growing population? Will “sagebrush subdivisions” be authorized outside established communities? Will our roads be choked by growth-driven traffic to an extent that farm products can’t be efficiently shipped to distant markets or current residents cannot easily reach their homes, schools, or businesses? Will there be enough developable land to create low-cost housing for workers we’ll need to provide goods and services to a growing population?

Answering these questions is no easier today than it has ever been. The C4C discussion gives local residents a chance to consider the options — with the overarching objective of maintaining Sisters’ unique qualities. Thanks to Tom McCall, Oregon’s land use planning system is a model for the nation: each resident has a say in answering questions about growth — too much? Or not enough? To help find your voice on these issues, please join the community forum on “Growth in Sisters” and let your opinion be heard at Sisters Fire Hall, Thursday evening, May 12.


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