Growing Oregon: The fight to create a plan to control growth

By Jeff Mapes (OPB)
July 22, 2022 5:05 a.m.

Last week, OPB launched a special project: Growing Oregon. It’s a deep dive into the history of Oregon’s unique approach to managing its land and the impact that growth system has on all of our lives, every single day.

OPB senior political reporter Jeff Mapes has spent more than a year reporting, writing and producing this podcast and web series, and we encourage you to read and listen to the entire thing. But we also know you’re busy. So for each installment, we’ll offer a boiled-down version designed to make you feel a little smarter about why Oregon is the way it is and, we hope, whet your appetite to go deeper.


This week: The fight to create a growth management system

Oregon was booming, and that scared people

Back in 1973, the dominant mood among Oregonians was a feeling that they were under invasion.

Farmers and environmentalists alike warned that the agricultural future of the Willamette Valley was under dire threat. Oregon’s population was booming, and places that had developed earlier offered an unpleasant glimpse at the future: Suburbs that stretched miles and miles outside cities, gobbling up farmland and open space.

Early suburban developments, most notably the giant Charbonneau project in Clackamas County, showed Oregon leaders what they wanted to avoid. We’re talking about massive housing projects built in places without adequate public services like roads and water and sewer lines — and on land still viable for farming or recreating. They also learned the hard way that Oregon lacked a system for regulating that kind of growth.

Tom McCall had a vision

Oregon Gov. Tom McCall was a Republican, but one that today’s GOP might not recognize.

Starting in the late 1960s, he made preserving Oregon’s quality of life – something he believed was tied directly to our land – his priority. He pushed for public access to beaches. Then he turned to land use.


With a coalition that included farmers, timber interests and environmentalists, he proposed establishing a framework for how Oregon would grow and how that growth would be regulated.

McCall left the details to his aides – and to Republican Sen. Hector Macpherson, a dairy farmer near Corvallis. They in turn called on a Teamsters union official named L.B. Day to help hammer out the details.

It was an unlikely collection of allies, but putting together a group of people with overlapping yet not entirely similar interests led to legislation that could actually pass: Senate Bill 100.

The bill that changed Oregon’s future

Senate Bill 100 established a statewide growth management system to guide future development in Oregon – with an eye toward protecting farmland and other open space.

The legislation created a new state bureaucracy to manage the system, overseen by a new commission – the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission.

As part of their work to get to something lawmakers could actually pass, the authors of Senate Bill 100 left a lot of the major decisions to this new commission.

The first was to establish goals that would guide planning.

Perhaps the most powerful goal established urban growth boundaries around every city in Oregon and the entire Portland metropolitan area. These invisible lines could be moved to accommodate population growth, but they were a strong check on urban sprawl.

The fights over Oregon’s new rules began immediately

In the first decade following the passage of Senate Bill 100, there were three attempts to pass ballot initiatives to dramatically weaken the new system. Each failed. The last, in 1982, drew dramatic opposition from former Gov. Tom McCall, who was then dying of cancer.

McCall had also lent his name to a new group, 1000 Friends of Oregon. It filed numerous lawsuits to strengthen the system. Founder Henry Richmond said he wanted to stop local governments from turning the law “into mush.” 1000 Friends played a big role in making the system powerful – too powerful in the view of critics.

Next week: Tom McCall pushed through Oregon’s unique system of growth controls. But it would take people with far less notoriety fighting much smaller battles to make sure the rules stuck.