Think Out Loud

A group of Oregon cities are planning to sue the state over wide-ranging climate rules

By Gemma DiCarlo (OPB)
Nov. 10, 2022 12:28 a.m.

Broadcast: Thursday, Nov. 10

Electric vehicles line up at Downtown Portland's Electric Ave. The space offers EV drivers fast chargers for many different charging ports.

Electric vehicles line up at Downtown Portland's Electric Ave. Oregon's Climate-Friendly and Equitable Communities Rules require EV charging infrastructure in some new housing developments in several Oregon cities.

Monica Samayoa / OPB


Oregon’s Land Conservation and Development Commission adopted a new set of rules this summer that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state’s eight largest metro areas. The Climate-Friendly and Equitable Communities rules affect several aspects of land use, transportation and development. Among other things, they require cities to remove certain parking mandates, provide more electric vehicle infrastructure, and designate mixed-use “climate-friendly areas” where residents can meet their daily needs without using a car.

Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development spent nearly two years crafting the rules with city representatives. However, several cities aren’t pleased with the results — they say the rules are too prescriptive and will be too costly to implement. A group of cities is even planning a lawsuit to get the state to pause the rules and renegotiate.

Joining us to talk about the dispute is Kevin Young, a senior urban planner with the department. We’ll also hear from Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin and League of Oregon Cities lobbyist Ariel Nelson about how the rules are affecting some Oregon cities.

The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. In July, Oregon adopted a new set of rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state’s eight largest metro areas. The rules require cities to remove certain parking mandates, provide more electric vehicle infrastructure and designate so called climate-friendly areas, where residents can meet their daily needs without using a car.

Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development spent nearly two years crafting the rules with some input from city representatives, but several cities are not pleased with the results. They say the final rules are too expensive, too top down and too one size fits all. And now 10 cities say they plan to sue. In a few minutes, we’re going to hear more about why those cities are upset, but we start with Kevin Young. He is a Senior Urban Planner with Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development. Welcome to Think Out Loud.

Kevin Young: Thank you, Dave. Happy to be with you this afternoon.

Miller: Happy to have you on. I gave a really short version of what these rules mean, but can you give us a slightly fuller overview, what do these rules require?

Young: Thank you for the question. The rules are a package of actions designed to reduce climate pollution from light duty vehicles, to meet the climate pollution reduction goal adopted by the Legislature in 2007. Many may know that the transportation sector is the largest source of climate pollution statewide. As you mentioned, the rules applied to cities and counties in Oregon’s eight largest metropolitan regions. Those are Albany, Bend, Corvallis, Eugene, Grants Pass, Medford, Salem and Portland. And the rules apply to land use and transportation plans and regulations in cities and counties.

Folks who may not be familiar with the Department of Land Conservation and Development, our role is to work with cities and counties to implement the 19 statewide planning goals, in comprehensive plans and land use decisions. So that’s kind of what we do as an agency.

The eight regions contain 60% of Oregon’s population and 70% of Oregon’s jobs. And I think it’s important to note that the rules apply differently in the Portland metropolitan region than they do elsewhere in the other seven regions. And the reason for that is that the region is further along in implementing the Climate Smart Communities Program and the 2040 Growth Concept. So Portland Metro took action, developed a plan and is now implementing that plan and is making good progress.

Miller: So what are examples of, say, what Salem-Keizer area will need to do as a result of these rules?

Young: Essentially there are seven pieces to the rules. Salem-Keizer and Eugene-Springfield, as the next largest regions, will need to develop and adopt a regional plan to reduce climate pollution, and we’re supporting that work, currently, we’re getting started there. On the transportation side, greater focus on building high quality pedestrian bike and transit infrastructure, evaluating transportation system performance with more than one measure. Traditionally it’s preventing congestion and moving as many cars through intersections as possible. So we’re expanding the considerations there. Prioritizing transportation projects based on climate and equity goals.

And then on the land use side, as you mentioned, the cities within those seven regions outside of the Portland Metro will be adopting zoning regulations for walkable mixed-use areas. They’re known as climate-friendly areas where people will be able to live, work and meet other daily needs with fewer or shorter vehicle trips.

Miller: When you say zoning changes, does that mean that cities in these seven areas, that they need to actually require that these climate-friendly mixed-use areas are built, or just change their zoning so that building those communities, those new developments, is possible?

Young: Great question, thanks for the question, Dave. It’s the latter. Cities can’t require development to happen, nor can we require development to happen. So the requirements basically enable certain mixed-use walkable developments to occur based on zoning regulations. We’re requiring the cities to develop those regulations.

Miller: As I’m sure you know, some of the pushback has been that there wasn’t enough meaningful community engagement during the two years of rule making. How would you describe the process?

Young: It was pretty robust, I will say. Of course the pandemic, complicated things for everyone. In some ways it actually helped us to hold more meetings. It was a two year effort that began with the formation of our rulemaking advisory committee. It was the largest and most diverse group our department has ever put together. Over 40 members of that group, with representation from local governments, transit agencies, environmental and community-based organizations, statewide interest groups and several experts in a variety of areas. That group met, over the span of two years, met about 12 times to develop this set of rules with robust input. And there were several different versions of the rules that we put forward. In addition to that, we held over 200 public meetings, we got out into the communities, we held regional workshops in all of the regions and we spoke to a number of different interested parties about the rules, over the span of the rulemaking.

Miller: Setting aside some of the specifics, the biggest overall complaint that cities have, and we’ll hear directly from a city in just a second, is that these rules are more top down and more prescriptive than other state land use rules, which give more leeway to localities. How do you justify that?

Young: I guess I would first, before justifying, I would say that I don’t quite agree with that characterization. I think it’s important to note that some of the key rules here are actually deregulatory. For example, with the climate-friendly area standards, what we’re saying is, allow a greater mixture of uses in these areas and allow for more intensive development than your zoning codes might currently allow.

On the parking side of things, I think it’s important to note that the regulations would reduce, or maybe in some cases, eliminate parking mandates. So that’s requirements that local governments established for onsite parking, generally to be required. However, they generally do not prohibit the development of parking as deemed necessary by the person or the organizations that are actually building things. So, they’re basically saying, ‘hey, let’s not have governments apply a one size fits all kind of template to how to meet parking needs, but allow more flexibility.’

Miller: If these efforts are successful, to create climate-friendly areas, it seems absolutely possible that you could end up making some neighborhoods more walkable, more desirable, and also more expensive. How are cities supposed to balance gentrification - the pushing out of people who are already there, especially low income people - how are they supposed to balance that with climate goals?

Young: Yeah, that’s a great question, and this is an issue that we tackled pretty early on in our conversations with the Rulemaking Advisory Committee. Because it is a phenomenon that occurs, and we are aware of it. What we’ve done as a department is to develop an anti-displacement and gentrification toolkit that local governments can use. We’re working on a mapping tool that they can use. And essentially, the rules require, as local governments are looking to determine what climate-friendly areas they’re going to select, determine whether there would be the potential for displacement of underserved populations and in cases where that looks like it could occur, they’re required to actually adopt mitigation measures to offset those negative impacts. And we have a robust toolkit of potential strategies that local governments can follow in that work. This is done proactively, not after the fact of the zone changes.

Miller: Kevin Young, thanks very much.


Young: Thank you.

Miller: Kevin Young is a Senior Urban Planner with Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development.

We’re talking right now about that agency’s new zoning and planning rules, aimed at getting Oregon’s largest metro areas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially from cars. Those rules have gotten a lot of pushback including from the city of Cornelius, in Washington county. Jef Dalin is the Mayor of Cornelius. He joins us now along with Ariel Nelson, she’s a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities. It’s good to have both of you on the show.

Jef Dalin: Hey, thanks for having us on.

Miller: Thanks for being with us. So Jef Dalin first, what is the biggest issue that the city of Cornelius has with these new rules?

Dalin: Where to start, there’s so many opportunities. I think, listening to Kevin, it’s just as disingenuous now as the process was. Cities are the experts of what’s going on in their communities and we participated in the process, attended a lot of meetings, a lot of Zoom time. And in those discussions, we gave expert feedback, we gave examples. I was on the Planning Commission 20 years ago when we tried a lot of this stuff in our community and we’ve seen the problems it causes.

Miller: What’s an example of what you tried, that you’re saying the state is now asking all biggish cities or cities in big metro areas to do, that you say you tried and didn’t work?

Dalin: We have a neighborhood, it’s called Holiday and what we did is we made the property sizes smaller, dramatically smaller, like 3000 or 3500 square feet for a single family home of property, and then allow duplexes and multiplexes and the homes are in rows, they’re very close together. And even then we said, well we’re gonna say you don’t have more than two parking spaces at your home. So we thought that we’re trying this stuff. People were talking about it and if you want me to go on, I can talk about what happened.

Miller: Please do so. But just to be clear, because the language here is pretty important, you’re saying you didn’t allow people to have more than two parking spots or you said if they didn’t want to, they didn’t have to put in more than two?

Dalin: We required the developer to have at least two parking spots at each home.

Miller: Okay.

Dalin: And that’s one of those linguistic differences, from what Kevin was talking about. They’re not saying, oh no no no, we’re not trying to control the market. Well the problem is, I sat in all these meetings with Metro. Multiple developers presented their development all over Portland and they’re like ‘well it’s been great because Portland hasn’t required us to do any parking and guess what we didn’t do? We put zero parking in.’

Miller: You’re saying developers respond to being allowed to not put parking in by electing to not put parking in?

Dalin: Right. And with the rules that the DLCD came down with, cities are not allowed to prescribe any amount of parking if we’re within half a mile of a bus line, which is almost my entire city, it’s within half a mile of the one bus line that goes through town.

Miller: But I want to go back to the example you’re bringing up, saying that you see as an example of state overreach here, or not understanding the bad experience you had in the past. So what happened after you put in those smaller lots where folks had to have at least two parking spots?

Dalin: When you have smaller lots, you have less frontage on the street. That eliminates or reduces the amount of on street parking. My community is 50% Latino, 54% actually. So a lot of lower income folks, a lot of travel miles. They need so much parking and they have so many families living together. My community was house hacking before it was cool. So you end up with two families or multiple generations living in a single household. They’re paving over the front yard or part of the front yard to put in a third parking spot. They’re parking across the driveway and blocking the cars in and making it unsafe to get them in and out, or unsafe to walk through the neighborhood, because the sidewalks are covered with cars. Because my folks need to travel. On average they travel 29 minutes to get to work. And if that means I’m fortunate enough to only travel 17 minutes into Hillsboro, somebody else is driving 45 minutes to Gresham or Wilsonville or Vancouver and that’s their drive time.

So we’ve got all these cars parked because we’ve got multiple families, multiple generations as a household, we’ve got five or six wage earners living in one household and that’s because these are the folks that are the most economically challenged. The folks the DLCD rules are claiming to be helping, are actually attacking it and making it harder for them to get done what they need to do, which is earn a living, own their home, spend time with their family.

Miller: Ariel Nelson, what other concerns have you been hearing from the other cities that have been voicing complaints?

Ariel Nelson: Thank you. Certainly the concerns that Mayor Dalin raised are shared by the cities who are impacted by these rules. I think there’s a general concern about being able to provide adequate access to affordable housing, particularly for people with disabilities or other accommodations. There’s no ability in these rules for a city to require accessible parking, for example. And as the mayor was saying, this isn’t about a bunch of parking, trying to go downtown and shop, this is about people being able to access their jobs and their homes.

Another piece about this is these rules are based on really extensive and accurate community engagement, which is something that cities absolutely support. City leaders already engage their community extensively and they know what their communities need. These rules require a lot of community engagement and input. But because the rules are so prescriptive about what cities are actually able to do, I think there’s a real concern that cities are gonna be mandated to do extensive outreach and then have to tell their residents well, ‘we’re unable to take your feedback into account because we don’t have the ability to seek other options.’ So there’s a concern that it’s going to feel like an exercise for optics, or a check the box exercise, instead of true engagement about the needs on the ground of residents.

Miller: Jef Dalin, we only have two minutes left. I’m gonna squeeze in two questions if I can. But first to you, just to be clear, are you against the goals of these rules or the particulars of these rules?

Dalin: Absolutely not. We’re in agreement with the goals. We’re in support of the climate activities and what we need to be climate smart. It’s just the prescriptive nature and the lack of actually genuinely taking our feedback and doing something productive with it, and adjusting the rules so that we don’t have a one size fits all prescriptive system.

Miller: Ariel Nelson, what does happen if the state doesn’t back down, doesn’t renegotiate these rules?

Nelson: Cities have been essentially begging the state to come back to the table and re-evaluate the rules. We’re currently exploring all options, including coming on today and having this conversation. But there will be efforts potentially to seek litigation and have the courts require the state to come back to the table with their local government implementation partners, but that ability exists already under the executive authority. And so we’re really hopeful that we can work on improving the rules now. They’re simply not workable for cities at this time, and we need some real solutions to actually achieve what are shared goals, in trying to achieve climate-friendly and equal communities.

Miller: Ariel Nelson and Jef Dalin, thanks very much for joining us.

Dalin: Thank you very much for having us.

Nelson: Thank you.

Miller: Ariel Nelson is a lobbyist with the League of Oregon Cities. Jef Dalin is the Mayor of Cornelius.

Contact “Think Out Loud®”

If you’d like to comment on any of the topics in this show or suggest a topic of your own, please get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter, send an email to, or you can leave a voicemail for us at 503-293-1983. The call-in phone number during the noon hour is 888-665-5865.