As counties across the state struggle to adopt procedures to handle the growing number of Measure 37 claims - about 170 so far (two in Grant County) - and as conflicting advice comes out of Salem - the governor says one thing, then another, and as the attorney general issues an opinion that's not close to what voters intended, although voter intent is what he says he interpreted, the effect of the measure on the state's land-use regulations has been what the framers wanted all along: to make a mess.

It's clear now to even the most casual watchers that the writers of Measure 37 had no intention of writing an initiative that would clearly and reasonably change the state's land-use laws, which would have been a far more difficult task.

What they did instead was throw a monkey wrench into the machinery to force the Legislature into changing a system they see as unfairly stacked against property owners who aren't allowed to use their land the way they see fit - and if not the Legislature, then the courts, which is where it's all heading.

The measure's tone was them against us, with no clear mechanism for fighting the battle, only that it's now or never and "just compensation" from government was involved.

At its heart, the measure said that if the state and counties restrict land use, government has to pay for the privilege.

The tactic worked. More than 60 percent of Oregon voters sent the message to Salem that politicians and other planning wonks had encroached too far on their property and they wanted them to step back.

The governor first stood tall and said he would protect the state's pioneering land-use laws and cautioned counties that they couldn't waive state law to settle a Measure 37 claim, but then fiscal reality reared its head - the state has no money to pay claims, and neither do the counties - and now the governor and the Legislature, which has made feeble attempts to write new land-use bills, are waiting and hoping the courts decide things in their favor.

To that end, the attorney general issued an advisory opinion, which has no legal standing, that any land-use waiver under Measure 37 is particular to the current property owner and is not transferable to new owners.

In other words, according to the attorney general, if acreage is parceled into housing lots under Measure 37 and sold, the land reverts back to the restrictive regulations and a house can't be built.

Following the same reasoning, the attorney general says that if the current owner parcels the land and builds the house and then sells the package deal, it becomes a nonconforming use and the house will have to be torn down.

That opinion is absurd, and in no way reflects the wishes of the people who were voting against government restrictions on their property.

There is something else going on under Measure 37 that isn't nearly as ridiculous as the attorney general's shell game; although, it does have a bit of smoke and mirrors.

Under Measure 37, whether the land is right for a ritzy gated community or a theme park or whether building codes or wilderness rules would allow such development doesn't matter. It can be appraised that way, thus increasing its value when it comes time to consider other ways to make money.

In come conservation easements, which generally sell at a price that is the difference between the value of the land if used for development and its value under current use.

Conservation easements are bought by groups such as The Nature Conservancy, state and federal agencies and local watershed districts may be involved in managing the areas. Such easements become part of the deed to the property and protect the land from development, supposedly forever, but who knows how long that will be.

In the meantime, the deal puts extra dollars in a landowner's pockets, keeps the land on the tax rolls and stops part of a wilderness from becoming a parking lot.

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