Thorne discusses task force


PENDLETON - Mike Thorne chairs the Oregon Task Force on Land Use Planning, often called "Big Look." It's a fitting name, considering the task force has a wide-sweeping three-year mission: Map the future of Oregon's land use planning system.

It began that journey in March, but the first real meeting was in July on the coast. Thorne of Pendleton said the task force members "just kind of locked ourselves in a room for two days to find out what were key issues."

Those issues came down to six key questions:

?What are the appropriate roles of state and local governments in land use in Oregon?

? What is the appropriate role of citizen involvement in land use?

? What role should land use planning play in enhancing Oregon's economy now and in the future?

? What are the most effective tools to manage population growth to achieve community goals?

? How should Oregon's system of infrastructure, finance, and governance influence land use?

? How can the land-use process appropriately address the benefits and burdens that fall on individual landowners and the general public?

Starting in the middle of 2007, the task force plans on being "on the road," taking the questions to the public and getting answers. It will review the relationship between the state and local authorities on land use planning and then make recommendations to the Legislature on needed policy changes.

"That's what we're working on. We're trying to frame the essence of those questions," Thorne said, with the caveat that the task force is learning as it goes.

"We are just in discovery stages," Thorne said. "We are not ready to make hard and fast recommendations."

Thorne said he wasn't certain who coined the term "Big Look," and he also has heard the task force jokingly referred to as "The Big Stare," but no matter the nomenclature, he and the other members takes the work seriously.

The task force as a whole meets once a month. Thorne said he has rarely seen the kind of dedication this 10-member group has.

"The attendance has been stellar," he said. Short of illness, committee members don't miss meetings.

The once-a-month meetings are two days long, but committee members also are busy in subgroups that meet "just about every week," Thorne said.

And even with the Democrats now controlling both the House and the Senate, Thorne said he doesn't think politics have to get in the way of what the task force eventually will say. Thorne said the task force will try to make recommendations that make "good bi-partisan sense."

Even though the task force is not even a year into its job, Thorne said some issues are emerging already, such as the state doing a better job of supporting local authorities.

He said the state's role in land use should be to "underscore, reinforce and support at the local level."

That support isn't necessarily in terms of dollars, Thorne said. For example, local planners could benefit from access to a richer database of information. The task force also could recommend the allocation of more state resources to help local agencies' plans to state standards.

"We're interested in better trying to understand areas of statewide significance," Thorne said, such as water resources or transportation infrastructure

Understanding that, he said, and then the task force could better articulate what locals need and who has the responsibility of making sure there are resources to get the jobs done.

Thorne said the question is how to take an area and determine what makes the most sense for potential use with a broad strategy aimed at improving economic viability. The task force will try to fine-tune those notions through using comprehensive regional problem-solving teams, a cross-jurisdictional effort that Thorne said opens doors to communities in regions participating in the planning process.

Thorne also said some state commissions, such as the Land Conservation and Development Commission, need the ability to get in front of problems to create solutions and not just be regulatory bodies. People need to be able to make good judgments and move away from regulatory constraints that prohibit good judgment, he said.

Thorne said forces drive the need to recognize how land is used.

"Unless you can get in front of that, it defeats you," he said.

For example, he said 30 years ago most people would not have foreseen big box store retailing as the economic force it is today.

That's why looking ahead, rather than behind, is crucial, he said.

Thorne said a central issue for the task force is asking at what price are people willing to support something. For example, if a community wants to expand its boundaries, what are the tradeoffs in doing so, how does expansion get paid for, what are the local resources that can be brought into play, and if financing isn't available, should the expansion happen?

Also, Thorne said, "We hear all the time the process is too cumbersome."

Again, the question is what are people willing to give up to make change happen? And if the price is too steep, is the current way of doing things the best way?

"We don't have all the answers yet," Thorne said.

But the task force is trying.

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