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1,000 Friends of Oregon Keep Eye on Land Use, Growth : Watchdogs:: Group founded by former governor is making sure planning law is actually carried out.

June 19, 1994|CHARLES E. BEGGS | ASSOCIATED PRESS

SALEM, Ore. — Nearly 20 years ago, former Gov. Tom McCall persuaded a lawyer friend to get enough friends together to ensure that Oregon's newly enacted comprehensive land use planning law was actually carried out.

Today, the group, which calls itself 1,000 Friends of Oregon, could call itself 2,500 Friends of Oregon. That's how many people contribute to and otherwise support the watchdog group.

And by 1997, if the group is successful in a new recruiting campaign, it could call itself 10,000 Friends of Oregon.

1,000 Friends, co-founded by McCall and Henry Richmond in 1975, had a simple premise for its existence.

"Tom said in the founding speech the law needed a watchdog; it doesn't enforce itself," said Robert Liberty, who recently succeeded Richmond as the group's director. Richmond left to join a national planning group he formed.

McCall, who gained national fame of sorts as governor by urging outsiders to visit Oregon but not to stay, was a key player when the state passed the nation's first comprehensive statewide land use planning law in 1973.

But the Republican governor believed that putting a statute on the books was not enough. Hence the support group that became 1,000 Friends.

The law established state goals, such as preserving prime farm and forest lands, and required counties and cities to adopt plans conforming to the state requirements.

The change meant land use regulation no longer was solely a local government matter. The law has bred much controversy, but voters have rejected several attempts to repeal it or water it down.

Liberty said his group, although small, has had a large impact on the success of planning programs. 1,000 Friends has 14 employees, including lawyers, and technical experts such as foresters and clerical workers.

The organization has brought some highly publicized lawsuits, including one against attempts by followers of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh to incorporate a city on the central Oregon desert in the 1980s.

Similar land use planning efforts in other states lag, Liberty said.

"I love this state so much I hate to see it go the way of its neighbors," he said. "I have gone to California, Washington, Hawaii and Massachusetts.

"Their land use legislation has not turned out the way the drafters thought it would," he said. "The big difference is the political savvy of 1,000 Friends, the expertise it has."

Liberty, 40, is a Rhodes scholar and holds degrees in political science and law. He was a 1,000 Friends attorney from 1981 until 1990, when he left to open a private law practice and do consulting work in growth management.

Liberty anticipates that his move will bring him a kind of satisfaction he did not get in private practice.

"I enjoyed being on my own, but the work was not as fulfilling," he said. "It does not have the same meaning as working for the public interest. Making money is not the same as making a difference, for me."

Foes of the planning law say Liberty is a daunting opponent.

"He is a very able, articulate and formidable advocate, which should be of concern to landowners all across the state," said Bill Moshofsky, executive director of Oregonians in Action. The group has fought state-imposed land use rules, especially those restricting development on rural lands.

1,000 Friends under Liberty will, "if anything, be more preservationist and more restrictive than before," Moshofsky said. "Their basic agenda continues, which is to outlaw virtually all use of rural land outside cities, mandate higher densities in cities and continue with rigid urban growth boundaries.

"We think it's a prescription for gridlock and a lesser quality of life," said Moshofsky, a retired timber company lawyer.

But Liberty said Oregon's rapid population growth makes residents even more aware of the need for planning.

"I think there is stronger support for growth management than there has been in 15 years," he said.

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