Aerial view of land and positioning point area.-cm

Compared to the other 49 states, Oregon has a very planning-heavy government culture. That is to say, for the last several decades, the state has been fixated on planning for the future.

The net result of all that planning has been severe restrictions on the growth of everything except government, its personnel and related expenditures. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t still moving to Oregon. It just means that’s it’s become more expensive for them, and for everyone else, to live here.

Consider this: Oregon has incorporated approximately one city in the four decades since it adopted statewide comprehensive land use planning. That would be the City of Damascus, which is located in Clackamas County. Damascus was incorporated in 2004, subsequently dissolved and may very well be re-incorporated after a vote of its residents this November.

What are the upsides to making it nearly impossible for the residents of unincorporated areas to band together to form cities to fund basic services? If there are any, I’m not seeing them.

These strict anti-growth policies mean that only three percent of the land in Oregon is developed. That also means that 97 percent of it is not. Geographically, Oregon has almost 100,000 square miles and is the ninth largest state in the country. It has the 27th largest population, so you would think there would be plenty of room for everyone, right? Well, only if you don’t artificially restrict the amount of buildable land, which is exactly what Oregon has done.

Oregon’s population was 2.2 million in 1973, the year the state’s land use policies were signed into law under Senate Bill 100. It has almost doubled since then and now sits at around 4.25 million. But the amount of buildable land has not changed in that time. Is it any mystery that our housing costs have skyrocketed?

Tom McCall was the governor who championed those land use laws. He famously wanted to keep Californians from moving here. But the irony is that, decades later, largely because of those same land use laws, Californians are just about the only people who can afford to buy houses in Oregon.

The same principles also apply to transportation. You would figure that a state whose population has nearly doubled would have added capacity at some point in over 40 years, right? Sadly, no.

Instead of investing in additional capacity or build more roads, our state and regional leadership has opted to spend billions of dollars on light rail systems that continue to have declining ridership.

So how’s that working out for us? Obviously, not well. Commute times in Clackamas County and elsewhere in the Portland area have consistently climbed. That still hasn’t been enough to convince people to use public transportation, despite the best efforts of multiple generations of professional planners to force them onto those systems.

What’s clear is that we need to start doing something different. Instead of imposing visions upon the public that are based on social engineering, we need to respond to the services they are demanding. It’s quite simple.

I’m running for commissioner to ensure that we use a common-sense approach to planning for our future growth.

*If you’d like to find out more about or support the Mark Johnson for Clackamas County Commission campaign, please check out our website at