It's a summer afternoon on the Central Oregon Coast where I live. South Beach to be exact. I lounge in my backyard, hanging out with the dogs, drinking a glass of Pinot noir made from grapes grown in Yamhill County. If the temperature gets any hotter, I may have to cool down with an Oregon-made lager made from ingredients grown in the Willamette Valley.
A few feet away, my sexy girlfriend reads a book and sips her wine. She flew in from Los Angeles a couple of days ago and plans on spending a week here doing exclusively Oregon things, one of which is tasting all sorts of delicious treats involving Tillamook ice cream.
This morning, at dawn, we went to the beach with the dogs, where we walked a mile or so in light fog and didn't pay a cent for the privilege of doing so. We didn't encounter another single human being but did discover the smoldering remains of a few bonfires from the night before. Apparently it was quite the party.
Later this evening, we'll probably drive up into the Coast Range, follow logging roads through reforested clearcuts, and at some point pull over, stop the truck, and take in a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. As she shoots photographs, I'll pick some salmonberries and thimbleberries for a new salad recipe of my own invention. Today, at the Newport Farmer's Market, I bought an incredible assortment of organic fruits and vegetables from three different farmers near Corvallis. I also picked up some feta cheese from a Siletz cheese maker. My girlfriend isn't sure how the salad will turn out, but she doesn't really care. With us, it's more about the story of the gathering than the actual taste.
Which is also true of the mussels and clams we might gather tomorrow morning if the tides oblige.
It's a great life here on the Oregon Coast, in Oregon in general, and a unique one from the rest of the country, I think. It really is different here, this livability thing.
And why is that?
Really, it all comes down to one law.
In 1973, the Oregon Legislature passed and Governor Tom McCall signed into law Senate Bill 100, the state's land use planning program. The law created 19 planning goals, which have since become a national model.
Here are some excerpts from my favorite goals:
3. AGRICULTURAL LANDS: Goal three defines "agricultural lands." It then requires counties to inventory such lands and to "preserve and maintain" them through farm zoning.
4. FOREST LANDS: This goal defines forest lands and requires counties to inventory them and adopt policies and ordinances that will "conserve forest lands for forest uses."
16. ESTUARINE RESOURCES: This goal requires local governments to classify Oregon's 22 major estuaries in four categories: natural, conservation, shallow-draft development, and deep-draft development. It then describes types of land uses and activities that are permissible in those "management units."
18. BEACHES AND DUNES: Goal 18 sets planning standards for development on various types of dunes. It prohibits residential development on beaches and active foredunes but allows some other types of development if they meet key criteria. The goal also deals with dune grading, groundwater drawdown in dunal aquifers, and the breaching of foredunes.
This law, passed when I was nine years old and growing up in Oregon City, created virtually every aspect of my wonderful afternoon that I described above. It even got me my sexy L.A. girlfriend. She's not hanging out with some dude in Nebraska or West Virginia, looking at corporate wheat fields or strip mines, drinking wine from a box or Coors Light.
If not for the law, Oregon's fast-growing, renowned, and profitable wine industry would not exist. One could look to every south-facing slope in Yamhill County and see manufactured homes littering the landscape. No vineyards. No wine touring to seduce someone.
If not for the law, Oregon's micro-brewing industry would never have had the opportunity to purchase ingredients grown in the Willamette Valley because that land would have been paved over.
If not for the law, most of the small organic farms that provide the products of the farmer's market revolution going on around Oregon would not exist. They would have been subdivided and converted to generic housing units long ago.
If not for the law, people would have built trophy homes and shanties on much of Oregon's privately-owned timberland, and the land wouldn't be available for recreation, sustainable logging, picking berries or "parking" at the end of dead end spur roads.
If not for the law, Tillamook County's 130 or so family-owned farms, which form the Tillamook County Creamery Association, Oregon's best example of socialism, would have been hard pressed to survive. Most of the pastures that feed the dairy cows would have been subdivided, built on, or sold off as hobby farms and lost to cultivation years ago. No homemade Tillamook ice cream milkshakes to slake the thirst of one's girlfriend.
If not for the law, (and one of its progenitors, the famous 1967 Beach Bill) Oregon's ocean beaches and estuaries would have been irreversibly encroached upon by development, systematically privatized, filled, riprapped, dredged, polluted. In other words, appropriated and sanitized by the prudes. In other words, ruined.
And most importantly, if not for the law, my sex life would have been confined almost exclusively to the boring bedroom, instead of the beaches, logging roads, fields, pastures and vineyards where I now frequently practice it. Thank you, land use planning! I bet your creators never thought of that fringe benefit. Why it hasn't been touted in defense of Oregon's land use planning system is beyond me.
My thesis, which of course I can't prove, but certainly can propound, is that SB 100 led to the creation of the better, sexier, unique Oregon life that I now fully enjoy as an adult. In fact, everyone in Oregon, even those who seek to undermine or overturn the law, benefits from Oregon's land use planning system in various calculable and existential ways. I honestly believe the system helped turn me into a better human being. I believe I became more attuned to Oregon's landscapes because the system preserved so much of the landscapes for me to later come along and experience. I also believe the system inspired me to care much less about personal greed and the soulless, short-term idea of "private property rights." If those who seek to undermine or overthrow the system were truly honest with themselves and their children and grandchildren, they would compare their lives to those of people who live in places that did not plan for the future, did not preserve land, and concede that the law worked.
It's obvious it did. It's all around us.
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Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain