UO graduates help shape and lead 40 years of Oregon land use system

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of Oregon’s land use law, SB 100. This law created the most innovative and progressive land use program in the country, and no state has a law that rivals its success. Every one of its 36 counties and nearly all incorporated cities have state-acknowledged plans to protect farm and forest lands with urban growth boundaries, which limit the potential for urban and rural sprawl, and preserve natural resources and greenspaces. One needs to just drive along I-5 through the Willamette Valley to understand this fact: Oregon has chosen to grow differently and it’s working.

Governor Tom McCall signed SB 100 into law on May 29, 1973. Over the last 40 years, the law’s success has required an army of vigilant advocates to ensure its success and stave off full frontal assaults from upset citizens, oppositional legislators, and ballot referendums. The University of Oregon has been a nurturing ground for many of the bill’s most ardent supporters, whether Oregonians or those who moved to the state to learn how and why Oregon is a leader in sustainable development, environmental preservation, agricultural success, and urban livability.

The Three Sisters in the Cascade Mountains from Sisters. Photo courtesy of Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives.

This is a story of three UO graduates who have, with countless others, lifted up and ensured SB 100’s success, which many can agree is a true gift to the State of Oregon.

PPPM Associate Professor Emerita Maradel Gale, JD ’74, taught and nurtured hundreds of students who went on to directly impact the law’s development. However, before she joined the ranks of the PPPM faculty, Gale was at the forefront of the Oregon land use program’s development. In 1968, she became the first president and volunteer lobbyist at the State Capitol for the Oregon Environmental Council. In this role Gale successfully lobbied on legislation for increased funding for bike and pedestrian paths, prohibition of billboards along highways, and helped create the Nuclear Thermal Energy Council, which disallowed utility companies from siting new nuclear power plants without public input and vetting.

Gale’s biggest land use success was the creation and appointment to the Oregon Coastal Conservation and Development Commission, which established a planning process for Oregon’s coastal region. ”Prior to the creation of the Commission, city councilors, county commissioners, and port directors had formed a coastal organization with the goal of maximizing development throughout Oregon’s coasts,” says Gale. “They were fighting to get ports in every one of Oregon’s estuaries.”

“I was proudest to get estuary designations that allowed some degree of development in areas like Coos Bay and Astoria, but also preservation for others with greater natural resource benefit. This was not a popular concept on the coast at that time, but thankfully it happened.”

In 1971, Gale enrolled in the UO law school. In 1974, during the week of her last law school final, Gale gave a lecture to the UO Masters Program for Urban and Regional Planning (a pre-cursor to the current Community and Regional Planning program). Her lecture on “Politics and Planning” resulted in a new career and hire for the department, where Gale taught Legal Issues in Planning and the Environment and numerous other courses.

PPPM Associate Professor Emerita Maradel Gale

“The department was the first school throughout the country to bring a lawyer on its faculty,” says Gale.  “Most of the planning programs around the country didn’t teach a legal planning course, and subsequently we saw many more departments developing legal planning courses and bringing many more people with legal experience on their faculty.”

Students such as Ron Eber, MURP ’75, were behind the creation of the Legal Issues class. “My peers and I pushed really hard to develop the Legal Issues class, because we felt that this was something that planners needed to know, and was missing from the department,” says Eber. He was glad this work paid off, because Gale’s class prepared his peers and him to become engaged in the implementation of SB 100 and fight for its success.

“Maradel’s class was by far the hardest class that I took. She taught it like a law school course and it was a real challenge to us. Her course probably did more to prepare me for a career than anything else. I used the practical skills from that class almost everyday for over 30 years, whether it was researching the background of  a statute, the case law or understanding statutory construction. Planners must know how to implement broad policy and legislative pronouncements to develop plans and regulations that are effective to achieve the desired outcomes.  Understanding our legal and administrative system is where the rubber hits the road. We learned these important skills in Maradel’s class.”

Ron Eber (MURP '75), Oregon’s preeminent farm and forestlands specialist

Eber became Gale’s first graduate teaching fellow in her Legal Issues course. He joined the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development as a summer intern in 1975 and worked for it full time from 1976 until his retirement in 2008. During that time he was involved in all phases of implementing SB 100, especially the state’s longstanding policy to protect farmland including the development of legislation and administrative rules, the review of local plans and zoning codes, local land use decisions and legal appeals.  Upon retirement and still to this day, Eber is looked to as Oregon’s preeminent farm and forestlands specialist and recently published a history on Oregon’s efforts to protect farm land from 1961 to 2009.

Dick Benner’s career, JD ’75, intertwined with both Gale and Eber at different times. Benner enrolled in the UO law school in 1972, and took up land use causes early on through a position for OSPIRG assigned to monitor the Oregon Coastal Conservation and Development Commission, on which Gale was a commissioner. In 1975, Benner became one of two initial staff attorneys with 1000 Friends of Oregon along with UO law school classmate Bob Stacey. Stacey later became planning director for the City of Portland, the executive director of 1000 Friends, and is currently a Metro Councilor.

Dick Benner (JD '75), staff attorney for 1000 Friends of Oregon, first executive director of the Columbia River Gorge Commission, director of Oregon Department Land Conservation and Development, and senior assistant counsel for Metro in Portland.

Benner spent 12 years with 1000 Friends as the lead attorney on coastal and rural land use cases, where he ensured Oregon’s cities, counties, and the state were upholding SB 100’s goals. In 1987, he accepted the position as executive director of the newly formed Columbia River Gorge Commission, which oversees the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. He directed development of the commission’s staff and creation of the Scenic Area’s management plan. Upon completion of the plan, he accepted the position as director of the Department of Land  Conservation and Development in 1991.

“That was a very difficult job. My moving into this position coincided with a fairly dramatic turn to the political right in the Oregon Legislature, who were not fans of the program,” says Benner. ”Much of our work was defensive, trying to save the land use program and trying to keep a budget for the agency, which was always under attack.”

Even so, Benner and his colleagues, including Eber, were successful at implementing two changes to the program that have real and positive impacts. First, he oversaw the implementation of Oregon’s Transportation Planning Rule, which requires integration of the state’s land use and transportation systems to emphasize the reduction in reliance of automobiles.

“As this rule started to be defined and enacted, it became clear what a big deal it was because it was the first real recognition of the interconnectedness of land use and transportation,” says Benner. “However, it was a titanic struggle within state government to truly enact this rule. Thank goodness for Governor John Kitzhaber, because the Oregon Department of Transportation resisted this all the way. They wanted nothing to do with the land use program, because they were dominated by highway engineers who had no notion of the linkage between the land use patterns and the transportation patterns. Ultimately, the Governor told the Oregon Transportation Commission and the Department that they had to climb on board, and Oregon is starting to see the benefits of this rule today.”

The second success was his work with Eber and others to redefine Oregon’s farmland protection statutes. In 1993, Eber was on assignment as a special assistant to Governor Barbara Roberts’ Natural Resources Policy Advisor Ann Squier. At the outset of this process, both Benner and Eber were fearful the whole farmland protection section of the law was at risk because the House had leverage to block the agency’s budget in the legislature and hold it hostage in order to force the Senate to agree to changes to weaken the laws designed to protect farm and forest lands from conflicting development. These two worked tirelessly over the summer of 1993’s extended legislative session to gain compromises from all parties to pass HB 3661, which amended policy on standards for dwellings in farm zones, placed fixed minimum lot sizes for farmlands in statute, and created the definition of “high-value farmland,” and “finally provided some peace in the countryside, so to speak,” says Benner.

Ron Eber and Hector Macpherson (the "father of SB 100") at the signing of HB 3661 in 1993 at the Sokol-Blosser Winery.

Benner left DLCD in 2001 and became the senior assistant counsel for Metro in Portland, where he witnessed the benefits of Oregon’s land use law up close. Benner says, “Portlanders drive about 20 percent less than average cities of its size. We attribute this not to reduced number of trips, but to shorter trips. The trips are shorter, because we are growing with a more compact urban form. Portlanders do a higher percentage of commute trips made by bike than any city in the United States. They ride transit more. The per capita carbon emissions are below 1990 levels.”

“After 40 years, we are getting to where we set out to go,” Benner concludes.

A barn at the Melrose Vineyards. Photo courtesy of Gary Halvorson, OregonStateArchives.

Gale, Eber and Benner have deep appreciation for Oregon’s land use law as it has taken shape and evolved. “I see myself not just as an advocate of the land use law, or a practitioner of it, but also as a student of it,” says Benner. Eber believes that the law offered him “a great appreciation of the democratic process as well as the responsibility we all have as citizens to not only those of us here today, but to future generations as well.”

Oregon’s land use law is truly a gift to the state of Oregon, and it hasn’t been just the work of Gale, Eber and Benner’s passionate advocacy, but thousands of Oregonians who have ensured its success. However, understanding the battles that these three UO graduates faced in educating, communicating, and fighting for Oregon’s land use program over the last 40 years will be important to the success of its next 40 years. Two things are certain: first, change is inevitable for the law, but the foundations of having urban growth boundaries, farm and forestland protection, housing, transportation, and extensive opportunities for citizens to be involved in an open and transparent public process will live on; second, the UO stands ready to continue its development of professionals ready for this task. It’s up to today’s students to pick up the fight to see Oregon’s land use program through for another 40 successful years.

Story by Joe McAndrew; A&AA Writer/Videographer Graduate Teaching Fellow

Fall architecture studio strengthens connection to Eugene by use of bottom up urban design project in Detroit

Assistant Professor Philip Speranza’s fall studio “Public Use of Private Space,” was a unique collaboration between the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts and a private owner in Detroit and her architect brother in New York City. The students’ work provided design development for a proposed community food market and its associated exterior space for a variety of uses.

At the time students enrolled in the studio they were not aware they would be traveling to Detroit, Michigan, as part of the course. However, for the students to visit the project’s site and fully grasp how their proposed urban design installations will aid the client’s community food business, it proved invaluable.

“The trip snapped the students out of their comfort zones and allowed them to better know the space at which they were working. Going to a place creates a connection between what you see as the culture seen from a distance, and then actually experiencing the urban space and getting to know the people,” said Speranza.

“It also allowed the students to better understand the project as a system of connections between the city, the community, the site, and the entrepreneur. It’s not an abstract single thing.  They must deal with all of these connections to have a successful project. This allowed the students to be part of the process.”

Detroit project site. Photo courtesy of Philip Speranza
Detroit project site. Photo courtesy of Madison Jackson

The project site contains a former bank building and an adjoining parking lot. The designs varied but the goal was to connect the private building to the community at the grass roots level by inviting them into the public space, testing Speranza’s research ideas of “bottom up urban design” acknowledging conditions of the site as a system over time.

Class tours Detroit neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Philip Speranza.

The class traveled to Detroit as part of the midterm review following weekly teleconference meetings with the client team throughout the term. The trip’s cost was split between the client and Speranza’s UO research funding. In addition to the midterm review and site visit, the students traveled throughout the region and met many residents of this “shrinking” city.

Speranza was amazed at the disparity between blocks surrounding the project’s site. “Within a block or two of the site, the blocks are totally abandoned with empty lots–what we know of Detroit. And then a block or two on the other side there are large gated houses on one-acre lots. It was bizarre,” he said.

Project site's surrounding neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Philip Speranza.
Gated house in surrounding neighborhood. Photo by Philip Speranza.

Madison Jackson, a second-year master of architecture student, was impressed by the strong sense of community within the neighborhood and throughout the whole city. “Everyone we met was so invested in the city. I believe this is because it’s easier to move out to the suburbs and not deal with the collapse of the city. Therefore, the people who have stayed behind or moved back all care, want to work hard, and do what they love in their city,” she said.

The studio provided Jackson and her peers a unique experience not available in other courses. “The fact that the studio was an actual project with a real client was the biggest difference and the most important part for me. It was useful to experience pitching an idea to a client and getting their feedback. That it is such a big part of an architect’s job and something that can’t easily be taught in school,” said Jackson.

Summer "Adaptive Market" design. Image courtesy of Madison Jackson.

In addition to fostering the students’ designs for the food market, the client also seeks a fully fabricated installation. They selected Jackson’s “Adaptive Market” design as the preferred option for the space. Just like Detroit as a city is learning to adapt and change, Jackson sees her design allowing for the installation to shift as the client, community or seasonal needs change and adapt. “Seasonally the shelves would be converted from seating, to workspace, to shelves, and be further reconfigured throughout the space in the market to best suit the needs of the client and her vendors,” she said.

"Adaptive Market" shelving iteration. Image courtesy of Madison Jackson.
"Adaptive Market" 1:1 mock up. Photo courtesy of Madison Jackson.

The client, Jackson, and Speranza will collaborate with the architecture department student group the Digital Media Collaborative (DMC) to fabricate and deploy the “Adaptive Market” design during the upcoming winter and spring terms. Jackson will be part of the group and is looking forward to this opportunity. “Having a studio project deployed is something that does not happen often in school, so I can’t wait to move forward with it,” said Jackson.

The next phase of the project will be the deployment and installation of the group’s design this spring. However, before it makes its way to the project site in Detroit, Speranza has plans to deploy the installation in Eugene. “I’m speaking with local food organizations, property owners, and area farmer markets to deploy the installation,” he said. An independent study of national food desert criteria and neighborhood planning with student Aliza Tuttle, an undergraduate geography student, has been done in parallel to the studio, identifying neighborhood spaces of deployment and installation west of Skinner’s Butte and the Whitaker as places of deployment in the spring.

Studio final review. Photo courtesy of Philip Speranza.

The studio was just the beginning of the year-long project, but it has provided the students exceptional lessons that didn’t end with its final review. “The studio gave the students the knowledge and experience of what it means to make something, whether that is the software, the fabrication tools, or the physical making of the object in a 1-to-1 scale – not a representation of the idea, but an actual experience of the idea,” said Speranza. “This connects the students to a real experience, both for the individual understanding of art, architecture and design, and also a connection to the community.”

Studio final review presentation. Photo courtesy of Philip Speranza.

Jackson agrees with her professor and says she found a real connection with Detroit, as did many of her peers. “The studio has inspired me and many of the students to become more involved in Detroit in the future because it is such an amazing city and we all fell in love with it,” she said.

Story by Joe McAndrew


For more information about the “Public Use of Private Space” studio, please visit the studio’s blog here.

Students travel to Ecuador to acquire bioregional lessons

The UO students who joined PPPM Assistant Professor Gerardo Sandoval’s summer study abroad program in Ecuador, “Breaking borders: creating bioregional communities,” may not have been fully aware of what was in store for their travels. No one can blame them, however. It’s not often that study abroad courses require students to be handy with machetes, haul gallons upon gallons of water over long distances on numerous occasions or plant hundreds of trees. But, the students and professor wouldn’t have asked to change much.

Students with Planet Drum Foundation staffers Orlando and Clay. Photo courtesy of Gerardo Sandoval.

For Emma Newman – a senior environmental studies major – the class experience and its lessons makes up one of her pinnacle experiences while attending the University of Oregon. “I learned so much from the class by doing things in the field, actually engaging in the projects, and physically seeing how change is occurring,” Newman says. “This class reaffirmed that in order for me to learn really well, I need to be physically engaging in whatever I’m doing.”

Sandoval’s course engaged sixteen UO students from multiple disciplines and undergraduate and graduate levels over three weeks this past summer in Bahía de Caráquez (Bahía), Ecuador. Bahía is located on the Pacific coastal region (La Costa) of Ecuador. The city suffered from two natural disasters in 1997 and 1998. The first was due to heavy rains from an El Niño weather pattern, resulting in mudslides that destroyed areas of the city, fatally wounding many citizens and ruining much of the shrimp industry, one of the largest business sectors in the area. While the city was still recovering from this, an earthquake hit in 1998 causing buildings to flood, crack and crumble, and the already saturated clay hillsides to slip. These back-to-back disasters made residents more aware of their natural surroundings and led the way for Bahía to commit to becoming an ecocity (ecociudad) – a more ecologically sustainable city – in 1999.

The coursework focused on how Bahía’s bioregion is supporting the ecocity commitment. “Bioregionalism is about thinking about place and the ecosystem that supports the place, and how the region serves as a key organizing scale for human activity,” says Sandoval. “The idea behind this class wasn’t just about staying in the classroom, but it was a bioregionalism class where the purpose was to really explore the region while at the same time leaving something positive behind.”

Students transplanting trees at Planet Drum greenhouse. Photo courtesy of Gerardo Sandoval.

The class teamed up with the Planet Drum Foundation (PDF) to leave something behind by doing forest restoration work. The mission of San Francisco-based PDF is to promote awareness of sustainable strategies for human inhabitation of Earth, based on the bioregions where people live. PDF has been working in Bahía since 1999, assisting in transforming the city into an ecocity based on bioregional principles.

Students transporting water to forests to water trees. Photos courtesy of Gerardo Sandoval.

“In the mornings we would do 3 to 4 hours of pretty intensive manual labor where we would go to the Planet Drum greenhouse in the city and help grow trees, and then plant and maintain trees throughout the region,” says Sandoval. This required the students to water trees planted throughout the region on steep hillsides in jungle-like areas. To ensure the trees grew and were prepared for the rainy season, students turned to a traditional tool: “We did machete work on really steep hillsides with cacti, tarantulas and grasshoppers that were three inches long,” says Newman.

The labor was taxing but allowed the group to witness the impact. One of Newman’s most lasting memories occurred while watering trees on a hillside known as the “Forest amongst the ruins.” “We were literally watering trees that were holding in the land that had slid down and killed 17 Ecuadorians 14 years ago. That experience was more powerful than sitting in a classroom and learning about stuff that is distant.”

In order to make a connection to bioregional theory, students spent the afternoons engaging in academic seminars that allowed students to further explore what they were witnessing on the ground, and taking educational field trips throughout the region every other day. The students also interviewed area stakeholders, and learned technical knowledge around composting, recycling, and sustainable farming.

Student touring Rio Muchacho with Dario, the organic farm’s director. Photo courtesy of Gerardo Sandoval.
Student touring Rio Muchacho. Photo courtesy of Gerardo Sandoval.

One field trip that provided lasting technical knowledge was the journey to Río Muchacho, an organic farm 40 minutes from Bahía. “The farm has set up a school that teaches rural students in the area important life skills, such as how to grow banana trees and coffee plants and all sorts of other plants encircling piles of compost,” says Newman.  “This is very sustainable agriculture where plant species grow at different rates so they can be harvested at different times. It is a really important life skill for the students, and all the classes happened outdoors. It is so much more interactive for the students than the classrooms they had previously.”

Students touring organic shrimp farms at Isla Corazon. Photo courtesy of Gerardo Sandoval.

Sandoval believes he may have learned as much as his students. “This class changed my perspective about doing ecological development work in Latin America. It’s a realistic thing to do, and it’s something that doesn’t have to come from the U.S. or some other developed country. The development can come about organically and come from countries in Latin America. Here you have an example of a city trying to do things in a different way, and in many ways Bahía is much more cutting edge in sustainability than many cities in the U.S.”

“Another key thing that I learned was more about pedagogy, where you have to immerse students in an environment that is conducive to learning, and if you do this and provide students with a framework and academic content, the students will soak it up and learn a ton,” Sandoval says. “I think the environment that we were in was conducive for this to happen because 1) the region is a wonderful bioregion; 2) the city is actually trying to implement policies that relate to sustainability; and 3) there is an NGO that is conducting great work around reforestation. So you had all the elements there for the students to dig into and really think critically about what they are seeing. It made the experience very unique.”

Students touring Isla Corazon. Photo Courtesy of Gerardo Sandoval.

The students in the class deserve a lot of the credit for the course’s success as well. “The students were really passionate about the issues being taught and experienced, which made it really fun to teach,” Sandoval says. “I really learned a lot from my students.”

Story by Joe McAndrew;A&AA Writer/Videographer Graduate Teaching Fellow