Using a razor-thin majority, Oregon House Democrats pushed through the cornerstone of their effort to protect the Metolius River basin from destination resort development. With a bare minimum 31 votes, Dems, under the leadership of Brian Clem (D-Salem), rallied after a narrow defeat last week to pass the HB 3298, which designates the Metolius basin as an "Area of Critical Concern." The move puts the area around the revered river effectively off-limits to destination resorts, including a pair that had been endorsed by Jefferson County, the local planning authority in the basin.
"This is such a momentous vote. It was such a complex issue...we're thrilled to see this pass," said Erik Kancler, executive director at Central Oregon Landwatch, which lobbied aggressively in favor of the bill.
The vote was a dramatic reversal from last week when House Democrats were unable to find the critical 31st vote to pass the bill. Rather than let the bill die, Clem orchestrated a second vote on Monday while the party leadership lobbied some of its members who had initially voted against the bill, including House Speaker Dave Hunt. They found the vote in Rep. Larry Galizio (D-Tigard) who said he was convinced to change his vote after getting a phone call from the bill's architect, Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who ironically squelched a similar protection bill sponsored by Ben Westlund in 2007, but then had his own change of heart.
The bill pulls the rug out on developers' ambitious plans to add more than a thousand homes in the basin and potentially other water and land-intensive uses, such as - you guessed it - a golf course, but it doesn't preclude all development. The Colson family, whose proposed Ponderosa Resort on Green Ridge was impacted, cut a deal with the state for dramatically scaled-back plan (120 units on 320 acres). The other developer, Jim Kean, refused a similar deal for his so-called eco-resort (420 homes) and ended up with nothing. Lawmakers, however, are still working on a consolation prize that would allow Kean to transfer his "development opportunity" to another location outside the basin, possibly in the Bandon area, according to Kancler.
(For more, see this week's Glass Slipper)
As for the larger question over the future of destination resorts statewide, Kancler said he will be back in Salem next week working to pass HB 2227 that would allow the state to rework the DR laws from the ground up. Like the Metolius bill last week, the legislation is currently deadlocked with supporters looking for a last vote to push it over the top.
Kancler said the bill would have some immediate impacts on resorts while laying the groundwork for potentially sweeping reform in the future.
"We're trying to move the whole thing back in the direction where we have legitimate economic development through tourism. Right now, we have second homes with golf courses and tremendous costs," Kancler said.
OLCC v. Bend (pt. 2)
Looking more locally, the blood feud between Bend businesses and the OLCC seems to have reduced from a full boil to an active simmer after a meeting last week between OLCC's Regulatory Director Linda Ignowski and a bevy of local business and government representatives who have gone to bat for area bars, restaurants and festivals.
At issue is what restauranteurs, bars and other alcohol providers say is a OLCC's overzealous and inequitable approach to beer and booze regulations in Central Oregon, which they say is hurting business and tourism.
Les Schwab Amphitheater Director Marney Smith said OLCC's unreasonably stiff regulations forced them to scrap the Bend Brew Fest and could be endangering the long-term survival of the amphitheater.
Smith said the venue lost three shows-which she estimates will cost the community $2 million in lost tourism revenue-this summer because of OLCC's draconian regulations that include limiting beer sales to temporary fenced areas under flood lights far removed from the performers.
"If we can't get our license changed for our concerts this season, our ability to survive is in great danger," she told Ignowski at the round table session at city hall.
Ignowski, who traveled to Bend from Salem to hear firsthand about the community's dissatisfaction with the regional office, acknowledged that there is a problem in Bend, even if it's just a problem of perception. To that end, she attempted to explain how the agency approaches its job, namely from a public safety standpoint. Local officials, including Doug LaPlaca of Visit Bend, however, pushed Ignowski for a concrete acknowledgment of the problems, which they say has resulted in a culture of fear and intimidation around liquor sales, and a pledge for change.
In the end Ignowski proposed a plan that would temporarily supplant OLCC's regional office with a local panel to review permits for concerts and festivals, one of the area's where OLCC has the most leeway and has been criticized for being too subjective.
It's not the last chapter in the ongoing dispute. Ignowski will be back in Bend this week for a follow-up meeting with local representatives. Meanwhile, the local business and government community is laying the groundwork for a legislative campaign and plans to meet with its statehouse delegation in the coming weeks for what is sure to be a spirited bitch session.