When 1000 Friends of Oregon opened an office downtown in April, it doubled the land-use watchdog establishment in Bend. The well-funded Portland-based group has for years had a nominal presence in Central Oregon, but its office represents a renewed push in Central Oregon.
The organization brought on two paid staff members, including an attorney, and has already waded into several of the region’s more high profile conservation issues, including the city’s proposed urban growth boundary expansion and destination resort remapping.
That’s probably good news for conservation-minded voters, but in many ways 1,000 Friends will duplicate what the homegrown Central Oregon LandWatch, a long-standing, local, public-interest organization, has been doing here, potentially increasing competition for donors and members in an area of the state that doesn’t have as much cash to go around—particularly in a prolonged recession that has already stung many non-profits.
If constituents have a hard time keeping the two groups separate, they can be forgiven. Both 1000 Friends of Oregon and Central Oregon LandWatch fight for Oregon’s unique land-use laws that aim to conserve farmland and natural areas while curbing urban sprawl. Both pressure elected leaders to thoughtfully plan for things such as urban development. Both groups wish the community understood that land-use planning is not boring; it’s their back yard.
By all accounts there is plenty of work to go around for them both to stay productive. They say they’ll meet regularly and collaborate on overlapping projects. They’ll devise strategies and divvy up roles to play while helping officials shape the county’s destination resort map or the city’s growth plan. Together, they say, they’ll better achieve their goals and broaden the capacity for good, public watchdog work.
But, LandWatch, which leans a little edgier and old-school, is concerned about losing money and members to the bigger 1000 Friends of Oregon, which has existed since 1975, counts some 4,200 paying members, and has a well-established Facebook and Twitter presence. By way of contrast, LandWatch has fewer than 300 donors, by its rough estimate.
Central Oregon isn’t exactly foreign territory for 1000 Friends of Oregon. The organization had a part-time staff member, or “advocate” as they are known in Friend’s parlance, in Bend for most of the last eight years. That amounted to typically one person working from home and attending meetings to maintain at least a nominal set of eyes and ears on the ground for the group. But it’s been at least six months since 1000 Friends had a presence here, and the new two-staff office is a different scenario—one that is reflective of 1,000 Friends new statewide strategy of bolstering its regional presence in outlying areas like Central and Southern Oregon.
LandWatch grew from what was formerly the Sisters Forest Planning Committee, founded by local land-use attorney Paul Dewey in 1986. In some ways it’s a local success story. Though there are some folks who can’t utter the soft spoken Dewey’s name without at least a hint of derision or, at least exasperation, that might be interpreted as a symptom of his effectiveness as an advocate and his skill as a litigator. (Dewey has probably dealt more would-be developers and ambitious government planners legal setbacks than any other single attorney in the state of Oregon). But under his leadership, the organization has grown from a fringe group more likely to be found on the pages of a legal appeal than in planning commission meetings or statehouse sub-committee hearings to a group that is known for its influence and effectiveness from Sisters to Salem. By some accounts, it became the pre-eminent environmental and land use watchdog east of the Cascasdes, beginning in the middle of the last decade when Kancler joined the organization as the first full-time paid staffer. The organization changed its name to Central Oregon LandWatch in 2006 when it added another attorney-—interestingly, that was Pam Hardy who is now 1000 Friends’ new attorney—to deal with the onslaught of work to do, at the time, namely keeping vigil on the propagation of destination resort plans. While the recession has created a lull in the resort market, there’s always a bad planning and policy idea floating around somewhere.
“There’s more than enough work here, but the question is whether there’s enough of a financial base to support us all,” said Dewey, whose group is banking on sustained and, ultimately increased funding to support its growing mission.
He has “mixed emotions,” he said; the groups together will broaden the appeal of land use, but will inevitably compete for the same pool of funders and public attention.
Even without competition, it’s hard enough to raise money for an obscure cause like smart land-use, he said. Causes such as river protection or establishing new wilderness are easier to grasp and therefore to fund, he said.
Plus, he and Executive Director Erik Kancler tend to focus their energy on “trench warfare,” fighting the proposed destination resort near the Metolius River, or protecting Skyline Forest from development west of Bend, rather than fund raising. Their work often entails long hours of enduring marathon meetings, filing legal briefs or lobbying elected officials in Salem. But in the end, it’s money that makes the enterprise go. And LandWatch has been getting more savvy at steering funds its way over the past few years, using its legislative successes to build upon its financial base.
LandWatch’s annual income has increased slowly, up to about $160,000, according to public record tax filings. Before the 2006 reorganization, the budget rarely reached $20,000, Kancler said. Most of their donations come locally, Dewey said. Thanks to Landwatch’s pivotal organizing and lobbying role on the Metolius destination resort issue and other initiatives including a novel compromise on the Skyline Forest, the organization has been able to broaden its base. But their income is a pittance compared to 1000 Friends’ $1.3 million in 2008, and 1000 Friends is better poised to write newsletters, send out fund raising requests or throw big dinner events with the who’s who of Oregon.
As a sidenote, however, 1000 Friends’ leaders say the Central Oregon office is not dependent on Central Oregon donations to keep its doors open. In other words, it’s possible for those deep pockets to sustain the local 1000 Friends office without monopolizing all the local donors.
In addition to the challenges surrounding finances, there’s going to be a challenge around communication, too. It’s crucial, LandWatch’s Kancler said, to communicate their individual messages and roles to their constituents and potential donors, “to explain to donors and people how we both work,” he said. If donors don’t know who is doing what, or believe the two groups don’t get along, they might not give money to anyone, Kancler said.
Seattle-based Brainerd Foundation director Ann Krumboltz says he’s right; it’s crucial that similar, neighboring groups clarify their individual niches and strategies when they’re seeking donations, but she’s seen similar situations work out. The Brainerd Foundation typically grants funds to Northwestern environmental organizations.
Generally speaking, “We have to make sure our grants aren’t duplicative, that it is going to make an impact,” Krumboltz said. “The last thing we need to do is fund two groups doing the same thing.”
Basically, it’s too soon to say how the relationship will work between LandWatch and 1000 Friends of Oregon. But a test case will emerge this summer when the city of Bend’s urban growth boundary (UGB) conversation returns to the public. The two watchdog groups are already talking about how to divvy up the roles, ready to illustrate how they can collaborate.
The city of Bend is planning to expand its UGB-—the line around the city that defines what’s city and what’s county. LandWatch protested the city’s urban growth boundary expansion plan during the open comment period. The city sent its expansion plan to the state, which will remand it back to city leaders, with suggested revisions, this summer. Then it’s open to public scrutiny again.
There is already a distinction between how the two groups will play it out. Unlike LandWatch, which submitted comments early and is therefore an official stakeholder in the process, 1000 Friends is ready to play, but is late to the game. Because the organization had no staff member working in Central Oregon during the UGB’s first public comment period, 1000 Friends missed its opportunity to file a legal appeal of the plan later.
It happened, 1000 Friends said, during the six-month gap before recent hiring of attorney Pam Hardy and outreach coordinator Ben Gordon.
Gordon said the organization was experiencing “internal turmoil and changes … We didn’t close up shop. We had staffing issues.”
Gordon said he’ll work on public outreach, educating the general populace about how important the city’s growth plan is, through events such as public bike tours across town, the first of which is scheduled for next Tuesday , July 13, and forums at popular local restaurants. He will try to make people understand that land use is how they get to work, how the kids get to school, how bad traffic is.
City Councilor Jodie Barram said she thinks it will be more effective to have some diversity in the voices and faces at the table at this and other land-use conversations.
“Paul Dewey is admirable, but it’s just been him for so long,” said Baram who spent several years working on the UGB as both a planning commissioner and city councilor. Different councilors might have a better rapport with different players, she said. It will broaden the overall appeal of land-use regulation to have more advocates with the same overarching mission.
The way 1000 Friends achieves its overarching mission is evolving, though, reflective of a larger organizational change that has translated into, among other things, having the local office here. This past spring 1000 Friends hired Jason Miner as its new executive director. He said several things called for establishing a real Central Oregon office. Partly, it’s that the region is growing—or at least it was—and a lot of big land-use topics are swirling around here.
“That conflict over the Metolius brought our attention back to, ‘How do we build healthy rural economies?’” he said. “Our work has been scattershot in rural communities. We’re trying to say, “What can the land-use system do to preserve scenic vistas?’ - the conservation side, but also recognize that rural Oregon has really struggled in the past three years.”
“Thirty-five years into 1000 Friends, we’re shifting from being really watchdogs in the litigation and administrative processes and trying to become more heavily involved in outreach and education,” Miner said.
After ballot measures 37 (2004) and 49 (2007) arose “it became clear that any day we’re only one ballot measure away from losing the whole land-use system,” which is credited for Oregon’s vibrant agriculture and model cities. In short, Measure 37 was a backlash to those regulations. It said property owners whose property value was reduced by land-use laws, or restrictions on development, could claim compensation from the local government for the value lost. Measure 49 scaled back Measure 37. Almost $140,000 worth of support was given to the Yes on 49 campaign by 1000 Friends of Oregon.
Miner hopes 1000 Friends’ expansion and rural public outreach will stimulate a statewide resurgence in support for, rather than opposition to, land-use laws so that something like Measure 37 never passes again. Even before 1000 Friends opened shop in Bend, Kancler was thinking about LandWatch’s future and direction. In some ways, his visions mirror Miner’s: Kancler is aiming to address rural economic health and wants to boost rural support for land-use planning. But even as 1000 Friends is moving into Central Oregon, Kancler said the once locally-focused LandWatch is expanding its advocacy into Salem, building on the successes it had in the last session.
“Things you’d expect like making sure the Metolius stays protected after we worked so hard to get it protected. And the same thing goes for Skyline Forest. And we plan to continue playing a lead role on the topic of statewide destination resort policy reform,” Kancler said.
“We’ll be working to support legislative proposals by others that make for smart land use and rural economic development, and oppose proposals that run counter to those goals.”
To that end Kancler said the group plans to add a lobbyist to its ranks before the next session, a role that Kancler filled over the past few years while juggling his organization, communication and fundraising duties. Meantime, LandWatch just increased its board of directors from four to seven, adding a former state senator, an economist and former county planning commissioner, and a former county planning director, to expand the organization’s expertise. It also got on board the social networking juggernaut recently, launching a Facebook page. Time will tell how many Friends that Kancler, Dewey and Co. amass.
“Anytime you have new competition, for lack of a better word, you have to sharpen your focus and make sure you’re connecting your mission as effectively as possible with what people care about,” he said.