Attorney Ed Fitch, at his desk in his Redmond law office on Friday, has filed several applications for relief for property owners under Measure 37, even though he opposed the law and now works to achieve an overhaul of the state's land-use laws.
As of Friday, Fitch
had filed 12 claims, including one for an elderly client who, along with her
sister, wishes to subdivide 80 acres of land that have been in her
family since 1917.
, 53, is not a proponent of Measure 37 , he
voted against the ballot measure.But the overwhelming passage of Measure 37 by voters is a wake-up call to legislators that something is very wrong with Oregon's land use laws, he
, a 25-year veteran of state land use issues, wants to help solve the problem.
"It is a less dynamic system than it was 20 years ago," said Fitch
, sitting in his Redmond law office
on Thursday."It has become way too difficult to do a lot of common sense things."
As an example, Fitch points to those who own land that, under a few inches of soil, is solid lava rock, but is nonetheless designated farm land, barring other uses for the land.
"We tend to lump a lot of land that is juniper and sagebrush into resource land," said Fitch
."Many people would say that it just doesn't make a lot of sense that a person who has sagebrush and juniper couldn't do some reasonable division."
Lawmakers have confused the idea of preserving valuable agricultural land with
"If the value is open space, that creates a whole different approach that makes more sense," said Fitch
.Those who wish to see vast expanses of juniper and sagebrush could explore types of development that would better preserve the integrity of those areas, he
said that in the long run, the measure, which pits land use advocates against property rights advocates, will do more harm than good.
In December, Fitch
wrote to legislators urging revisions to Measure 37.
"If the Legislature does not address Measure 37 ... the courts will have to flesh out many of the ambiguities that are inherent in the Measure," wrote Fitch
Land use laws are critical to protect certain land from development, especially prime forest land and farm land with rich, productive soil, said Fitch
.But not everything is worth protecting at the expense of land owners, he
"That's where I think we take a wrong turn," said Fitch
."Right now, they're taking a pig, putting lipstick on it and calling it farmland.We call it rock farm land."
outlined what he
considers critical safeguards that should be attached to Measure 37 to prevent the measure from disabling legitimate land use laws.Measure 37 should have a sunset clause, and not be applicable to prime commercial forest and farm lands, wrote Fitch
JOINING THE MELEE
Fitch's role in Measure 37 issues may expose him to criticism from land use advocates, but he
is nevertheless drawn to controversial public issues.Fitch
grew up in River Forest, Ill., one of 10 children.His
mother worked for the Cook
County welfare system, and his
father owned a metal finishing factory on the west side of Chicago.
In 1968, Fitch
, then 16, and his family followed a National Guard escort through the streets of Chicago amid race riots, sparked by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., to check on the factory to make sure it hadn't gone up in flames.
The same year, when anti-war protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago erupted in violence, Fitch
snuck out of his
house to join the melee.He
also participated in other Vietnam War protests.
"I think when it's controversial, it's most interesting," said Fitch
."Controversy brings to the forefront critical issues that have to be addressed.When you shy away from them, everybody loses."
"Whatever it is, I think it's extremely important for people to express their opinion publicly," he
said.Fitch attended Marquette University in Wisconsin with the intention of becoming a history teacher, but his interest in public law drew him to the legal profession.
"Public law was a way to take values and translate them into reality," he
said.Fitch graduated from Willamette Law School in 1978, moved to Redmond and immediately took a place in the public arena in Central Oregon. From 1979 to 1998, when he became the mayor of Redmond, Fitch served as the city attorney for Redmond.He also served as the assistant city attorney for Bend from 1979 to 1983.Fitch
officiated on the land use hearings board from the late 1980s to the early 1990s.As mayor of Redmond, Fitch helped to push through the Highway 97 re-route and Highland-Glacier couplet projects.The Oregon Department of Transportation
(ODOT) broke ground on the re-route in October.Fitch
and wife Susan, 45, have two teenaged sons who attend Redmond High School
, and the family, along with mutt, Sassy, and cat, Fore, lives along the golf course at Eagle Crest Resort.Fitch
is not handling Measure 37 cases in Redmond
, which would be a conflict of interest, he
WHAT LIES AHEADFitch
has encountered city policies that make it prohibitive for residents to file claims.In Bend
, officials have mandated expensive documents, such as a property assessment."People have to spend thousands on futile documents," said Fitch
."This is what makes our land use system adverse to local citizens."
said cities are risking taxpayers' money by sitting on "incomplete" claims.
"The city must decide if the claim is valid and if they will pay or waive regulations," said Fitch
The best possible solution, said Fitch
, is for lawmakers in Salem , not lawyers or judges , to take the lead in initiating some review.
letter to Gov.
Chuck Burley, R-Bend, Fitch
proposed a joint task force that would address problems with Measure 37, and the overall land use system.
"We need to get back to what is critical in our land use system and what is not," Fitch
wrote to the legislators.
So far, only Whisnant has responded to the Dec. 28 letter, said Fitch
"We have to figure out, where we went wrong to cause this disconnect with citizens, and I have offered to assist in that," said Fitch