Paul Jacob

I am trying, trying hard to imagine what a "zoning emergency" might be. Is a slaughterhouse about to fall into a swimming pool? Is a dam about to break?

Maybe you have a better imagination than I; maybe you won't recoil like I did at a statute passed by Oregon's state senate.

Senate Bill 823 — passed 23 to six by that august body — sets out to prohibit all development on or within spitting distance of the historic Oregon Trail running from the state line to the city of The Dalles. It's quite a bite out of the future, for the sake of the past.

And it strikes me as utterly absurd.

But, even if it were not, on the face of it, a stupid and intrusive law, a usurpation, nothing more than plunder tarted up as a never-ending history lesson, how could it be construed as an emergency?

Yes, that's how the august Oregon state senators labeled their legislation. Emergency. A zoning emergency. Here's the wording:

SECTION 3. This 2007 Act being necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is declared to exist, and this 2007 Act takes effect on its passage.

The senate's act would prohibit Oregon's no-doubt equally august zoning bodies from ever approving any application for a permit — or any other development approval — to change a current land use at any location within 100 feet of the route of the Oregon Trail.

The senators in their debate, I'm told, gave no real context of the emergency character of their notion. They just added the section. It's the thing to do these days. We live in "emergency-oriented" times.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.