Oregon has new land use rules that create better communities and help combat climate change

By Mary Kyle McCurdy, Deputy Director

The primary source of climate-polluting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Oregon is from transportation, especially cars and light trucks. For over a decade, 1000 Friends of Oregon has been working on land use and transportation policies to bring together affordable and diverse housing choices in every neighborhood, with affordable, safe, and enjoyable ways for people to get around by walking, taking transit, and bicycling to nearby stores, schools, services, and parks

At its July 21, 2022 meeting, the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC ) adopted its “Climate Friendly & Equitable Communities” rules. (Read DLCD's press release here!) These rules are designed to reduce GHG emissions from transportation while creating more equitable communities by planning for diverse and affordable housing and transportation choices. The rules apply to cities and counties in Oregon’s eight major urban areas, which together represent most of Oregon’s population: the Portland metro area, Salem/Keizer, Eugene/Springfield, Corvallis, Albany, Medford, Grants Pass, and Bend.

The rules are a mix of very good, pretty good, and not good enough requirements to meaningfully and quickly reduce climate pollution and create more livable, equitable communities. They have the potential to be very good, if purposefully implemented by local governments with the intent to achieve real climate progress.  

The rules provide a launching-off point that is just the start. And as local governments implement policies and funding decisions to create more climate friendly and equitable neighborhoods, that’s where the participation of community members — like you — comes in. The rules are designed to be implemented over several years; we will provide specific details soon on how to get involved  to make sure your city and/or county walks its talk about dealing with our climate crisis.

But first, here is what the rules are intended to do:

  • Increase housing options and affordability in mixed-use neighborhood centers and downtowns, with easy accessibility to stores, schools, jobs, and services – without always needing a car.
  • Expand and connect a network of safe and affordable sidewalks, trails, bikeways, and transit facilities so people can conduct most of their regular activities without depending on a car.
  • Reduce parking mandates and improve parking management. It is estimated that we have nine parking spaces for every car – that takes away land that could be used for housing, increases the cost of housing because providing parking is expensive, and causes natural resources and trees to be unnecessarily paved over. (Read more about parking mandates in this article from Sightline!)
  • Local and regional transportation planning and spending  is expected to shift from a primary focus on accommodating roads and cars to substantially increased focus on climate-friendly transportation options. However, this is where LCDC’s climate rules are weakest, because they allow local governments to take up to seven years to comply, and these transportation plans are not tied directly to reducing GHG emissions. 

Let’s make sure that implementation of these rules actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions and creates more equitable communities. Since the U.S. Supreme Court recently curtailed the ability of the U.S. EPA to mandate carbon emissions reductions, it is more crucial than ever that Oregon and other states take the lead.