LEGAL WIN | LUBA rejects Hillsboro's inflated growth projections

Last month, the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) rejected an attempt by the City of Hillsboro to inflate their employment growth projections for the next 20 years – an estimate that would have allowed them to seek an unwarranted UGB expansion and threaten valuable surrounding farmland. This ruling is a win for our land use planning system and the deliberate, careful way we set our urban growth boundaries so that our communities don’t sprawl onto the irreplaceable lands that feed our region and support our economy.

The effort was led by 1000 Friends of Oregon Associate Staff Attorney Devin Kesner, who filed the appeal to challenge the adoption of Hillsboro’s Economic Opportunity Analysis (EOA). Metro – the governing body with review authority over any future UGB expansion in Hillsboro – also intervened in the case alongside 1000 Friends. In its ruling, LUBA rightfully sent the decision back to the City of Hillsboro for reconsideration, although we still have concerns about the methodology and scale of Hillsboro’s growth projections.

About Economic Opportunity Analyses

An EOA projects employment growth and the land a city expects to need for that employment over a 20-year period, setting the stage for future changes to a local government’s UGB and public policy. At its best, an EOA allows a city to thoughtfully and sustainably plan to accommodate projected growth. 

To project employment growth, a city must evaluate trends in its economic opportunities, inventory its available employment lands, and assess its economic-development potential. Based on those evaluations, an EOA must then estimate how much land will be required to meet the city’s projected employment land needs. 

Cities must first attempt to accommodate projected growth within their existing UGB before looking at land outside the boundary. Ensuring that cities are conducting reasonable analyses is important because any project shortfall in employment lands will likely be used to attempt to justify future UGB expansions. 

What happened with Hillsboro’s contested EOA

Hillsboro projected an employment growth of more than 61,895 employees by 2040, and estimated the city would need 3,481 additional acres of employment land to support this – 2,000 acres of which would come from a UGB expansion onto surrounding farmland. 

There are a few problems here: First, Hillsboro’s method for calculating these numbers was far too subjective. Second, the city’s employment projections were more than three times that of  Metro, which estimates adding only 17,800 new jobs in Hillsboro in that time period. 

LUBA agreed with 1000 Friends that Hillsboro’s analysis was inadequate and overestimated the amount of land needed to accommodate employment growth. We applaud this decision because miscalculating available land within the UGB could result in an unnecessary UGB expansion. 

(LUBA also determined that HIllsboro had failed to interpret a portion of its code that would impact the procedure and criteria applicable to the EOA adoption.)

Although the case resulted in a victory, with the decision being sent back to the city for further consideration, the ruling did not achieve all that 1000 Friends had hoped. LUBA disagreed with us that Hillsboro’s disproportionate growth projections were improper and unreasonable, considering the city’s dependency on Metro’s regional planning to accommodate its growth. 

This leaves a door open for Hillsboro to return with an EOA that is still wildly out of sync with Metro’s expectations. And because Metro makes improvements to local transportation, housing, and public infrastructure in line with its own projections – rather than Hillsboro’s – we could see a mismatch and conflict in future coordination and expectations between the two entities.

Looking forward

Hillsboro isn’t the only city searching for ways to expand their UGB and skirt the land use planning process that has kept Oregon’s cities vital and our farmlands protected from development. We continue to see piecemeal attempts like this to add land to a UGB, especially in areas elbowing to attract semiconductor development. (A crucial safeguard that we negotiated into Oregon’s SB 4 is that the governor must look inside a UGB for land suitable for semiconductor facilities before allocating land by executive order. Statewide, we know there is plenty of suitable land inside UGBs already.)

1000 Friends will be watching for Hillsboro’s new EOA, and we are committed to continuing to monitor these types of analyses to ensure that any future action to accommodate employment growth is genuinely warranted.