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Tim Stumhofer: Measuring 37

When Oregonians voted for Measure 37, few knew they were opening a Pandora's Box of land use problems. Tim Stumhofer '06 set out to determine how the controversial measure would impact transportation planning. What he found put him on the road to a career that will shape future communities.

"I wanted to look at urban transportation policy in light of Measure 37," says the Willamette University senior politics major. "In the past, transportation planning has been a key part of Oregon's strict land use planning. Measure 37 has the potential to undermine a wide range of land use policies."

Measure 37, which has recently been set aside - at least temporarily - by the courts, mandates that landowners be compensated for any loss of value their property sustains as a result of changes in land use laws. For instance, if someone purchased a piece of property with the intention of subdividing it for development and later land use laws prohibited dividing the land, the government must pay the landowner for the difference in the land's value. Or they must allow the landowner to divide and develop the land.

To fund his research, Stumhofer applied for and won a prestigious Carson Undergraduate Research Grant. The $3,000 Carson stipend is designed to encourage original research or work outside the classroom. Stumhofer also arranged a month-long internship with 1,000 Friends of Oregon, a Portland non-profit that has played a large part in shaping Oregon's land use policies.

"The group 1,000 Friends is basically an advocacy law firm," he explains. "I worked for one of their lawyers. Because there is so much confusion about what property devaluation means under Measure 37, 1,000 Friends wanted me to work on establishing a stronger definition of what devaluation means."

Stumhofer's job involved talking with appraisers and state economists and researching property deeds and chains of ownership to find comparable uses for properties. While the work was sometimes tedious, he found his colleagues inspiring.

"1,000 Friends has been a big player in land use planning and working for them was such a good experience. Every day, even casual conversations over lunch were educational for me."

For his Carson research project, Stumhofer focused on the impact Measure 37 has on planning roadway bypasses and interchanges. "When ODOT builds a road, they try to control the traffic stream at the exits so that it doesn't become too congested. All of this is guided by state land use planning goals. For my project, I looked at the Newberg-Dundee bypass that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) currently has in the final planning stages."

Stumhofer says he discovered that, if implemented, Measure 37 could totally disrupt transportation planning. "Given the current regulations under Measure 37, land owners around interchanges could develop the land as they wished. Ultimately, it's not a sustainable way to build roads. We're going to have to put caps or sunset clauses on this legislation or the effects of Measure 37 will be more broad-reaching than you can imagine."

While the fate of Measure 37 is in the hands of the courts, Stumhofer feels good that his work may contribute to understanding some of the complex issues involved. At 1,000 Friends, he summed up his land valuation work in a comment letter he filed with one of the agency's attorney's. The letter may be used in future court cases. "I went home every day feeling like I was doing something worthwhile."

He hopes his Carson research paper will have an impact too. "The results of my research aren't a surprise. My goal was to be able to put all this information into a package you could present to someone."

That research and his experience with 1,000 Friends will certainly have long-term effects on Stumhofer. "Working at 1,000 Friends affirmed my decision to pursue a law degree or a combination law and public policy degree. I'd like to help curb urban sprawl. I'm concerned about the social and environmental effects of sprawling cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas. I'd like to help do something to change that kind of development."