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The 35-day 2020 session ended abruptly after a stand-off between the parties over referring carbon legislation to voters. The upshot is that nearly all bills died on March 5. After the coronavirus and new awareness of systemic racism hit Oregon and the rest of the nation, the legislature spent the rest of 2020 in three Special Sessions and 11 Emergency Board meetings to fund programs in response and enact policy changes.

Despite these tumultuous political forces within and outside the Capital, OSG stayed laser-focused on the few bills that would have positive and negative impacts on the feasibility of walkable, livable development. 

2020 Legislative Session

  • OSG opposed efforts to disconnect Oregon tax code from the Opportunity Zone program. HB 4010 A would have disconnected Oregon from the federal program by limiting the basis adjustment to 50% at Year 10. The bill also required reporting on Oregon investments and investors and a study of program benefits and impacts. OSG and the coalition supported the study and was neutral on the reporting but remained opposed to any bill that included any type of disconnect.

  • We supported language in SB 1531 A requiring income averaging in local opt-in tax exemption programs for affordable housing to align with LIHTC rules. This revision would have increased the flexibility for those using low-income housing tax credits as part of their capital stack.

  • We worked with Speaker Kotek’s staff on her Homeless Emergency Declaration HB 4001 A and $120 million package for affordable housing construction and preservation, navigation centers in Eugene, Bend, Medford, McMinnville and Salem, and a requirement for approval of shelters regardless of land use laws (except sensitive environment and hazard areas); state building codes were not waived. 


  • OSG expressed concerns over potential constitutional amendment referral (HJR 203) that would authorize a new state real property transfer charge or increases rate of existing state real property transfer charge if there is an exemption for the first $500,000 of taxable value of real property and revenue is used exclusively to fund or finance affordable housing in this state. Although it was clear this was a discussion point, rather than a concerted effort, OSG shared that the layers of transactions, especially in multifamily and affordable projects would disproportionately impact these types of dense housing development.

  • We opposed requirement for EV charging infrastructure for 20% of parking in new private commercial or multifamily (over 5 units) projects (HB 4068 A). The same requirement was not required of public projects, yet local jurisdictions would have been able to require a higher EV percentage in their local code.

  • Once, again, OSG thwarted an attempt to amend HB 4014 (an unrelated land use bill) to remove owner consent for historic designation.

Frustratingly, the dynamics of the session ended any consideration of exempting contracts from the Commercial Activities Tax enacted prior to January 1, 2020. The 2019 legislature did not explicitly distinguish contracts that were already underway before the tax went into effect, from those that can be negotiated with the tax in mind, and early conversations with the chairs of the Finance and Revenue committees were positive. Unfortunately, the Speaker sent a clear message that no revisions would be acceptable that would reduce the revenue to the Student Success Act (the recipient of the CAT.) 

2020 Emergency Board and Special Sessions

Almost immediately after the 2020 session ended, the pandemic hit, and the death of George Floyd led to months of protests. The legislature met in three Special Sessions and the Emergency Board met 11 times to provide response funding and address policy issues for both COVID-19 and policing reforms. 

OSG engaged throughout the Special Sessions and Emergency Board meetings to provide thoughtful recommendations and push back on misguided policies, including:

  • Advocated for construction and development to stay open after the pandemic lead to shutdowns in many other states; Governor Brown allowed construction and development to continue within safe practices.

  • Pressed for rent assistance to fully cover rent owed to residential and commercial property owners. A $100 million fund to cover commercial back-rent owed was approved during the Third Special Session, and SB 330, a tax credit to property owners to recuperate residential back-rent is currently being considered in the 2021 session and has been endorsed by OSG and other groups. Additional grants to cover back-rent may come from the federal America Rescue Plan allocation to Oregon.

Local Advocacy   

In 2020, COVID-19’s impact on the economy and development landscape influenced much of our local advocacy work. While addressing the pandemic’s impacts, we continued to ensure that local development policy not only supports a variety of dense, walkable housing and commercial options, but also ensures those developments remain financially feasible over the long term. 

At the start of the pandemic, Oregon Smart Growth led the effort to outline urgent housing investment actions the City of Portland could take to mitigate the economic impacts of COVID-19. We urged the City to work alongside us to think about ways we could stabilize our region now and lay the foundations for sustainable and equitable growth in the future, including meeting Portland’s responsibility to continue the production of housing at all levels of affordability.

Several of the urgent actions we outlined were quickly implemented, including an extension in land use entitlement expiration dates to provide flexibility for projects impacted by the pandemic, and a six-month delay in Bureau of Development Services fee increases. Oregon Smart Growth joined the Mayor’s Economic Recovery Task Force work group charged with addressing continuity in permitting operations, advising on issues such as digital permit submissions and virtual inspections. 

In October, following summer racial justice protests, wildfires, an anti-Portland national narrative driven by then-President Donald Trump, and ongoing COVID-related closures, OSG led our partners to create ten additional actions the City could take to provide regulatory and process certainty, and efficiency—as well as mitigate other negative perceptions among those that finance projects—to give the development community a fighting chance to overcome reputational issues, attract investment, and keep projects and jobs moving forward. OSG and partners also met with current and newly-elected City Commissioners to underscore the need for their leadership on housing and development issues.

The City has implemented several of the action items Oregon Smart Growth recommended, including extensions for approved building permits, faster release of permits that are in the pre-issuance stage, and fully equipping the Bureau of Development Services with the tools and technology needed to keep permitting processes flowing in a remote working environment. We are working with City officials to stand up a task force to address additional recommended action items, and tackle longer-standing issues with bureaus focusing on their own silos that impact permitting timelines and consistency. 

This year, Oregon Smart Growth debuted a “green light” process to educate and vet candidates for Mayor and Portland City Council. Following a questionnaire, select candidates were invited to interviews with OSG’s board and policy committee, who recommended a “green light” for several candidates—including Mayor Ted Wheeler, and new City Commissioners Mingus Mapps and Carmen Rubio.

Oregon Smart Growth also was on the steering committee for United for Portland, one of the largest and most politically diverse coalitions in Portland history, and contributed funding and political expertise in support of Mayor Ted Wheeler’s successful re-election bid.

Oregon Smart Growth advocated for quick re-adoption of the Central City 2035 plan—following a remand—so projects could proceed under predictable regulations. OSG also weighed in in support of two Central City developments facing appeals from neighbors — Hyatt Place and Alamo Manhattan. Both projects closely aligned with CC2035’s vision for mixed-use, walkable, transit-rich neighborhoods, with a variety of housing options to meet Portlanders’ needs. City Council ultimately rejected both appeals. 

OSG joined with partners—including business and labor representatives—to advocate for sustainable funding for the Bureau of Development Services into 2021 and beyond, to keep permitting services on track and support a robust economic recovery. Following COVID-19 related revenue impacts, the bureau faces profound staffing cuts that will impede the bureau’s ability to keep up with a recovering development and construction industry. This is an issue that will continue into the City’s budget process in Spring 2021, with early signs pointing to Council support for sustaining BDS’ operations as part of the City’s economic recovery goals.

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