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This land is Our Land
This land is Our Land

Ex-lawmaker still committed to zoning rules

CORVALLIS - Hector Macpherson Jr. can tell you how he came to write the land-use legislation that would shape all of Oregon for the next 36 years.

A harder question is why.

In the end, he figures it came down to his personal sense of logic: Prime farmland ought to be preserved, and he was in the position to do it.

Not everyone agreed, then or now. But while Macpherson, now 90, might change a few things about the bills he wrote during his one term in office, SB 100 and SB 101, he wouldn't take them back.

"I'm still big on protecting the best farmland," said Macpherson, who lives in Corvallis with his wife, Kitty. "I think it's more important now than when I started."

Country boy

The man who would create Oregon's Land Conservation and Development Commission grew up on his father's dairy farm in the Oakville area southwest of Albany. Hector Macpherson Sr. had been a professor at what was then Oregon Agricultural College but gave that up to start a farm when he was elected to the state House of Representatives.

With Hector Sr. frequently away "doing politics," Hector Jr. and his older brother, David, handled much of the farm chores. Even after Hector Jr.'s graduation from Corvallis High School in 1936 and subsquent enrollment at Oregon State University, he would commute to work the farm.

Macpherson received a degree in agriculture and chemistry from OSU in 1940. He joined the Army with the thought of becoming a pilot but "washed out of training" and ended up a navigator on a B-17.

He and a friend were on their way to Panama in 1941 when Hector asked to make a stop in New York to visit his sister, Betty.

Betty was teaching home economics at a New York vocational college. It was summer and she was able to put the two soldiers up on campus.

That's where Kitty, then 19, comes in. Her father, director of the school, mentioned Betty's guests.

"My sister and I heard there were two soldiers on campus, and by golly, we were going to get there," Kitty recalled, chuckling.

Macpherson and Kitty wrote for the next couple of years, until Macpherson was transferred stateside for navigator training and they were able to reconnect in person. They married May 29, 1943, and had five children. Senate Bill 100 was signed on their 30th anniversary.

After his discharge in 1945, Macpherson took over the family farm. Kitty, who in Macpherson's absence became an art teacher for first through 12th grades in a New York school district, had no problem moving to an Oregon dairy farm.

"That was fine with me," she said. "I was brought up to believe the most beautiful animal in the world is a Holstein cow."

Life in the outdoors

Macpherson threw himself into farming, and into outdoor life in general. He spent weekends climbing mountains. He joined the Dairy Breeders Association, the Corvallis Milk Producers Association and the Linn County Extension Service.

His membership in agricultural organizations brought Macpherson to a special meeting called by Linn County commissioners, who wanted to discuss whether they should set up up a county planning department. Macpherson lobbied for it and eventually was named to serve on it.

A few years after the planning commission formed, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 10. The 1969 legislation required counties to plan for development, but gave no instructions on how to do so. Linn County, by working on zoning rules, was ahead of the game, Macpherson said.

As much as Macpherson cared about responsible development, it wasn't his main reason for running for state office. Mostly, he said, he was simply interested in public service at a larger level.

But he made no secret of his desire to save farmland from urban development, which he thinks helped his campaign. He was elected to the Senate in 1970.

When the 1971 session began, he sought out Wes Kvarsten, director of the Mid Willamette Valley Council of Governments. Kvarsten was working on the concepts that would become the rules for urban growth boundaries, and suggested Macpherson put together a Senate Joint Resolution to create a committee to study a land-use planning process.

Macpherson got his SJR but no funding to go with it. So he contacted staffers in Gov. Tom McCall's office to help create an informal committee instead. With Robert Logan's assistance, and the co-sponsoring of Democrat Ted Hallock, he put together Senate Bill 100.

The bill's preamble sums up Macpherson's philosphy: "Uncoordinated use of lands within this state threatens the orderly development, the environment of this state and the health, safety, order, convenience, prosperity and welfare of the people of this state … . It is necessary to establish a process for the review of state agency, city, county and special district land conservation and development plans for compliance with statewide planning goals and guidelines."

Divided by size

Large, commercial farms were receptive to Macpherson's bill. Smaller family farms were not, and owners were angry at Macpherson for what they saw as a wholesale takeover of their rights to their own lands.

Macpherson understood, and said he never intended them to be a part of the exclusive farm use restrictions, but compromises at the lobbyist level kept them in. Other lawmakers said it would cost too much to set aside funds for secondary land-use planning.

Landowner anger led to Macpherson's defeat when he ran for re-election against Democrat John Powell of Halsey. He never ran again. Instead, he spent 10 years on the Land Conservation and Development Commission that SB 100 called for, fighting for the idea that preserving farmland was more important than economics.

To many landowners, that's still an open question. A few have sent Macpherson hate mail over the years.

"I don't think they've stopped being angry yet," Macpherson said, smiling.

More often, however, were the letters and visits from people who agreed that land ought to be used intelligently and for the greater benefit of all, he said. "It's amazing, the number of people who have stopped by over the years to talk to me."

Macpherson said he believes his law, like all others, is a living document that should be able to change as circumstances demand. One day, he said, it's possible most of Oregon could be paved over, regardless of the restrictions he created.

However, he said with a shrug, "We can do a good job of doing it or a poor job of doing it - and leave some of the best for farming."

You can reach Jennifer Moody at or 812-6113.

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