Image for The Man with a 1000 Friends Who Protected Oregon Farmland

Many American cities have sprawled, while Oregon cities have densified, thanks in large part to the persistent and perspicuous advocacy of Henry Richmond. The 78-year-old founder of 1000 Friends of Oregon died last month at his family farm in Newberg.

Richmond was determined to make Oregon’s innovative, but controversial growth management system as popular and bipartisan as possible, evidenced by his recruitment of outgoing Republican Governor Tom McCall to co-found 1000 Friends of Oregon.

The well-mannered attorney was an unsuspecting gladiator in defending Senate Bill 100, Oregon’s trailblazing land-use law approved in 1973, which Richmond described as a “bloodbath”.  The advocacy group Richmond formed in league with Governor Tom McCall fended off successive ballot measures from 1976 through 1982 seeking to defang the land-use law and defended a challenge to the statute in an Oregon Supreme Court ruling in 1977. Richmond and his corps of attorneys were quick to step in when cities and counties tried to evade or ignore SB 100’s provisions.

Richmond insisted 1000 Friends of Oregon wasn’t just another environmental group. The goal he preached was managing growth to preserve fertile Willamette Valley farmland, towering Oregon forests, iconic natural areas and livable Oregon cities. It was a pragmatic approach to achieve McCall’s vision of Oregon as a “livable and lovable” place. Richmond is credited with inspiring “smart growth” policies across the nation and was given a lifetime achievement award by the Partners for Livable Communities.

Richmond sought leverage by making land-use planning, including urban growth boundaries to restrain sprawl, popular. His organization’s name reflected his recruiting goal of 1,000 “friends” of land-use goals, each contributing $100. In addition to lining up McCall as a co-founder, Richmond convinced Glenn Jackson, CEO of PacifiCorp, chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission and legendary power broker, to serve on the 1000 Friends advisory board. He pursued both Democrats and Republicans to ensure land-use planning remained a bipartisan issue.

He listened rather than lectured. He gently persuaded instead of bullying. He convinced with an endless storehouse of stats and a compelling case for keeping Oregon Oregon. No one ever dreaded meeting with Richmond.

People who dealt with Richmond appreciated his approach. He listened rather than lectured. He gently persuaded instead of bullying. He convinced with an endless storehouse of stats and a compelling case for keeping Oregon Oregon. No one ever dreaded meeting with Richmond.

I moved to Oregon in 1972 as news editor of The Daily Astorian and provided local coverage of the 1973 Oregon legislature, which passed SB 100. Soon afterward, I met Richmond. It was an association that continued productively and pleasantly for years. I have to agree with Christian Richmond, Henry’s son, who observed: “[My father] was always big on doing something of substance, doing something that was consequential either in the community around you or something that needed to be saved. In his case, it was Oregon farmland.”

Richmond served as executive director of 1000 Friends of Oregon for 19 years, during which time the organization became and remained a legislative and legal force. “There was always some lawyer working for the local governments [who] would try to write the law, interpret the law into mush or out of existence,” Richmond said in a 2020 interview with OPB. “And we had to be on the other side to say, ‘Wait a minute.’” Dave Hunnicut, president of the Oregon Property Owners Association, told OPB, “1000 Friends was really the game in town back then bringing all that litigation.” Jon Chandler, longtime lobbyist for homebuilders who battled Richmond’s legions constantly in the legislature, respectfully referred to them as the “1000 Fiends”.

New urban growth in the Bethany area near Beaverton showed the stark line of the urban growth boundary, dividing housing and undeveloped land.

1000 Friends encouraged building up instead of spreading out, whether it was office buildings, housing or schools. Arguably, the Pearl District and South Waterfront in Portland may not have happened without an urban growth boundary discouraging lower-density exurban development. Now, even as urban growth boundaries are grudgingly expanded, new housing includes many multi-family, multi-story units.

Controlling growth naturally led to criticism over its effects. Urban neighborhoods resisted increased density with the addition of fourplexes. Some homeowners bemoaned smaller lots. Packing more people into a restrained space created intensified traffic congestion. A fair number of Oregonians chafed at growth management for restricting what they view as their personal freedom. Richmond displayed patience with those concerns, acknowledging them, but stressing the benefits of avoiding sprawl and protecting irreplaceable natural assets. He also advocated for good planning – a richer mixture of urban offerings, more parks, increased diversity and improved public transportation.

After Richmond retired, he remained active, though largely out of the limelight. He never lost his fervor for protecting the unique qualities he associated with Oregon, which was stirred when he worked as a young man with the Oregon Student Public Interest Group under the influence of Ralph Nader.

Oregon has produced many outsized personalities, but perhaps none as productive as the self-effacing Richmond. Sprawling vineyards in the Willamette Valley that produce what many consider the best Pinot noir in the world are a fitting reminder of his outsized achievement.