Forty-seven-and-a-half years ago, when Keith Cubic joined Douglas County as a planner, Oregon’s planning law was in its infancy.
Cubic would go on to help create the county’s first comprehensive plan. But first, he’d have to convince the locals that planners weren’t “pinko” communists.
Without the comprehensive plans and zoning regulations we take for granted today, the county would look very different. Urban areas would be sprawling rather than compact, quiet suburban neighborhoods would be replaced by a mixture of business and residential properties, and there would be more rural conflicts over residential and forestry land uses.
Oregon’s Senate Bill 10, passed in 1969, mandated planning and zoning in all Oregon counties. In 1971, when Cubic joined up, the Douglas County Planning Department had seven employees. A year later, half the county was zoned. And by 1973, the whole county was zoned, and a not-so-detailed comprehensive plan was created.
“It was a concept plan. It was globs of color on maps that meant something, that didn’t have any property lines attached to them,” Cubic said.
Cubic said one of his first tasks was to convince county residents that zoning would help them achieve their goals — that a planned future was a better future.
He particularly recalled an early zoning meeting in Tiller.
“It was a hotbed of conservatism. We were worried about being tarred and feathered. That’s an exaggeration, but we were worried,” Cubic said.
A second meeting went better, because the citizens understood the planners were there to ask them what they wanted.
“At the third meeting that we went out to Tiller, we had a potluck,” Cubic said.
Over the next seven years, a more detailed comprehensive plan, and a land use and development ordinance would follow.
The state adopted statewide planning goals, too, and it was an exciting time, Cubic said.
“It was cutting edge. It was a model for the whole United States, and we got to help carry it out,” he said.
Throughout his long career at the county, Cubic said his primary goal has been to help people.
“The most important thing I did is work with the people, work with our citizens, work with our elected officials, and develop quality staff who are still contributing around the state,” Cubic said.
Cubic’s work included persuading state officials in the Willamette Valley of the importance of planning regulations that matched rural residents’ needs.
Douglas County had seven urban unincorporated areas and 25 rural communities, and none of those areas were adequately accounted for in state rules.
“Under my watch, we had a huge influence on the development of the state’s rural residential lands rules and policies. We didn’t write them all, but we did some things that made them come about,” he said.
Cubic was hired as planning director in 1976. He recalled he was summoned to the office of Al Flegel, who was then the chairman of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, and told he’d been promoted. Cubic was elated.
“I kind of walked out of there about 3 inches off the ground,” he said.
He worked for more than 20 commissioners over the years. Most of them are good people with good hearts, he said, and he got along well with them because he always demonstrated he was willing to work hard and help them achieve their goals.
He did hit a snag once, though, with a commissioner who came in with a hit list of people he wanted to eliminate, including the planning director.
But the commissioner, who Cubic declined to name, learned that planning director is one of a handful of department heads whose position the county is mandated to fill under state law.
“Four years later, when he left office, he gave me a commendation for quality service to the board,” Cubic said.
Tiller residents’ initial skepticism wouldn’t be the last time Cubic was embroiled in controversy over his work. Most notably, he’s been under fire recently for decisions that have helped keep a controversial proposed natural gas pipeline project afloat. Several times, he’s been named as a defendant in lawsuits over county planning decisions. One of those times, he said, he was attempting to refinance his house and the bank balked at giving him a loan because he was being sued. The county’s attorney was able to convince the plaintiff to remove Cubic’s name and the loan was eventually granted.
But Cubic said for him the toughest part of the job has been laying off employees. In recent decades, with changing economic fortunes, the department’s staff has fluctuated between 20 and 30 people. Right now, it’s closer to 20.
“I try to bring high-quality rising stars to the county. And to lay them off, to send them away, really gave me a stomach ache,” Cubic said.
Cubic said he’s naturally a busy person and doesn’t like to sit still. His contributions to the community have extended beyond his work to include volunteering for the Boy Scouts, soccer and 18 years on the Roseburg School Board.
Cubic said he’s guided in his work, volunteering and parenting by the belief that the greatest gift you can give someone is a foundation for the future.
“All the things I’ve been involved in have been about making a foundation for the future,” he said.
Incoming Planning Director Joshua Shaklee said Cubic created great morale among his staff and has also impacted planners all over Oregon.
“It’s such a great tradition and great legacy. I’ve been in meetings with other directors from across the state, and Keith has mentored a lot of people. He’s very well respected across the state. So I know that I have a lot to live up to,” Shaklee said.
The county commissioners summed up his contribution on a plaque extolling his “unwavering dedication, exemplary leadership and great spirit” of service.
“Your legacy is a landscape you helped shape and the people you guided to success,” it said.
The Association of Oregon Counties planning directors also honored him with a plaque that includes one of his favorite quotes, from Abraham Lincoln: “The better part of one’s life consists of friendships.”