A few weeks ago, I wrote a column endorsing Proposition 90, which appears on the statewide ballot this November.
After that column was published, I received a few email messages from Prop. 90 opponents asking me to reconsider my position and pointing me to editorials and web sites supporting their position.
I promised each person who wrote to me that I’d take a look at the materials they sent, and I’ve done that.
Prop. 90 opponents call the initiative deceptive. They say it disguises itself as a “protecting our homes” measure. They say it will cost cities, counties, and other governmental agencies millions to exercise their land-use control powers.
I disagree. Prop. 90 is not at all deceptive.
Here’s the question that voters will answer when they cast their ballots on Prop. 90:
Should the California Constitution be amended to require government to pay property owners for substantial economic losses resulting from some new laws and rules, and limit government authority to take ownership of private property?
I still say yes.
The measure clearly states that it has two objectives:
• To require governmental agencies to reimburse property owners for substantial economic losses resulting from new regulations
• To limit government authority to take ownership of private property
That first objective really has Prop. 90’s opponents worried.
They claim that this clause will result in “frivolous” lawsuits by property owners after zoning law or other land-use changes.
Is it really frivolous to sue when a new greenbelt line, for example, slashes the value of your property because it can no longer be developed?
Ask the property owners in Coyote Valley on the “wrong” side of San Jose’s greenbelt – the folks who are watching their neighbors on the other side of the line plan big, profitable developments – if they have a frivolous complaint.
I don’t think it’s frivolous.
Perhaps if it’s more expensive to use their substantial land-use control powers, city councils, county supervisors, and other agencies will use them more judiciously. That’s a good thing.
If society is served by creating greenbelts or rezoning land, then society must be willing to pay for the benefits by properly compensating property owners who are damaged in pursuit of that nebulous concept of the “greater good.”
Despite the “sky is falling” claims of Prop. 90 opponents, I simply don’t have a problem with either of these clearly stated, not-at-all hidden purposes.
Regarding Prop. 90’s second objective: I’ve written more than once opposing the use of eminent domain for private parties. It’s simply wrong. The United States Constitution clearly defines the power of eminent domain as limited to the taking of private property – with just compensation – for public purposes only.
The Supreme Court was dramatically unjust when it expanded those powers last year in its ruling in the case of Kelo v. New London.
Prop. 90 is our opportunity to protect Californians’ private property rights in a post-Kelo world.
Last November, Californians had the chance to correct our badly broken system for drawing state Senate, state Assembly and U.S. House of Representatives districts when we were presented with Prop. 77.
Powerful and wealthy folks with a vested interest in the status quo successfully opposed Prop. 77 by painting the redistricting reform measure as imperfect. Voters succumbed to that description and our redistricting system remains badly broken with its inherent conflicts of interest.
Perfect solutions are rare as hen’s teeth. Let’s not repeat the Prop. 77 mistake of hoping for a perfect solution someday. Prop. 90 might not be perfect, but it’s all we’ve got. I don’t even think it’s as imperfect as Prop. 90 opponents claim.
Perhaps it’s due to my strong Libertarian streak, but I just can’t get too worked up about compensating property owners when they’re adversely affected by zoning or similar changes.
Because I value civil liberties, I absolutely want to ban eminent domain on behalf of private parties.
I don’t see my state legislators rushing to ban eminent domain for private use; if they had done so in the 15 months since the Supreme Court’s Kelo ruling, Prop. 90 would have lost half of its appeal.
I do see my city council seriously considering expanding their eminent powers by giving themselves those powers when they’re acting as redevelopment agency directors, powers they renounced a decade ago when the RDA was extended by voters.
Because private property rights are one of our precious civil liberties, and because they’re in peril, I’m voting yes on Prop. 90.
I hope you’ll join me.